Even when our lives are going reasonably well, sometimes we can get so caught up in our day-to-day struggles that we find ourselves feeling a little blue. When this happens we can even start to lose sight of all the good things that we have and just focus on the one or two things that are not going so well. And then, once the worrying starts, we are tempted to think that our happiness has become entirely dependent on the behaviour of other people or on external events.
Fortunately that is never true! No matter what else we may be going through, there are always things in our own control that we can do to feel happier and more contented with our lives. Here are three of the simplest ways that Positive Psychology teaches us are unfailing routes to increased feelings of happiness and wellbeing.
It’s true! Time and time again, positive psychology experiments have demonstrated that the quickest, easiest way to improve your own happiness is to first make someone else happy! And it’s so easy to do! A kind word to a stranger, a nice compliment to a work colleague, an offer of help to a neighbour, a little gift for your mother, a phone call to an old friend – These are all so easy to do. And seeing a smile on someone else’s face as the result of your action cannot help but make you feel better about yourself. Doing something kind for someone who is less fortunate than yourself (such as through disability or poverty) is especially effective because it reminds you of your own good fortune.
It’s a trite thing to say isn’t it? “I know that the situation you are in is not good, but it could be so much worse!” – Well, thanks for that! That has cheered me up no end!
But there is a fundamental truth behind the suggestion to count your blessings that we could all do well to remember more often. And even though we might say it, how many of us actually ever do it? A useful exercise that has emerged from positive psychology is to buy yourself a little book and every night to write down three things you are grateful for or three things that went well today. By the end of the week there will be 21 entries, by the end of the month there will be nearly 100, and by the end of the year, over 1,000! It’s difficult to sustain a belief that your life is not blessed with that sort of evidence to the contrary!
The other side of this coin is to ensure that you regularly say thank you to the people around you who have done something to help you, amuse you, care for you, or show their love for you. Expressing gratitude unlocks the optimistic part of our emotional brain circuitry and is powerful medicine to help take away the blues. The book “A Simple Act of Gratitude” by John Kralik is a great case study of how this can work in practice.
…though your heart is aching! We all know that feeling happy makes us smile but perhaps not enough of us truly understand that the reverse is also true! Positive psychology research proves that the health benefits of smiling include an improved immune system, lower blood pressure, quicker recovery from stress, more youthful looks and even better pain relief. It seems the old Charlie Chaplin song was right all along: “You’ll find that life is still worthwhile, if you just smile!”
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