Ahh, happiness… it is something we all want to have but many find elusive, especially in this fast-paced world with lots of pressures, deadlines, and to-do lists. And for those of us who have experienced some kind of trauma in our past, we may actually have physical or emotional roadblocks to happiness over which we must first triumph.
The good news is that we know more about happiness than ever before. An interesting development happened in the world of Psychology in 1998 that has created a whole field known as positive psychology. This occurred when the President of the American Psychological Association (APA) decided that the organization’s new goal should be to study humans at their healthiest mental states. In other words, Dr. Martin Seligman dared to shift the focus from what is happening when people are unwell to what is happening when they are at their best. This launched a rush of research that has identified some key components of happiness and how humans can become their best selves.
Since then, positive psychology has taken off and changed everything from our personal lives to the business practices of major corporations. This approach of looking at the functional (rather than dysfunctional) is also shifting other fields, giving us better knowledge in lots of key areas related to our potential.
So what do we know about happiness? Well, the science is proving some of the things we have known all along. Like highly spiritual people tend to be happier because they have access to making meaning of their lives beyond just what’s happening on a daily basis.
Or that altruism, helping others, raises our levels of happiness along with hope and joy. Altruism can range from volunteering regularly with a community service organization to paying forward something like your morning coffee. Recently, a Florida Starbucks coffee shop saw a “pay it forward” chain of 378 cars through their drive-through. It lasted all day and even started up again the next.
We also know that play boosts happiness. But how many of us adults give ourselves permission to play? I know I struggle with this—between my own “to do” list and coordinating playdates for my daughter, I don’t take much time for my own play. Play is not frivolous. It is a key part of our health. Dr. Stuart Brown, the author of Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul, says “The opposite of play is not work. The opposite of play is depression.”
- Practice gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal and every day, write 3 things that you are grateful for. Challenge yourself by not repeating an item within 30 days.
- Turn off bad news. The news does not report the real balance of positive and negative and that skewed perspective can drag down our happiness. Be careful that you don’t allow your radio, TV and computer to be bathing your brain in a constant bath of negativity.
- Be a noise-canceling headphone. Those awesome headphones work by creating the opposite sound wave to what is happening, thus canceling out the noise. Do the same with negativity—when it comes in, create the opposite, positive thought to cancel out the effect.
- Diversify your meaning portfolio. When you only have one thing in your life that brings you meaning, you create a very fragile situation. If you can diversify the things that bring you meaning and happiness, you can thrive even when one area is not doing well.
- Visualize things you are looking forward to. The brain experiences visualizations the same as reality so if you visualize that upcoming vacation or event, you can get twice the happiness-boosting power from it.
- Write a letter to your younger self. Life brings us wisdom and we often know now something that we really needed to hear when we were younger in a period of struggle. Write a letter to yourself and tell him/her just what they needed to hear. For bonus points, pretend to be your wise future self and write a letter to who you are today. What do you need to hear now?
I’m sure you have other ideas. What are some happiness practices that work for you? Share your favorites so we can all do a better job of choosing happiness.