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5 Actions to Create Greater Meaning and Joy

Steps to increase your positivity.

The Dalai Lama (2017), head monk of Tibetan Buddhism, writes, "Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions." And scientific research validates that while good genes are welcome, behaviors and relational choices are better.

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Landmark adult development research from the Harvard Study of Adult Development (Waldinger, 2015, 2004; Vaillant 2012), followed two groups of men from college into old age for more than 75 years. This research offers insights into adult development and aging.

Highlights from the Harvard study:

  • Good relationships and social supports, such as friends, family, volunteering, and social groups, positively benefit health and well-being.
  • It's the quality of relationships, not the number of relationships that makes the difference.
  • Awareness that life is short makes people happier. Knowing that time is limited encourages people to prioritize well-being as important.
  • Education and continuing to learn is good for health, wellness, and longevity.
  • Four actions that contribute mightily toward a happy retirement are: Replacing work relationships with other social networks; Re-discovering the act of playing; Engaging in creative activities; Continuing to learn.

5 Actions to Create Greater Meaning and Joy:

There are many ways to create more meaning and joy in life. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson suggests that the secret to building more positivity is to increase pleasant moments or “positivity points” over time (Fredrickson, 2009). Here are a few ideas.

  • Pause and notice life's small pleasures. Paying attention to even the briefest moments of joy offers opportunities for renewal. Pause to truly notice life's small pleasures – the first flowers of spring, the sun shining through clouds, a moment to offer kindness to a friend. Recall a situation from your past that made you smile, feel joyful or more fully alive. Savor those thoughts and feelings you experienced and reignite your joy (Fredrickson, 2009).
  • Rely on and help other people. Build social connections. Hang out with friends and family. Become involved in groups and communities. Foster relationships in which you can count on other people and they can count on you.
  • Find a sense of purpose, calling, and commitment. Let a meaningful or challenging event stimulate you to think about what is really important to you. Sit quietly and pay attention to what your inner knowing is saying. When you have a few free moments, reflect on or journal about your life’s purpose. Periodically re-evaluate aspects of your life and make changes that reflect your new awareness.
  • Continue to learn. Practice a new skill at home or work. Learn to dance, cook, or fix basic household problems. Take a class on-site or online. Embrace that hobby you've been thinking about. Study a new language.
  • Discover new solutions. If the way you approach a problem isn't working, try a new strategy. Identify the problem, brainstorm ideas to solve it, examine each possibility, and select a solution to try. Anticipating problems and flexibility in resolving them can feel good and build positivity.

*This post is for educational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.


Fredrickson, B. L. (2009). Positivity: Top-notch research reveals the upward spiral that will change your life. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.

Lewis, T. (2015, December). Business Insider. A Harvard psychologist says 3 things are the secret to real happiness. Retrieved from…

The Dalai Lama's 6 key tips to happiness (Posted on July 7, 2017). Retrieved from

Waldinger R.J. (November, 2015) What makes a good life: Lessons from the longest study on happiness. Retrieved from…

Waldinger, R.J. (2004). The Harvard study on adult development. Retrieved from

Vaillant, G.E. (2003). Aging well: Surprising guideposts to a happier life from the landmark Harvard study of adult development. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Company.

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