Do you ever wonder if it’s possible to be happier? Positive psychology studies have found that about 40% of your happiness is under your control, with genetics (50%) and environmental factors (10%) accounting for the remainder.
Becoming happier begins by making the decision to discover activities that will lift your spirits. Psychologist Tom G. Stevens, author of You Can Choose to Be Happy, advises people to “Choose to make happiness a top goal. Choose to take advantage of opportunities to learn how to be happy.”
So how can you learn to improve those aspects of your life that you can control to increase your level of happiness? My research at Johns Hopkins Hospital has shown that when people practice using 6 positive psychology strategies they significantly improve their ability to successfully cope with challenges and they learn how to amplify the positive aspects of life.
To learn more about the 6 PROPEL Principles attend the free mini-workshop I’ll be presenting with Sue Knight. The “How to be Happier” seminar is being sponsored by the Smart Women group at Anne
Arundel Medical Center on Thursday February 5, 6:30-8 pm. Sign up at www.eventbrite.com/e/smart-woman-how-to-be-happier-registration-15082161150.
Studies show that when people make an effort to elevate their mood, such as listening to music that makes them feel good, they do indeed feel happier. What’s worked for you in the past? Think small. Sure, vacations to sunny islands are wonderful, but how often can you do that? Taking a walk in a nearby park, on the other hand, can happen much more frequently. Having fun with your family or playing with your dog can brighten your day. Every day.
Another strategy espoused by Positive Psychology Professor Jon Haidt in his book The Happiness Hypothesis is to learn how to challenge negative thoughts by becoming more forgiving or more grateful. When someone has wronged you, for example, you can spend your mental energy building a case against them. However, ruminating on what’s wrong with a person only ruins the relationship with them.
Instead, Dr. Haidt describes our emotions as being like an elephant, and our conscious mind as being the small human rider who’s trying to control the beast. He recommends that people learn relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation in order to become better at soothing themselves. These practices teach people how to recognize when their negative thoughts are on a rampage, and helps to get them under control.
Loving Kindness Meditation has been proven by Dr. Richard Davidson to work wonders by enabling us to shift our thoughts from how bad a situation may be to how it will look when everything works out well. His research using fMRI’s at the University of Wisconsin has revealed that in a few months’ time we can actually rewire our brains. In The Emotional Life of Your Brain Dr. Davidson describes how we can build new neural pathways that make it much easier to break free from dwelling on the negative, enabling us to engage in thinking about positive outcomes.
Once you can see that it’s possible to overcome a problem, then your mind naturally becomes curious about finding solutions that will move you toward the positive possibility that you’re envisioning. The Father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, describes the 3 methods that successful people use to think about solving problems in his seminal book Learned Optimism.
Optimists have learned to explain difficulties as temporary v. permanent, specific v. pervasive and situational v. personal. These mental skills enable people to effectively overcome challenges.
First, optimistic thinkers tell themselves the problem will pass, enabling them to focus on finding solutions rather than being frozen with fear because they’re imagining the worst.
Second, by reassuring themselves that the problem is limited to one specific part of life, successful people are able to keep all other aspects working well, which provides stability.
Third, optimists think about how to change the situation. They consider multiple ways to make improvements, and implement at least 4 of them simultaneously. This allows them to avoid the “blame game” and the interpersonal conflicts that arise from that way of thinking.
As you can see, there are many scientifically validated strategies for achieving a higher level of happiness. In our “How To Be Happier” seminar, you’ll have to opportunity to explore how you can apply these methods to your own life. You’ll receive an abbreviated version of The PROPEL Toolkit and be able to ask questions about how to bring positive psychology into your life.