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How to Live A Happier Life: The Science of Positive Psychology

Updated: 4 days ago

Happiness. What a funny word! We all love it, cherish it, & desperately want it all the time, but rarely do we truly understand it. And if we don’t understand it, how can we bring more of it into our lives?


Well, that’s exactly what this article is about. If you’ve read my article on self-care, you’ll know that I have a keen interest in reading & talking about different aspects of psychology, especially the more optimistic & growth-oriented sides of it. So, today I want to talk about what it really means to be happy and how we can train ourselves to be happy too.


You read that right! You can train yourself to be happy, not only in the short term, but also in the long term to lead a full life. It’s not an easy road, but it is totally buildable. As Aristotle once said, “Happiness depends upon ourselves.”


However, to learn how to be happy, it is important to understand the science behind it - Positive Psychology. And the father of this science, Dr. Martin Seligman.


WHAT IS POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY?

We all know some people in our lives who are pessimists & some who are optimists. We also know that there are immense benefits in looking at the glass half full than half empty & leading a more balanced life.


Before positive psychology, the science of psychology focused primarily on solving problems; finding solutions to diseases. This shifted when Dr. Seligman moved our attention to not only repairing problems but also building strength in people. He brought in a more positive way of looking at the science and thus established the era of Positive Psychology.


In other words, positive psychology is the science of building strength & happiness in people, along with finding solutions to their problems.


To quote one of Dr. Seligman’s TED talks, “something I call, "positive psychology," which has three aims. The first is that psychology should be just as concerned with human strength as it is with weakness. It should be just as concerned with building strength as with repairing damage. It should be interested in the best things in life. And it should be just as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling, and with genius, with nurturing high talent.”





An interesting point to note here would be the close connection between positive psychology & Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The Maslow model shows the increasing advancement of human needs from physiological, safety, love and belonging, self-esteem, & self-actualization. On a somewhat parallel note, Dr. Seligman’s positive psychology suggests an increasing inclusion of positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, & accomplishment as a pathway to leading a fuller, happier life, that is, a flourishing life.


Well, to be more precise, he initially proposed this concept as three lives.


THE PLEASANT LIFE

What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of ways to be happy? Positive emotions. That is exactly what the pleasant life is all about. It is composed of positive emotions and the various pleasures of life.


But because this life is so surface-level, it also has its drawbacks. Like the fact that its effect wears off over time. For example, when you get accepted into your dream college, at that moment, you feel ecstatic and on top of the world. But no matter how happy & grateful you feel then, the intensity of that happiness will diminish over time. Sometimes so much so that you might even forget the intense happiness you felt when you first got in.


Moreover, one’s ability to feel positive emotions is 50% dependent on genetics. The remaining 10% depends on life circumstances and 40% on our own actions, thoughts, & habits. This means that while short-term tips & tricks might help to enhance the pleasant life, for a long-term solution, we need to work on our 40%.


HOW?

Practice mindfulness & savoring

The American Psychological Association says, “Mindfulness is awareness of one’s internal states and surroundings. Mindfulness can help people avoid destructive or automatic habits and responses by learning to observe their thoughts, emotions, and other present-moment experiences without judging or reacting to them.” One great way to practice mindfulness is meditation.


Savoring means to fully acknowledge, feel, and in effect, extend the positive feelings & experiences we have. For example, I made myself a really good cup of tea this morning and sat by the window with it, tasting, enjoying, & savoring every sip. It might sound silly, but it makes you at least attempt to be aware of the small & big pleasures in your life.

 "Stop. Look. Go." -David Steindl-Rast

Write a daily/weekly gratitude list, gratitude letters, or gratitude visits.

In gratitude lists, you list 5-10 things you are grateful for that day or week, no matter how big or small. Similarly, a gratitude letter is when you write a letter to someone you’ve been meaning to thank & appreciate for a while but haven’t gotten around to it yet, or someone who has helped you in some way. You can extend the same by visiting and handing them the letter in person to read, that is, a gratitude visit. From what I’ve read, this often ends in hugs & happy tears.


THE GOOD LIFE

While the pleasant life is all about positive emotions, the good life is all about engagement & social relationships. But most importantly, it involves the concept of flow. Oh,I love flow, and soon you’ll find out why. Flow was initially introduced by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and in the synopsis of his book FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience he writes, “During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life.”


In simple words, you experience flow when you do something that completely encapsulates you into intense concentration. This experience not only stops time for you, but also makes you feel immensely content & happy. We can all think of that one thing that does this for us, right? I think I’m in flow right now, writing this article.


However, it is absolutely okay to not know what brings you flow. That’s where knowing your strengths comes in handy. There are several tests online that help you identify your strongest strengths, which further help you understand the things that bring you flow.


HOW?

Take a strengths test

Discover your top 5 strengths. This is a great way to work on the aspects of yourself you enjoy the most. I have provided some links to such tests in the resources section at the bottom of this article, so stay tuned! (or go take it, if you feel ready to take on your strengths!)

