Since the 1960s it has become increasingly common that people visit a counsellor or therapist to talk about the problems and difficulties that trouble their lives. Beliefs like "…It has to get harder before it gets better” reflect widely accepted wisdom and experiences people had for a very, very long time. These beliefs are now challenged by recent discoveries by researchers that focus on what is known as 'positive psychology'. Without discounting the usefulness of traditional therapy that explores the problems people have and assists in finding new understandings or new behaviours, positive psychology suggests that focusing on people’s strengths and virtues is a more effective approach to combat depression and unhappiness.
Positive psychologists propose that people will be happier and have an increasing sense of a good life when they focus on three components identified as assisting in having a more positive outlook on life. These are:
1. The first area of building a positive outlook has to do with enjoying life and savouring everyday experiences with all your senses (for example: let your eyes fully take in the beauty of nature, savour a good meal, delight in a wonderful piece of music, feel the warm sand under your feet when you walk along the beach). In general, the first step is about enjoying and being grateful for the small things in life.
2. The second area of building a positive outlook is about becoming more engaged with friends and family. Research has revealed that besides anything else, the single most important aspect of happiness and a high quality of life is having close, meaningful relationships.
3. The third area of building a positive outlook covers creating a meaningful life. When people are finding ways that make their lives more meaningful (for example giving love, care, and support to others), they not only feel good about having done a ‘good deed’, but they are also giving meaning to their lives.
Of course, the views of positive psychologists are contested by many who have a different opinion. It flies in the face of traditional ways of doing therapy to suggest you just have to think some happy thoughts and things will get better. Who's right? For those who would like to be happier, this is a pretty futile question. Everyone can test the hypotheses by doing a wee research for themselves. There is no harm in putting 4 or 6 weeks aside to get through some exercises in building happiness. Spending this time focusing on the pleasurable things in life, practicing gratitude and kindness, and being more involved with people one cares about can do no harm, can they? It's not hard to imagine that there would be a positive echo.
Happiness might be just one of the things that not all people are genetically programmed for. Most of us might have to work on putting efforts and strategies in place that, over time, become habitual. The increased feeling of happiness will create a self-reinforcing feedback loop and might make people want to be kind, enjoying things, and put more meaning in one's actions. Often people say after an unpleasant experience "…in 5 years, when I look back to today, I will be able to laugh about that". The idea is that, if your brain has the capacity to change something unpleasant into something pleasant over time, why wait 5 years, why not have it now?
Given that research has shown that having successful relationships is one of the main predictors of happiness and well-being, it might be a good idea for people to brush up on their relationship skills to assure that they do everything in their power to work on their happiness. Sign up for my free relationship course to see what area you would need to up-skill to be relationship savvy.
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