By: Dr. Francesca Vazquez
Positive psychology is part of the newest wave of psychology. Instead of focusing on why so many people suffer from depression, what causes anxiety, or how many veterans suffer from PTSD, it focuses on how successful people reach their peak, how the happiest people became happy, how to feel our best at work, etc. Positive psychology has paved the way for research on happiness and life satisfaction, giving us the tools to become the best versions of ourselves and not just content with life but ecstatic.
Up until recently, for every 100 articles on clinical pathology such as depression and anxiety, there was only one article on happiness. That has changed in the past 20 years, as scientists such as Martin Seligman have deviated from the norm in psychology. They have asked themselves a key question: What if instead of treating illness or negative emotions when they arise, we focus on preventing those negative emotions from ever coming up in the first place?
Typically, when a person seeks psychological treatment their symptoms are almost unbearable. This makes the problem that much harder to solve. As a health psychologist working within the positive psychology framework, I suggest incorporating preventive techniques and positive psychology coaching into our lives. As we do so, we will build on our strengths instead of weaknesses and increase resilience and our ability to deal with adversity and negative emotions.
Our goal is to achieve enduring happiness. Research has shown that if we engage in these four techniques daily, we will be more likely to achieve it and become more satisfied with our lives:
1. Find your "flow."
Find an activity (or activities) in which you experience what is known as "flow." "Flow" can be defined as a state where time stops and you feel completely submerged in the present moment through activities that you very much enjoy. Activities that create "flow" include dancing, rock-climbing, art, coloring, sports, running, good conversations — anything that fully engages us, blocking self-consciousness, thoughts, and even emotions. During "flow," our skills match the challenge and we become in touch with our strengths.
2. Engage in random acts of kindness.
Research in positive psychology has found that an act of kindness can generate a greater amount of joy than a fun, pleasurable activity. A fun, pleasurable activity (like shopping) will produce momentary happiness but never enduring. Try to engage in at least one random act of kindness a day to increase your chances for lasting happiness.
3. Practice mindfulness meditation.
We must be completely submerged in the present moment to experience enduring happiness. By meditating for as little as five minutes a day, we are training our brains to be more present rather than jumping from past events to future events. Practicing mindfulness meditation is simply bringing all our awareness to what is happening in the now, be it our yoga practice, our breath, a focus point, or our outdoor run.
4. Be grateful.
Gratitude exercises are interventions used in positive psychology and have been found to amplify the appreciation of good events and ultimately, rewire our brains to become more optimistic and even transform bad memories into good ones. It is possible to increase positive emotions of the past by increasing our gratitude and by discontinuing to overemphasize the bad events.
Some gratitude-increasing exercises you can try include setting a time each night to write five things you are grateful for — it can be either in the last 24 hours or the last 24 years of your life — or journaling about three good things that happened during the day. Through these exercises, many have noticed increased levels of happiness after just two weeks of practice.
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