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While “traditional” psychology focuses on what isn’t working in the psyche, positive psychology focuses on what is working — specifically, which actions and behaviors promote fulfillment and happiness. There are a number of studies within positive psychology, like those exploring how people best bounce back from disappointment, what gives life meaning, and what we can do to thrive and succeed in life.
While philosophers have touched on aspects of positive psychology for over a hundred years, the term wasn’t officially termed until 1998 — and it’s gained momentum since then, picking up speed in the last five years.
Some of the most exciting findings that have come from studies on positive psychology include:
- Resilience, which reduces depression and anxiety and increases well-being, can be taught.
- People who volunteer or donate their time to care for others show increased happiness and lower risk of depression.
- Exercise alone can be an effective treatment for depression in many cases.
- Those who have an active spiritual or religious life have improved resilience and happiness.
Quite simply, positive psychology focuses on strengths and asks the question, “What makes us happy?” Further, this area of study explores whether a person must be born with skills like coping, resilience, and positive thinking, or if we can learn or acquire these skills over time.
So far, research shows we have the power to learn and improve the skills we need in order to be happy and well — which is very exciting news. Because if many of the components of overall wellness and happiness can be learned and acquired, then we have a great deal of control over our happiness.
While you can’t control all of the circumstances you face in life (although you can control more than you think, but that’s another subject), you can develop the skills you need to cope with the curve-balls life throws in a positive, productive, meaningful way — coming out on the other side of a challenge stronger and more resilient than ever before.
To help you develop these skills in your life — and to achieve happiness and well-being that lasts a lifetime — here are five steps you can take, based on the research in positive psychology.
1. Never Stop Learning
Invest time in learning more. The more perspectives and research you absorb on mindfulness, happiness, gratitude, and wellness, then the greater understanding you’ll have. And knowledge often leads to changes in behavior. The more you know, the more you can apply what you to know to your life and then reap the rewards.
Some great resources for new research and material include:
2. Apply What You Know
By taking time to set your vision and make new commitments every morning, you can improve your chances of taking real steps to apply what you know to your life, improving your overall well-being.
This sounds a little complex — especially when your morning routine is already hectic — but I’ve learned to incorporate it in just five to ten minutes. And even though I get up earlier to get it done, I’ve found I end up having a more productive, satisfying day when I do it (which then makes it easier for me to commit to doing it again tomorrow).
Here’s what I do:
- I simply take five minutes when I wake up and ask myself, “What am I working toward in my life?” I write that down.
- Then I ask myself, “What can I do today, all constraints considered, to move myself closer to that place?” And then I write those things down.
Sometimes it’s as simple as making a single phone call, recognizing the things I’m grateful for, drinking more water, or reading my daughter a bedtime story. Sometimes it’s bigger, like developing a project timeline or applying for a new course. But setting my sights on something helps tremendously. It gives meaning and direction to my day and increases my chances of making real, measurable progress.
3. Separate Yourself from Your Internal Dialogue
You know that voice in your head that narrates your day, making drastic assumptions, and jumping to the worst conclusions possible? It’s the one that carries on and on when somebody doesn’t return your text message, when your partner leaves clothes on the floor, or when you don’t get the promotion. It generally thinks it knows a whole lot about the thoughts and intentions of others.
I have life-changing news for you: that dialogue is not you.
It’s just your internal dialogue. It doesn’t have to define you or drive you. It can just exist, independent of you. You can separate yourself from it and listen to it. And when you do that — instead of believing it and buying into it — you quickly realize how silly, assumptive, and negative that dialogue can be. And pretty sure you learn how to turn the volume down and redirect it. Or even just disagree with it and move on.
This skill is one of the most powerful skills you can learn when it comes to positive psychology. Practice it until you master it.
4. Measure Your Progress
I’ve found that when I can directly tie my efforts to my results, my behavior changes for the positive.
As an example, let’s say I committed to abstaining from spending today, but an ad came through my news feed for 50% off the coffee machine I’ve been wanting for ages and I splurged. If I take time at the end of the day to reflect on how well I followed through with my commitments and how I feel, I’ll quickly realize I didn’t hold true to my commitment to abstain from spending and now I feel burdened by that spend. I don’t feel good. I don’t want to feel like this again, so tomorrow I work harder to fulfill the commitments I made to myself.
In the same example, let’s say I followed through and abstained from spending. When I stop to reflect at the end of the day, I recognize I held true to my commitment and think about how I feel. I feel good. Proud. Strong. Motivated to commit again tomorrow so I can feel good again at the end of the day.
5. Document Your Journey
Journaling is a great way to document your journey. I know, I know — journaling can be daunting when you aren’t sure what to write about.
That’s why I use an easy template that’s focused on prompting me to work toward mindfulness and happiness. I journal every morning inside my Happier Mind Journal to set my vision, experience my gratitude, and make my commitments for the day. And then I journal again before bed to count my blessings, measure my progress, and acknowledge how I feel as a result.
If you need help getting started on these five skills, journaling is a great place to begin. I recommend you either download our free eBook or purchase a hardcover Happier Mind Journal with a 20% WLC discount. Use promotional code WLC20 at checkout.