What is the secret to happiness? Psychologists have recently started thinking about the science behind smiles and what truly makes life ‘worth living’.
Positive psychology, as it is known, studies the actions and behaviours that lead to human wellbeing. As opposed to more traditional psychology that focuses on helping us during periods of distress.
According to Dr Martin Seligman, the so-called father of positive psychology, there are five key ingredients to happiness: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and purpose, and accomplishments.
Positive emotions don’t just help our minds. If you think positive, your physical health improves, as do your relationships and your performance at work. Positive emotions can include: amusement, love, compassion, pride and hope. We can all benefit by finding ways to bring more of these emotions into our lives.
The most important tips: think about spending time with people who make you feel good, and try to make more time to enjoy your favourite activities and hobbies.
Dr Seligman also talks about the importance of totally immersing yourself in an activity. You may know that feeling, when you become so caught up in what you are doing that you don’t even notice how long you’ve been doing it. A sign that you are truly engaged and absorbed in the present.
Next time you find yourself in that state, make note, and try to do more of that.
You won’t be surprised to hear that companionship matters. Building and maintaining strong, positive relationships can help us manage stress more effectively. Keeping in touch also helps us build a sense of connection and belonging. We should all try to dedicate time to fostering relationships. That might be spending time with your children or phoning old friends. It all improves our overall feelings of wellbeing.
Meaning and purpose means using your personal strengths to contribute to a goal you consider important. This usually involves doing something for others or contributing to something bigger than yourself.
Common sources of purpose come from children and relationships, meaningful work and social causes. You may find meaning from multiple sources.
Feeling proud of what you have achieved in life is vital. It doesn’t matter if your ambitions are large or small, setting goals and working towards achieving something will help your wellbeing.
There are also some quick and easy life hacks (called “positive interventions”) that psychologists have identified to increase your happiness. For example, you can try to imagine your ‘best self’. Thinking about what life would be like if you met all your goals has been found to have a positive impact on your overall wellbeing. This practice involves imagining - in detail - a scenario where everything in your life has gone as well as it possibly could.
Consider what a typical day for you in such a situation is like? How does it make you feel? This intervention has been found to be effective whether delivered in written form, spoken or drawn. This exercise can contribute to feelings of optimism and hope for the future.
‘Gratefulness’ is important. Studies suggest that simple strategies such as regularly recalling, or documenting the good things in your life, can have significant positive impacts on your wellbeing. Likewise, actively recognising and celebrating the good things in your life, as they happen, can have a positive impact on your sense of life satisfaction.
As with most things in the world, there is no ‘one size fits all’ to finding happiness. But the lessons from positive psychology offer a good start point to a good life.
For help improving your own wellbeing, you can contact your EAP (in confidence) on 1800 629 277 in Australia and 0800 327 669 in New Zealand. You can also email us: firstname.lastname@example.org