Science is showing that we can build happiness with small changes in our behavior.
Below are five research-based activities—character strengths interventions—centered around different spiritual strengths. Each activity has been shown to boost happiness (studies below), so what might happen if you engage all five?!
The strengths are nicely aligned with the celebration of most holidays. And, with 5 days left before Christmas, you can manage your stress and slowly build your well-being by doing one activity per day. Start today!
Day 1: Hope
Set a short-term goal for your holiday season. What is something new you’d like to accomplish by Day 5 (or by the end of the season)? List a few pathways you can use to reach your goal so that you aren't stuck with only one approach.
I am setting a goal to do creative writing each day of my break. There are many ways I can reach this goal—and I do need as many ways as possible as I have 3 kids that will be competing for my attention! One pathway is to wake up early and write. Another pathway is to write during the kids’ quiet time or nap time. Another pathway is for my wife and I to mutually arrange alone-time where one of us watches the kids and the other has alone-time. Another pathway is to write in the evening after my kids go to sleep. The last one is my default strategy.
Day 2: Humility
To use humility, researchers suggest we lower our self-focus and value others and “all things” more. Make a list of five experiences, people, or things that you realize you should value more and describe why.
I will use this strength by not focusing on my own accomplishments and bring all of my focus to other people and what I value about each person I meet. The famous quote of the late, prominent research scientist, Chris Peterson was “Other people matter,” which summed up the field of positive psychology. Perhaps this was actually a call for humanity to improve this strength?
Day 3: Kindness
Give the “gift of time” to a person in your life that is in need. This might be a family member, friend, neighbor, or stranger. Offer yourself to help and support them with their needs.
I can use this strength by making a phone call to a person whom I know is suffering physically. I can offer loving support and compassion during the call.
Day 4: Spirituality (the sacred)
Be observant throughout the day for what is particularly special, sacred, or holy to you. It might be a view out your window, a funny moment with a friend, or a pleasant feeling that comes over you. Pause when you notice this moment. Prolong the moment by savoring the feelings and allowing yourself to take in the fullness of the experience.
I will create opportunities for myself to notice the sacred, re-discovering it. I will pause at many points during the day to shift myself from mind-chatter to simply breathing and experiencing the present moment. I will spend more time looking at the trees and pond in my backyard. I will spend more time carefully and mindfully observing my family in action. These will increase the likelihood that I’ll be aware of the many sacred moments that are unfolding in front me.
Day 5: Gratitude
Every time you receive a gift, after you say your obligatory “thank you,” take a moment to internally count one of your blessings in life. If you get 12 gifts, count 12 blessings. Be specific and nuanced with each blessing and don’t repeat yourself!
Examples of a few blessings I might count include gratefulness for the colorful vibrancy of the beautiful decorations in our house, gratefulness for each unique smile on my children’s faces, and gratefulness that I have a mother and father I can call to talk to.
Cheavens, J. S., Feldman, D. B., Gum, A., Michael, S. T., & Snyder, C. R. (2006). Hope therapy in a community sample: A pilot investigation. Social Indicators Research, 77(1), 61–78. http://doi.org/10.1007/ s11205-005-5553-0
Gander, F., Proyer, R. T., Ruch, W., & Wyss, T. (2013). Strength-based positive interventions: Further evidence for their potential in enhancing well-being and alleviating depression. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 1241–1259. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-012-9380
Goldstein, E. D. (2007). Sacred moments: Implications on well-being and stress. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 63(10), 1001–1019. http://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.2040
Lavelock, C. R., Worthington, E. L., Jr., Davis, D. E., Griffin, B. J., Reid, C. A., Hook, J. N., & Van Tongeren, D. R. (2014). The quiet virtue speaks: An intervention to promote humility. Journal of Psychology & Theology, 42, 99–110.
Niemiec, R. M. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field-guide for practitioners. Boston, MA: Hogrefe.
Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410–421. http://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.60.5.410