Degree of your happiness level is like yo yo. Sometimes it’s up, but other times it’s down. Many things might give you temporary joy or positive emotions. However, after a while, you come back to baseline or lower. This article will give a solution by using the scientifically proven techniques to create lasting happiness and positive change in your life.
Positive psychology is the scientific study of optimal human functioning. Traditional psychology focused on fixing what was wrong with people. Positive psychology uses the scientific method to understand what is right with human beings and how to help the average person become happier and more fulfilled. In this article, I describe an important study conducted by the worlds eminent positive psychologists and how you can use this research to improve the quality of your life. It is important however to note that according to Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of the field, positive psychology is a descriptive rather than a prescriptive science.
That is, researchers conduct studies on concepts prescribed in self-help, pop psychology, religion and of course, wisdom passed on from grandmas. Researchers do not prescribe writing a gratitude letter to someone. Instead, they run rigorous studies on the concept then report what they have found and how it works. This is a subtle and important distinction. My approach as a positive psychology based life coach, speaker and teacher is a bridge between the prescriptive and descriptive. I call it invitational. In this article, I share the research and invite you to try some of these scientifically proven happiness activities yourself. If the activity fits, wear it. If it does not, try another one on. One size does not fit all.
In 2005 researchers Martin E. P. Seligman, Tracy A. Steen, Nansook Park and Christopher Peterson published an article in American Psychologist, a peer reviewed academic publication, titled Empirical Validation of Interventions. This was an internet based study that with 411 participants across 6 interventions, or happiness building activities, over the course of one week. The activities included: writing down three blessings everyday, paying a gratitude visit, discovering your strengths, finding new ways to use your strengths and writing about yourself at your best. They were compared to a control group that wrote about their childhood experiences. All of these groups had their subjective happiness and depression levels measured, before the activity, immediately after and as far as six months after
All of these activities had a positive effect on increasing happiness and decreasing depression. The gratitude visit and writing about you-at-your-best worked immediately after the activity. However, by 6 months, the effects wore off. Writing about 3 blessings and using strengths in a new way also increased happiness and decreased depression. These effects lasted as far as 6 months later. Identifying one’s strengths only produced a moderate, short-term decrease in depression. A factor that influenced the lasting effect was that many people spontaneously continued doing the activities after the initial assignment.I know what you might be thinking. “Well duh Emilya! If I write about what I’m grateful for and use my strengths I’ll be happier. Does that really take 5 of the most eminent psychologists today to figure that out?”
In a way it did. For a while, psychologists believed in happiness set points- or that your happiness level is predetermined and trying to become happier is futile. This research proves that with concerted effort at well-crafted activities, you can significantly improve your happiness level. An interesting point about this study is that the control group, which wrote about early childhood memories, experienced a significant increase in their happiness level and decrease in their depression levels immediately after the intervention. These rates returned to baseline after a few months. This hints at the power of our own suggestibility.
The participants knew that the study they were participating in related somehow to happiness. They assumed it would have a positive benefit and it did. However, just like fad diets, the unhappiness comes back. We live in age where researchers are conducting studies on the positive side of the human experience. Simultaneously we live in a world where time is a hot commodity. If you plan to devote 15-30 minutes a day to increasing your happiness level, you want the highest return on your investment possible. I invite you to capitalize on the research by trying out activities that are proven to work, particularly if those activities align with your values and motivations.
Here are 3 invitations:
Discover and use your top strengths: There are many ways to go about doing this. The easiest is to ask yourself, “What do I do well?” Note that a strength, such as creativity, is different than a talent, such as being a good artist. Go to http://viacharacter.org/VIAClassification/tabid/56/Default.aspx to read about 24 well researched strengths and ask yourself which strengths resonate with me. You can take an online questionnaire at www.viacharacter.org to discover your top strengths. Once you know your strengths, use them. Recognize when they naturally come up throughout the day and find unique ways of approaching them. Online publications, such as “340 Ways to Use Your Signature Strengths” by Tayyab Rashid, PhD, exist to help in the creative process.
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude: Express gratitude in a way that is authentic for you. Some choose to keep a gratitude journal, others think about their daily blessings before they go to bed. In the aforementioned study, participants on wrote down 3 good things a day and experienced the benefits. As you write, reflect on ways that you have contributed to these positive things happening and how you can get more of these blessings in your life. Pay a gratitude visit by seeking out someone who has positively impacted your life. Write a letter to them thanking them for their contributions. Laminate it. Personally deliver and read it to them. Try and catch them off guard.
Think back to a time when you were at your best: Perhaps a time when you were you felt fully engaged, alive and complete. What were you doing? Who were you with? How did others react to you? What made this so memorable for you? What strengths of yours were you using? How did others receive you? Write the experience down and then reread it for a few days. Put it up in place where
Is writing down 3 blessings a day the ticket to “Happily Ever After?” I do not think so. After all, “Happily Ever After” is subjective. However, objective research supports that incorporating more happiness building activities into your life can increase your happiness level. It is not what happens to you that affects how you feel, it is your reaction and interpretation of the situation. Our day-to-day happiness depends on our day to day actions and habits. Cultivating positive habits such as these activities hold strong potential to increase the quality of your life.
Emiliya Zhivotovskaya, MAPP, RYT, is an international life coach, speaker and founder of Flourish, Inc., an organization dedicated to enabling individuals and organizations in unleashing their potential using positive psychology, yoga and alternative therapies.