The Human Beast

Why we do what we do

Creating Happiness: 10 Practical Strategies

How to stay positive.

People are either optimists or pessimists. Discussion of this split tends to be loaded. Optimists receive all of the advantages, from succeeding in careers to leading long healthy lives. So why would anyone choose to be a pessimist? Genetics? If a person is a habitual pessimist, can they change?

Many psychologists believe that optimism can be learned like any other skill. I happen to agree, and I have put forward some of the key tips for staying positive even if circumstances turn against you. These ideas are simple enough to be easily implemented, and they work for most people.

1. Aristotle said that happiness is an activity, meaning that people who are more active will be happier. Many interests and hobbies, and staying busy, create happiness, although everyone needs some relaxation as well.

See All Stories In

The Pet Payoff

Oh, the many benefits of furry friends.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

2. Aristotle's insight can be taken quite literally because physical exertion of any kind wards off depression.

3. Cognitive psychologists realized that what we think about is to some extent voluntary. Depressives constantly cut themselves down with automatic negative thoughts (or ANTs) such as "No one likes me," or "I am a complete failure." In cognitive therapy, the ANTs are challenged and replaced with more positive self assessments. So squash the ANTs!

4. There is always something negative in a person's life, whether already present or in the offing. A certain kind of person is in a constant state of vigilance to discover that fly in the ointment. Their glass is ever half empty. Don't be that person.

5. Living in the present is always best. Folk who dwell on the past are likely to experience many regrets. Longing for a better life, wanting to be more admired or appreciated, such living in the future is a recipe for heartache.

6. Appreciating beauty is an underrated path to happiness. Whether it is the saturated color of a flower petal, the music of an accent, or catching sight of a sexually attractive person, these experiences affect our brains like a stimulant drug, reflecting what evolution designed us for.

7. Celebrate! The happiest times of our childhoods were often family celebrations. We are social beings and positive social events boost our happiness.

8. If possible, avoid people who bring you down. Cultivate happy companions. Contentment rubs off.

9. In addition to choosing cheerful companions, it is a good idea to live in a sunny climate, given that bright days elevate our mood and winter causes depression in some people.

10. If all of this seems a tad selfish, my experience suggests that happy people are generally quite full of themselves. Yet humans are mostly quite nurturing. We also live through other people. For that reason, caring for others, particularly children, is a deep source of happiness. The good news for the childless is that caring for a pet, or even a potted plant, can yield a similar boost in happiness.

Nigel Barber, Ph.D., is an evolutionary psychologist as well as the author of Why Parents Matter and The Science of Romance, among other books.

more...

Subscribe to The Human Beast

Current Issue

Love & Lust

Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?