Seems nearly every website and magazine you look at has an article about finding happiness. Everyone from celebrities to doctors is offering advice on how to up our happy factor. We’re exhorted to meditate, journal, sleep more, give up sugar, inhale aromatic oils, trek to remote mountaintops, stay away from buzzkills … the list continues to grow.
Thankfully, we can turn to the field of positive psychology — the scientific study of happiness – for activities that are truly effective mood-boosters. However, before embarking on a quest to increase your happiness, keep in mind, it’s key to select a method that is the best fit for you. While the majority of people seem to benefit from some type of gratitude practice (I know I do), it doesn’t resonate with psychology professor and author Sonja Lyubomirsky, whose book, “The How of Happiness,” contains a dozen happiness-inducing techniques with the most scientific evidence. She’s studied gratitude, but says she finds it “hokey” and prefers running. So check out the suggestions below, and discover other proven methods in Lyubomirsky’s book and websites such as Authentic Happiness and Greater Good then try a few different methods until you find the one that works for you.
- Gratitude journaling. Also sometimes referred to as “Three Good Things,” this simple technique requires you to write down at least three good things that happen to you each day. In one large study, at six months this technique was shown to give the biggest happiness boost of the activities being compared.
- The gratitude visit. Write and deliver a letter of gratitude to someone you’ve never properly thanked. In the same study mentioned above, this technique gave participants the biggest mood boost of the entire study at the end of one week, though the effects had dissipated by six months.
- Use your strengths in new ways. Ascertain your top five character strengths and use them more often in service to some greater good. In positive psychology, this is known as Virtues in Action. Positive psychology has identified 24 character strengths. If you’re interested, you can discover more about this concept by watching this brief video: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-7452/how-to-discover-use-your-signature-strengths-video.html
- Exercise. A 1999 study found that doing three 45-minute sessions of aerobic exercise weekly was as effective at treating depression as a popular anti-depressant medication.
- Practice acts of kindness. You’re not required to be extravagant with these actions, just thoughtful. And the person may or may not be aware of the act. For instance, you could feed someone’s expiring parking meter, visit an elderly relative, donate blood or write a thank you letter.
Here’s the good news: Lyubomirsky posits that 40 percent of our happiness is under our control. Fifty percent she attributes to genetics, and just 10 percent can be explained by life circumstances such as wealth or marital status. So take a positive step and find YOUR happiness prescription. And, speaking your truth is powerful too.