Positive psychology researchers have made happiness easier to find by taking these 10 steps:
1. Sleep well. Positive sleep habits are the foundation to both physical and mental health. A University of Michigan study found that getting just a little more positive sleep has a greater effect on our daily happiness than a large increase in income. Studies show it isn’t the length of our sleep, but the number of complete sleep cycles we enjoy that makes the most difference. Each sleep cycle has 5 phases (each with different brain-wave patterns). The average sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes – consisting of 65 minutes of non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, 20 minutes of REM/dream sleep and a final 5 minutes of non-REM sleep. When we are meeting our sleep needs we feel energetic and alert all day long. How much sleep we actually require varies from person to person, but most of us need between 7 1/2 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at our best. Additionally we need to exercise on a regular basis and eat a healthy diet.
2. Chunk your goals. Harvard positive psychologist and author of “The Happiness Advantage”, Shawn Achor, explains when a task seems too large we can feel out of control and become overwhelmed. This can trigger fear, stress and often lead to procrastination. We can regain our sense of control by breaking the task down into small, manageable steps/chunks. Create an easy first step which is easy to accomplish and builds some momentum. It is easier to maintain momentum once we have begun a task.
3. Keep a gratitude journal. Our brains can’t tell the difference between what we remember and something we experience. When we relive a positive experience (by journaling about it) we get a positive double dose from that experience. Additionally, when our minds focus on a lot of good things happening to us, it also starts scanning our environment for more of the positive (instead of just looking for the negative). We see what we look for.
- Each day write a minimum of 5 positive experiences you’ve had over the past 24 hours. Describe these events in as much detail as possible.
- Write about events and people which inspire a sense of gratitude.
4. Let go of the “Myth of perfection”. Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D., says constantly striving for perfection practically guarantees that we’ll be unhappy. Perfection is an impossible standard to meet. To be happy we need to do the following:
- Set realistic goals.
- See mistakes as an opportunity to learn (growth mindset)
- Accept that failure is a part of life and may hold beneficial lessons
- Live in the moment more (versus the past or the future)
5. Stop internal bargaining. Srikumar S. Rao, Ph.D., explains that many of us has an ineffective “if – then” model when it comes to feeling more positive. We make how we feel conditional on something else happening. (e.g. If I lose weight, then I’ll be happy; If I make more money, then I’ll be happy; If I find the “one”, then I’ll be happy.) Dr. Rao explains that happiness is something that’s innately within us; not something that needs to be bartered for, acquired or achieved. Setting goals is a useful process as it gives us direction to our lives, however we shouldn’t make our positive feelings contingent on achieving those goals.
6. Forgiveness. Sonja Lyubomirsky, positive psychologist, explains that one of the most effective happiness enhancing strategies we can adopt is forgiveness. As we let go of anger and resentment toward those we feel have wronged us, we release ourselves from a prison of our own making. Lyubomirsky’s research shows that 50% of individual differences in feeling happy come from genes, 10% by our life circumstances and the remaining 40% comes from what we do and how we think. Forgiveness is an effective way to ensure that we are able to focus on our happiness rather than on punishing those we feel have slighted us.
7. Seek flow. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes flow as completely focused motivation. Essentially, flow is when we are completely absorbed in what we are doing. Flow represents the single minded experience where we are able to harness our emotions in the service of performing and learning. Positive feelings, being happy, comes from being in the moment. While in a state of flow our emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energised, and aligned with the task at hand. We feel happy and joyous.
8. Perform random acts of kindness. Sonja Lyubomirsky, the author of “The How of Happiness”, challenges us to perform five acts of kindness each week. Studies in social support show that helping others has a strong positive impact on our personal emotional state. When we are kind to others our brain releases dopamine (the feel-good hormone). Helping others also makes us feel more capable and strengthens our feeling of connection with others (both boosters that make us feel happy).
9. Keep it simple. Dr. Ben-Shahar suggests that one of the biggest causes of misery is a lack of time. When we take on too much it can inhibit our ability to be happy from what we do, as we’re constantly running around trying to get everything done. One of the best ways to feel happy more often is to simplify. Pick the things that are most important to us and focus on those (let go of the rest). When we prioritise and simplify we have more time which leads to more happiness.
10. Smile and laugh often. Numerous studies have shown the positive effects of laughter on our physical and mental health. Laughter decreases stress hormones (e.g. cortisol and adrenaline) in the body, and it releases hormones and chemicals that have a positive impact on our systems. Joyful laughter is the fastest way for us to create a positive state of mind. Smiling Is contagious, it boosts our immune system and helps us stay positive.
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