Martin Seligman, PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, is known as the father of the Positive Psychology Movement. In 1965, Seligman began conducting experiments on his theory of learned helplessness. What he theorized from his research, is that people who “learn” that there is no connection between action and outcome in a particular area, learn helplessness and often generalize this to other areas of their life. On the contrary, optimistic people have a way of explaining events that does not see defeat as permanent or affecting their personal value while pessimist see setbacks as lasting a long time and their fault.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, a University of California psychologist has come up with a research based list of eight steps to more satisfying life. Not only can optimism, increase one’s general feelings of happiness, but research indicates that optimistic people are healthier than their pessimistic counter-parts. With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, these steps that can improve your happiness level seem all the more relevant.
Eight Steps Towards a More Satisfying Life
- Count your blessings. One way to do this is with a “gratitude journal” in which you write down 3 to 5 things for which you are currently thankful – from the mundane (your peonies are in bloom) to the magnificent (a child’s first steps). Do this once a week, say, on Sunday night. Keep it fresh by varying your entries as much as possible.
- Practice acts of kindness. These should be both random (let that harried mom go ahead of you in the checkout line) and systematic (bring Sunday supper to an elderly neighbor). Being kind to others, whether friends or strangers, triggers a cascade of positive effects – it makes you feel generous and capable, gives you a greater sense of connection with others and wins you smiles, approval and reciprocated kindness – all happiness boosters.
- Savor Life’s Joys. Pay close attention to momentary pleasures and wonders. Focus on the sweetness of a ripe strawberry or the warmth of the sun when you step out from the shade. Some psychologists suggest taking “mental photographs” of pleasurable moments to review in less happy times.
- Thank a mentor. If there’s someone whom you owe a debt of gratitude for guiding you at one of life’s crossroads, don’t wait to express your appreciation – in detail and, if possible, in person.
- Learn to forgive. Let go of anger and resentment by writing a letter of forgiveness to a person who has hurt or wronged you. Inability to forgive is associated with persistent rumination or dwelling on revenge, while forgiving allows you to move on.
- Invest Time and Energy in Friends and Family. Where you live, how much money you make, your job title and even your health have small effects on your satisfaction with life. The biggest factor appears to be strong personal relationships.
- Take care of your body. Getting plenty of sleep, exercising, stretching, smiling and laughing can all enhance your mood in the short term. Practiced regularly, they can help make your daily life more satisfying.
- Develop strategies for coping with stress and hardship. There is no avoiding hard times. Religious faith has been shown to help people cope, but so do the secular beliefs enshrined in axioms like “This too shall pass” and “That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” The trick is that you have to believe them.