Column Editor: Connie Mester, MPH
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This series of articles has focused on our happiness obsession. In Part 2 we discovered that money and a constant pursuit of happiness doesn’t really do the trick. And the misconception about constantly being digitally connected, in Part 3 was proven to be more harmful than good to our overall happiness. We uncovered, in Part 1, that happy people function better, are more productive, and healthier, which could be fueling our quest to infuse more happiness and fulfilling moments into our daily life. But how to we actually reach this pinnacle?
We can boost our happiness by cultivating character strengths and building traits that realistically align with our personality and lifestyle. The concept seems simple, right? Just engage in things that make you happy. However, making adjustments and taking action in ways that sustain happiness can be more challenging than one might think.
So what things and activities generate happiness? Science tells us people who are more physically active are happier, and people who get regular, uninterrupted sleep have greater happiness and subjective well-being.1 Beyond getting a good night’s sleep and incorporating exercise into our daily routine, are there other things we can do to change our happiness set point? Happiness can be improved intentionally, and, as we shared in Part 1, up to 40% of our happiness is in our control.2
Before we dive into making life adjustments to produce more happiness, we need to realize that happiness, just like any new skill, takes work. We’ve all seen numerous articles like 10 Simple Steps to a Happier You and Happier in 5 Minutes. These quick fix strategies can be misleading. As with any new skill you want to master, the learning process takes sustained effort and continuous practice. Just like dieting, for example, there is no pill that will instantly change your life overnight. Shifting our thinking patterns to cultivate a positive state of mind requires effort and time.
Align Activities and Traits
There are many skills and activities that will foster happiness, and there are numerous pleasurable opportunities all around us. However, is our approach the most effective, and are we choosing the best activities that produce the most happiness? Finding the right fit between which skills to strengthen and which activities to focus on can make all the difference. Just as each person has a unique thumb print, each personality and life situation elicits different needs.
Some people are more introspective and reflective, preferring more solitary experiences, whereas more extroverted people tend to enjoy socializing and being surrounded by others. Maybe taking a walk with a friend or immersing yourself in a great book brings you bliss. Thinking about the type of activities that are naturally compatible with your personality can not only help you find the most appropriate activities to purse, but will likely be the actions that have the greatest impact and are the easiest to sustain.
The chart below lists many character traits that, when intentionally acted upon, have increased happiness. As you review, consider a variety of actions that match your circumstances and interests. Alternatively, you could take the Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic test created by Sonja Lyubomirsky and Ken Sheldon to offer guidance toward finding your right fit.
Remember that focusing on your core strengths (strengths that are authentically you) generally leads to “more positive emotion, to more meaning, to more accomplishment, and to better relationships.”3
Augment Thinking and Intentions
The next critical step in experiencing more happiness throughout your day is to seek out pleasurable experiences and purposefully put yourself in situations to routinely practice. Research has shown we can intentionally transform our brain in ways that positively impact how we feel about our experiences and our life. Choosing to reframe your thinking to prioritize positivity and deliberately organizing your day to include activities that are well-matched with your goals and character helps you design a roadmap for your continued happiness journey.4
There is an important distinction to note between prioritizing positivity and valuing happiness. Research reveals that people who prioritize positivity feel more positive emotions and life satisfaction versus people who value happiness.5-6 Just as we discussed in Part 2, if we set unrealistic expectations that our life is meant to offer an endless amount of bliss, we will be doomed to disappointment.
Plan Ahead and Set Goals
Beyond just considering your personal circumstances, selecting different types of activities that align, setting your intention for the path ahead, and pausing to plan the steps you need to take for your happiness improvement makeover can bring about lasting change.7
Learning a new skill and making it a habit takes careful preparation and practice. Designing a plan that realistically fits into your daily routine and choosing activities that feel voluntary and not burdensome require thinking through the logistics of duration, dosage, and variety.
The extent and frequency of the activity matters. Trying a variety of happiness strategies at different times and being vigilant against activities that start to feel routine can help you be more resistant to hedonic adaptation.
Monitor and Celebrate Progress
Now that you’ve thought about which traits and activities align best, you must move forward with your personalized happiness regimen to begin to feel the benefits. Be sure to pause, be aware of, and savor your success.
Remember that repeated experiences shape our brain, so what you practice will become stronger. Look out for happiness derailers like comparison, fear of failure, misinterpretations, perfectionism, self-doubt, and unrealistic expectations. You decide the narrative, focus, and effort. Change your interior landscape if you start to notice a negative shift in your emotional tone.
You’re in control of your ‘happiness-improvement.’ Realize the importance of pausing, learn how to build skills that allow you to intentionally cultivate more happiness throughout your day, and form habits that shift your perspective on yourself, your experiences, and the world around you.
Smile and Enjoy!
Contact Connie at: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Lathia N, Sandstrom GM, Mascolo C, and Rentfrow PJ. (2017). Happier People Live More Active Lives: Using Smartphones to Link Happiness and Physical Activity. PLoS ONE, 12(1), e0160589. http://doi.org/10.1371/ journal.pone.0160589
- Lebowitz MS, Ahn W, and Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2013). Fixable or fate? Perceptions of the biology of depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 81, 518–527. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0031730
- Seligman MEP. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York, NY: Free Press. [p.24]
- Leontopoulou S. (2015). A Positive Psychology Intervention with Emerging Adults. The European Journal of Counselling Psychology, 3(2):113. https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-3715619001/a-positive-psychology-intervention-with-emerging-adults
- Catalino LI, Algoe SB, and Fredrickson BL. (2014). Emotion, Prioritizing positivity: An effective approach to pursuing happiness? Vol 14(6), 1155-1161. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0038029
- Luhmann M, Necka EA, Schönbrodt FD, and Hawkley LC. (2016). Is Valuing Happiness Associated With Lower Well-Being? A Factor-Level Analysis using the Valuing Happiness Scale. Journal of Research in Personality, 60, 46–50. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2015.11.003
- Lyubomirsky S, Dickerhoof R, Boehm JK, and Sheldon KM. (2011). Becoming happier takes both a will and a proper way: An experimental longitudinal intervention to boost well-being. Emotion, 11(2), 2391-402. doi:10.1037/a0022575