Monday, July 28, 2014

Pursuing Happiness

Each person has a set point for happiness. It is impacted by genetics, family and life experiences. Your happiness level is also greatly influenced by daily thoughts and behaviors, perhaps even more profoundly than any other influence. What you think about, and what you choose to do each day makes a big difference in both your own life and every life you touch.

Positive psychology is a field of inquiry that began to be identified in 1998 by University of Pennsylvania psychology professor, writer and researcher Martin Seligman. He's the author of Authentic Happiness and Learned Optimism. It is based on the idea that psychology shouldn't just focus on mental illness and pathology, but also lead in the pursuit and understanding of what helps people create meaning, contentment, joy, resiliency and wellness.

Shawn Achor, M.A. is a Harvard scholar, educator, business consultant and writer who has spent over 12 years studying what makes people happy. His TED talk about happiness is one of their 20 most viewed lessons. He is a big advocate of positive psychology, and wrote The Happiness Advantage. Achor is interested in how happiness improves work success.

It's not like people who are happy don't feel unhappiness. They do, and it's important. Sometimes unhappiness is a key indicator that you need to change something in your life. You may need to assert yourself more, change jobs, or upgrade or end a relationship that's not working well. The opposite of happiness is actually apathy, when one doesn't care and doesn't believe what you do matters. Positive psychology strives to help people see that what they think, feel, and do does matter a great deal.

Here are some positive psychology strategies for feeling happier:

1. Each day, identify 3 different things you are grateful for. It helps build appreciation.

2. Send a thank you email, note, or give an in person thank you every day. It helps build connection.

3. Reflect each day, and either visualize or write down a little about one meaningful experience you have had recently. Rerun the experience through your mind as if it was happening now.

4. Still your mind for 20 minutes a day. Sit quietly. No distractions. Usher thoughts out as they pop up.

5. Move every day for at least 30 minutes.

6. Notice emotional pain and address it; don't numb it with alcohol, substances or addictive behavior.

7. Reach out to others. Say 'hi" and smile to others you meet throughout the day. Break the self-absorption cycle that many people are caught in.

8. Help someone else, whether officially through volunteering or informally when you are aware of other people's needs and do what you can to lift others up.

Your thoughts, feelings and behaviors matter. Connecting with others and staying focused on your own true north helps. Think of these happiness habits as happiness hygiene. Just like you shower and brush your teeth daily, these behaviors are most effective in lifting your mood if you do them every day. Let's be intentional about doing the things that make us happier and more aware of our impact on each other.

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