Most of us want to be happy and we look for it in a variety of different ways. Some of us strive to make more money, advance in our careers, live near the beach, or buy new things. However, evidence suggests that changing your life circumstances (income, marital status, career, and location), does not lead to a sustained increase in happiness.
Instead, positive psychological scientists suggest simple cognitive (thinking) and behavioral strategies, called Positive Activity Interventions, to improve happiness. These strategies have shown to reliably improve happiness and do not involve major changes to your life.
Research into happiness boosting strategies has shown that we possess the capacity to intentionally increase our own happiness. Studies convincingly suggest that a large part of our happiness is under our control through what we choose to do in our lives and how we respond to life’s challenges.
We all know someone that has every reason to be happy, but isn’t. We’ve all met someone that by every statistical marker should be miserable, but seems to be genuinely happy. Where is this variation coming from?
Science looked into this and found that variance in happiness levels, especially over time, can be explained in part by the deliberate ways people choose to think and behave. Strategies were developed to mirror the thoughts and behaviors of people that are naturally happy. These strategies are called Positive Activity Interventions (PAI’s).
PAI’s include things you can do on your own. Activities like expressing gratitude by counting your blessings, writing a gratitude letter to someone that has been kind to you, practicing optimism, performing acts of kindness, using your strengths in a new way, and meditating on positive feelings towards yourself or others. These brief but effective exercises promote positive thought, positive emotion, and positive behaviors. They are very simple, take little time to perform, relieve stress and depressive symptoms, and increase feelings of subjective well-being.
With science becoming more interested in, and providing more evidence for the efficacy of happiness-enhancing strategies, we don’t need to rely on grandpa’s anecdotes or the many differing opinions of self-help “experts”. We can turn to the last decade of research that not only shows we can intentionally increase our happiness, but makes strong prescriptive claims about how to do it.
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