 

Go on a Strengths Date

This is a tool Dr. Seligman mentions in his TED talk. It's a great tool as you can not only do it with a significant other but also with friends or family. Essentially, you each take a strengths test to figure out your top 5 strengths, and then plan a date or outing where you all use your top strengths. This is a great way to deepen your bonds with them as well as derive some happiness for all of you.



THE MEANINGFUL LIFE

So far, we’ve covered positive emotions & engagement. But there’s one more life, probably the most important of them all, the meaningful life. The life in which we find meaning in the things we do & the lives we lead. It involves knowing your signature strengths AND using them for something bigger than yourself; to find meaning in them.


While this life might seem the easiest to understand, it’s probably the trickiest to practice.


HOW?

Prioritize experiences over things

Take, for example, the last time you bought yourself a bag you really liked & how happy you felt wearing it for the first time. Now, think about the last time you went out with your friends, even if it was just to watch a movie or grab coffee, & felt great joy afterwards. Which lasted longer? If what research tells us is right, the latter situation must’ve provided you with much more happiness and for a longer time.

 

Prioritize time over money

Similar to the previous point, when you prioritize your day to have more time to do the things you love versus to simply cram hours in to earn money, you will be happier. It is the concept of time affluence, which is having enough time to do the things you want to do, including doing nothing.


While this is easier said than done, we can all try to carve out some time every day to do the things that really make us smile from the inside. Trust me, it will make life so much more fun. So, on your next day off, do something you love or do nothing, but don’t spend it thinking about money. You have the rest of the week for that!

 

Engage in Random Acts of Kindness

People & research often tell us that helping others will make us happier. And it does. But let’s be honest, while we do help others, how many of us would actually go out of our way to help someone else? If I gave you $5 or Rs.400, would you buy a coffee for yourself or a friend?


This is exactly what Elizabeth Dunn did in her research on whether we are happier when we spend our money on others compared to when we spend it on ourselves. And to her pleasant surprise, even people who had financial scarcity, spending money on others made them happier for a much longer time. However, in extreme situations, they felt happier when they had met their own basic needs first before helping others.


This is not to say that self-care isn’t important. I didn’t write a whole article on it for nothing (so subtle, I know). While taking care of yourself is extremely important & necessary, it's also important to help someone out, in a small or big, intentional or random way. Not only will it be appreciated by the other person but it will also bring us long-lasting joy.



THE UPDATED MODEL: PERMA

As mentioned earlier, these three lives were part of Dr. Seligman’s earlier positive psychology model. Over the years, he has expanded these three lives into a wider theory of flourishing composed of 5 concepts- Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, & Accomplishment.


He shifted his focus from solely authentic happiness to overall flourishing & well-being. I would love to write more on this later.

 

HOW TO LIVE A HAPPIER LIFE? Resources

There are several resources you can find online and offline to learn & practice the tips mentioned above. Here are some resources & links that proved quite useful to me & I hope they can help you out too.

  1. TED- The new era of positive psychology by Martin Seligman

  2. Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman – Animation by FightMediocrity

  3. For all tests & surveys you need to know about yourself for FREE- https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/ 

  4. World Economic Forum- The science behind mindfulness as a tool for happiness by Hedy Kober

  5. Participant- An Experiment in Gratitude | The Science of Happiness

  6. TED- Want to be happy? Be grateful by David Steindl-Rast

  7. The Yale University course "The Science of Well-Being" by Prof. Laurie Santos


Feel free to add on to this list, if you’d like!


To summarise, I’d like to quote a Test Prep Gurus video, “Is positive psychology an easy answer to all of society's problems? No, let's not be naive. But we must ask ourselves if we applied the tenets of positive psychology to education business and government if we encouraged individuals and communities to build on their strengths if we focused attention on the pillars of well-being if we channeled more energy into what makes life worth living, what might be possible?”


So, while the tips I shared with you are useful, feel free to customize them to cater to what works best to make you happier.


At the end of the day, it isn’t about being optimistic all the time over being pessimistic. It’s about choosing realism over pessimism. And living a happier life.


Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude. Denis Waitley

And now to you, do you practice any of these tips? Which one is your favorite? Do you know any other such tips? I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below.


Thanks for reading! If you liked this article, please drop a like and share it with your family and friends, and for further blog updates follow me on my Instagram handle @helzeeblog , on Wix and also on YouTube. See you next time! Till then, always remember, Be brave. Be strong. Be great.💛


~ helzeee 💛


Disclaimer:- This article is inspired by a TED talk by Dr. Martin Seligman. It portrays my perspective on what the talk was trying to say & there are several parallels between the two. I highly recommend you go watch the same talk to get an even better understanding of the topic.

1 Comment


So insightful!

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Lifestyle | Self-growth

Storyteller at my core & writer at my front, I'm here to share stories with you that help you see the magic in the world.💛

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