|Testing around the new camera // Paris 2013|
What does this title inspire you? Usually, there is one of two reactions: either “how naïve!”, or “what’s that crap?” We live in a society where too much positivity is seen as a weakness, a “feminine trait”, making people look soft and full of delusions. But it turns out science backs us optimists, and here is a bit of context, along with an exercise to cultivate positivity in your everyday life.
Happiness is good for your health
We have an intuition that being happy is good for our health. Aren’t happy, balanced, satisfied people “glowing”, in a way? Don’t we say lovers are beaming with well-being? It turns out this hunch is backed by science: a number of studies show how having a positive outlook on life opens up our mind and transforms us for the better.
A study from Sonja Lyubormirsky, Laura King and Ed Diener from 2005 shows that happy people tend to live longer lives and have healthier bodies. This would be linked, among other things, to the neurophysiological changes that happiness produces. In other words, being happy has a very tangible effect on our brains and bodies.
Concretely, this translates by fewer chronic pain conditions, fewer strokes, a lower probability to get into fatal accidents and more. On a day to day basis, happier people tend to have a stronger immune system, a more robust cardiovascular profile…
This same study shows a better social profile too, which makes sense: happier people are more open, sociable and charitable, making them friendlier and helping them maintain stronger relationships. In other words, if you care for your physical and social health, being happy should be one of your goals. However…
Actively pursuing happiness doesn’t work
Research shows that actively pursuing happiness, and making it a life goal, has the opposite effect of making one less happy. Is it because expectations are too high? Is it because we mistake happiness with feeling good every single minute of our life? In any case, science proves that people actively trying to be happy usually have a harder time actually becoming happier than those who just enjoy the positive moments of their life without pressuring themselves toward happiness.
For years I’ve studied prioritizing positivity, and through scientific research, I’ve found that it goes hand-in-hand with optimal mental health. That is, the people who pursue happiness by seeking out pleasant experiences as part of their everyday lives are happier. In stark contrast, people who strive to feel good every possible moment, as if it were possible to will oneself to be happy, appear to be following a recipe for unhappiness.—Laura Catalino
Well, that explains a lot about how unhappy we are in our society, surrounded by injunctions to be happier (usually with the help of this car or that pair of shoes). But that’s a topic for another digression. What interests me today is this idea: instead of pursuing the idea of happiness, it is by cultivating even the smallest positive feelings and moments in our everyday life that we slowly improve our mindset and indeed become happier.
Cultivating ordinary positive moments
Today, I would like to present you the first interesting idea I came across during my science of happiness MOOC: in order to be happier, stop trying to be happier, and focus on the moments and emotions that are positive in your life.
This ties in with many other topics I wrote about in the past, such as the habit of meditation (specifically the one called loving kindness, which cultivates positive emotions) or the feeling of gratitude. Cultivating a more positive attitude is something that needs to be learned, honed through everyday habits. As they confirm in the MOOC, this is a lifestyle change, which can require as much effort as losing weight for example.
This sounds like a vast project, so let’s start with an easy evening routine, which can be the beginning of this lifestyle change. I have started this recently myself and will reports on its benefits. If you are doing a similar exercise or start on with me, I’d love to hear your progress as well.
The “3 things” evening routine
This exercise is proposed by the science of happiness MOOC, and French readers might also recognize the French positive psychology researcher Florence Servan-Schreiber’s concept of the “3 kifs a day”. No revolution here, except for the fact that I’d like to start it myself and share it with you.
- Every evening before bed, come up with 3 things you have enjoyed today, or for which you feel grateful today
- For each of these things, describe the scene, what happened, what emotions it created in you, why you chose this particular thing
- Describe also how it makes you feel now, at the end of the day
And that’s it! Any support is fine for noting that down: your tablet or phone, a notebook and pen by the nightstand (of course I chose the notebook and pen myself).
Why does it cultivate positivity?
First, it forces you to think about 3 positive things during your day. It is sometimes hard to come up with, but it becomes easier with time. Then, it makes you realize the positive moments you actually had in your day, remember them, ending your day on a positive note. Finally, it makes you more aware of the positive moments as you live them over the course of the day, as you think of what 3 things you’ll include tonight.
You can read more on these techniques and more on the Greater Good online magazine. French speaking readers might want to grab Florence Servan-Schreiber’s book, 3 kifs par jour.
Those of you who follow me on Instagram may also have noticed that I joined the #100HappyDays project about 60 days ago. The idea is to take one picture every day or something that makes you happy, and post it on Instagram (or any other social network) with that hashtag. As easier way to start off the habits of positivity perhaps?
What do you think? Do you already engage in that type of positive exercise, gratitude journal or similar activity? If not, are you in with me?
Source: The Science of Happiness MOOC, by the University of Berkeley