In recent years there has been an explosion of research on happiness, optimism, positive emotions and healthy character traits. While psychology has traditionally concerned itself with what ails the human mind–such as anxiety, depression, neurosis, obsessions, paranoia, and delusions–, a new branch of psychology, aptly named “positive psychology”, asks the question: “What are the enabling conditions that make human beings flourish?” That is, the goal of positive psychology is to study what actively makes people feel fulfilled, engaged, and happy.
In addition, neuroscientists are studying how the brain can be rewired in such a way that makes happiness more likely. Below you’ll find six strategies from the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience that will help you increase your current level of happiness.
Robert Holden, Ph.D., Director of the Happiness Project in the United Kingdom, argues in his book, “Happiness Now! Timeless Wisdom for Feeling Good Fast” that having the intent and making a commitment to be happier is key. He explains that “intention” is another word for “focus”, and whatever we focus on will become more apparent and will grow. If we focus on happiness, instead of focusing on all the things that are going wrong, then that’s what we will become more aware of.
Robert Emmons, Ph.D., is a pioneer in the scientific study of how gratitude affects people’s health and happiness levels. He has scientific proof—which he discusses in his book “Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier”–that shows that when people regularly engage in the systematic cultivation of gratitude, they experience a variety of measurable psychological, physical, and interpersonal benefits. In fact, he explains that people who regularly practice grateful thinking can increase their set point of happiness by as much as twenty five percent. He adds that keeping a gratitude journal for as little as three weeks can result in better sleep and more energy. (Highlights from Research Project).
Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar taught Harvard University’s most popular course in the Spring of 2006: “PSY 1504 – Positive Psychology”. In his book “Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment”, he explains that we need to incorporate happiness boosters into our everyday life.
Happiness boosters are simple things which we enjoy doing, and can include things such as: having lunch with a good friend, reading a gripping novel, savoring a cup of freshly roasted coffee out on the balcony, filling out the newspaper’s crossword puzzle, taking a warm bath, and so on. Dr. Ben-Shahar explains that we should each have a list of happiness boosters that we personally enjoy, and we need to make sure that we practice at least one item on our list every day.
Stephen G. Post, Ph.D., has the following to say about helping others:“All the great spiritual traditions and the field of positive psychology are emphatic on this point — that the best way to get rid of bitterness, anger, rage, jealousy [and so on] is to do unto others in a positive way.” He adds that there are studies that show that when people act with generosity and compassion, there’s a positive effect on their health and well-being. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of “The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want”, recommends that we choose one day of the week during which we perform five acts of kindness for others. (Kindness and the Case for Altruism).
Richard Davidson, a prominent neuroscience professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has studied the brains of Buddhist monks who have meditated for many years. When tested against a group of non-meditators, larger areas of the meditators’ brains were active, particularly in the left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for positive emotions. Dr. Davidson’s data claims that if people sit quietly for just half an hour a day thinking about kindness and compassion, their brains will show noticeable changes in just two weeks. (Source).
Dr. William Kent Larkin is a Yale and Harvard educated researcher specializing in applied neuroscience integrating positive psychology and quantum physics. In his book “Growing the Positive Mind”, he argues that instead of focusing on fixing our weaknesses, as our society often encourages us to do, we can sustain an up spiral of positivity by concentrating on growing our unique personal strengths. He adds that personal strengths have infinite malleability, they can grow enormously, and when they do, they undo and heal weaknesses. We can create an up spiral of positive emotions by setting goals based on our strengths.
Psychologists have discovered that we each have a set point of happiness that we tend to return to throughout our lives. Roughly 50 percent of this happiness set point is determined by our genes, 10 percent by life circumstances—our marital status, our jobs, where we live, and so on–, and the remaining 40 percent by what we do and how we think. That is, 40% of our happiness is determined by our intentional activities and strategies. By applying the six strategies presented above, as well as many other strategies–including practicing forgiveness, nurturing relationships, enjoying the journey instead of focusing only on the achievement of goals, and so on–, we can start increasing our happiness right away.
|Written on 8/26/2009 by Marelisa Fábrega. Marelisa blogs about creativity, productivity, and simplifying your life over at Abundance Blog at Marelisa Online. Marelisa is the author of the ebook “How to Be More Creative – A Handbook for Alchemists”.||Photo Credit: Sweet&Sadistic|