Ten Positive Psychology Practices for Boosting Happiness
Practices that can decrease depression and increase emotional well-being.
Posted September 22, 2014 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
You can read all the anxiety advice in the world, but none of it matters unless you take action. To feel better, you have to ruthlessly focus your efforts on those things that reduce anxiety and increase positive emotions. You also have to stop doing things that make you feel down, tense, or keep you up at night.
To make it easier for you to feel happier, set aside 5 to 60 minutes per day to tackle one of the steps below. The more tasks you complete, the more progress you’ll make.
You’re probably already familiar with some of these exercises, but if you’re still feeling unhappy, indecisive, and irritable, I guarantee you haven’t done all of them.
I’m a huge fan of Positive Psychology and the work of Dr. Martin Seligman. Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths and positive traits that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to accentuate their positive traits, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.
Positive Psychology emphasizes gratitude, and this is especially important if you're raising children. Research on teens shows that giving back boosts positive emotions, mental health, life satisfaction, and increases their motivation to use their positive strengths to contribute to society.
Here's to improving your happiness, and paying it forward.
Action #1: Know that Life Hurts, but Happiness Is the Cure
Happy and unhappy people have the same pain and trauma. The difference is happy people possess a disposition that helps them bounce back very quickly. When you cultivate a happier attitude, you become less dependent on external sources of validation and trust your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
The following five facts highlight happiness as a key factor in reducing anxiety:
- Happy people are smarter and more creative.
- Happy people have more stable and happy marriages.
- Happy people make more money.
- Happy people are healthier and live longer.
- Happy people are more generous.
Don’t wait to start your attitude adjustment. The sooner you do this, the faster you’ll develop the motivation to change your anxious ways.
Action #2: Start a Gratitude Journal
When we ruminate about negatives events, we lose perspective. Keep a simple journal of what you’re grateful for, and write three things daily at least twice per week. Refer to your journal when you feel down.
Action #3: Add the Gratitude Diary
When you understand why you see the world the way you do, you’ll begin to see that you have complete control over your emotions. The Gratitude Diary is more in-depth than the Gratitude Journal and highlights how you got from a negative thought to a more positive one.
Let’s face it, most of us are experts in finding negative situations. But do you know how you make the transition from a bad mood to a good one? Each day, write 3 to 5 things that you liked.
- What happened to me?
- Why did it happen?
- What did I do right?
- How did I help it happen?
- Why did I do that?
Then write one thing that you didn’t like.
- And how is it keeping me stuck?
- When I am stuck, what are the thoughts and actions that get me unstuck and in a better mood?
After repeating this daily, you’ll begin to see your negative thought patterns. Instead of ruminating on what’s not going right, you can re-focus your mental energy on doing things differently.
Action #4: Practice Optimism
Establish a personal goal with the “goal” of tracking your progress, and not necessarily the finish line. When you master the attitude of optimism, you understand that good things are coming, and that the bad things pass quickly and can be ignored. For example, you want to increase your comfort level when going out in public because you are overly self-conscious around others. Try the following exercise to test the “negative event.”
- What will be the first sign this is no longer affecting me?
- How will I know I have bounced back?
- What evidence do I have that this event is something that affects most people, and isn’t necessarily my fault?
- Since it happens to others, does it make sense to continue to blame myself?
- What can I do today to bounce back from this?
- If this event didn’t happen, how would I have spent my emotional energy? What would I have done in its place?
Action #5: Write Your Future Diary
When you see yourself as capable of solving problems, you’re more likely to find ways to actually solve your problems. Write about your preferred future. What will it look like? How will others respond to you in this positive future? What will you feel? How will your life change? How will your positive future benefit others?
Action #6: Savoring
Savoring positive experiences makes us appreciate the simple pleasures of life. When we take time to go slowly, our senses are sharper and we are mindful of what’s happening around us.
Choose a daily ritual. If walking your dog is normally a routine that you find boring, change your mindset and allow your mind to notice the sights, smells, and physical sensations around you. If you savor one experience each day, you will soon develop a nice habit.
Action #7: Count Kindness Gestures
Keep a log of all the kind acts that you do on a particular day. Jot them down by the end of each day. These don’t have to be grand, and they can be as simple as holding the door open for someone or smiling at a stranger.
Action #8: Record Three Funny Things
Write down the three funniest things that you experienced each day; also write about why the funny thing happened (e.g., was it something you created, something you observed, or something spontaneous?)
Action #9: Gift Your Time
Offer the “gift” of your time to three different people this week. This might be in the form of time spent, helping someone around their house, or sharing a meal with someone who is lonely.
Action #10: Gratitude Visit
I thought it apropos to end where we started…with gratitude!
- Think of someone you should thank, someone who’s been helpful or kind to you (and not a family member or spouse).
- Write a letter to this person.
- Tell them how they’ve helped you and how that affected you later on.
- Now put the letter in a frame, or laminate it.
- Call your friend and ask for a time to come by for a visit.
- Tell your friend you have something to read to them.
- Then visit, read the letter, and leave it with them.
The increase in moods could benefit you and them for up to six weeks!
The key is consistency. You don’t have to do everything on this list, just pick the ones that work best for you.
Remember, action is where it's at!