Do these lines from songs stir up any memories for you?
Until the late 1990s, very little had actually been researched about happiness. The focus was only on the negative: what was wrong with people and how to treat their problems. Addictions, Anger, Anxiety... and continuing down through the alphabet until you got to Stress, Trauma, and Violence.
And then, in 1998, Martin Seligman, an American psychologist, educator, and author of several self-help books, made a game-changing inaugural speech as president of the American Psychological Association. He said he believed psychology was half-baked. The part about researching mental illness was baked, but the strength side of the human psyche, the side about what we're good at and what we can do to get even better at reaching those positive feelings, needed to be equally researched.
That was the turning point. That's when researchers started looking into what makes us feel positive. What is happiness and what practices help you become happier? Does gratitude impact happiness? Does happiness impact health and length of life? Who's happier: someone married or someone single? The list goes one and on. And the answers are found in mainstream society on a regular basis.
Not to lost among these notable shows and websites is the Greater Good Science Center's The Science of Happiness. This free eight-week course offers research-based tips on living a happy and meaningful life.
Maybe it's time that we all focused on what makes people happier:
- Each day for 21 days write down three things that go well for you, and say why they went well. Things can be small, like someone getting you a cup of coffee, or large, like you getting a raise that day.
- Perform five random acts of kindness in one day to help you promote kindness in the world, as well as cultivating happiness in yourself and others. The acts shouldn't all be the same, as something repeated many times loses its impact, and the acts can be for the same person, different people, or people you don't even know.
- Practice active listening to foster empathy and connection. Use the techniques of showing you are listening by maintaining eye contact, nodding, paraphrasing what was said and expressing empathy; then, sit back and watch relationship satisfaction increase.
- Keep a gratitude journal where you write down up to five things for which you are grateful, being as specific as possible, using detail to describe who did what and how it made them, and you, feel. Also, remember to mention the gifts you have in your life and be grateful that you are not without them.
- Write a letter of gratitude to someone who really had a positive impact on your life. Tell them what you're doing now that is a part of your life as a result of what they did for you then. Next, deliver that letter in person so you can see their face, and watch as they realize how much you appreciate them.
Yes, it is true. When things don't go our way, we often let negative emotions get us down. But maybe it's time to remember, we all have many blessings in our lives.
Have you remembered to count yours?
Photo credit Joshua Earle