08 February 2018

The Science of Happiness: Part 3, Train Yourself to Be Happier

"We found specific interventions [i.e., assignments or exercises] that make people lastingly happier, and we believe this study holds implications -- small and large -- for the future of positive interventions and perhaps for clinical interventions." 

Martin Seligman
Founder of Positive Psychology
- from "Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions" a research paper published in American Psychologist by Martin Seligman, Tracy A. Steen, Nansook Park, & Christopher Peterson 

So here's the deal: If you want to train yourself to be happier and you're not sure where to start, here's some very good news: You don't need to spend a lot of energy analyzing and worrying about your weaknesses. Instead, you can simply identify some of your key strengths and build on them by performing some relatively simple exercises that have been proven to increase happiness. 

This is Part 3 in a series of posts on the Science of Happiness. In Part 1, A Little Theory, we looked at the origins and roots of the Positive Psychology movement and the Science of Happiness. In Part 2, Some Fun Stuff, we examined some popular resources from the BBC that provided interesting background and, I hope, motivated you to take charge of your own happiness. In this Part (Train Yourself to Be Happier), we’ll look at some specific steps you can take to increase the happiness in your life.

So let’s get to it! 

Step 1 [highly recommended, but optional]: Become familiar with two books by Martin Seligman.

If you’ve looked through the links in Parts 1 & 2, you’ve undoubtedly come across the name of the man who is usually identified as the founder of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman. His book, Authentic Happiness, is filled with wisdom and specific tools and strategies that can help you create a happier life. Dr. Seligman also wrote another landmark text, Learned Optimism, which examines why you should and how you can learn to develop an optimistic perspective. Ideally, you would get both of these books and immerse yourself in their wisdom to develop a solid foundation for your happiness. However, since this blog is about free training resources (and the books must be purchased), I’ve made this Step “optional.” (But you could at least get them from the library, right?)

Step 2: Identify your “signature strengths” (and don’t worry about your weaknesses!)

“I do not believe that you should devote overly much effort to correcting your weaknesses. Rather, I believe that the highest success in living and the deepest emotional satisfaction comes from building and using your signature strengths.” – Dr. Martin Seligman in Authentic Happiness

So, how do you find your signature strengths? Easy! You go to Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness website (http://www.authentichappiness.org), sign up for your free membership (over 700,000 people have already done so!) and work through the VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire. You’ll need a half hour or so, but this will measure your most important character strengths. According to the website: “The ranking of the strengths reflects your overall ratings of yourself on the 24 strengths in the survey, how much of each strength you possess. Your top five, especially those marked as Signature Strengths, are the ones to pay attention to and find ways to use more often.” FYI: There are a whole bunch of other fascinating “scientifically tested” questionnaires, surveys, and scales at the Authentic Happiness website. You can use any of these to “Develop insights into yourself and the world around you…”

Step 3: Work through three key exercises which were used by the researchers (see intro quote from this Post) to help develop happiness in their research subjects.

  • Gratitude visit. You have one week to write and then deliver a letter of gratitude in person to someone who had been especially kind to you but had never been properly thanked. 
  • Three good things in life. Every night for one week, write down three things that went well each day and provide a causal explanation for each good thing (i.e., describe why it happened).
  • Using signature strengths in a new way. Take the inventory of character strengths online at http://www.authentichappiness.org and get individualized feedback about your top five (“signature”) strengths. Then use one of these top strengths in a new and different way every day for one week. That’s it. And sure, they sound fairly simple. But remember, the researchers found empirical evidence that these exercises developed lasting happiness in the subjects who completed them! So, if you follow the steps above… if you really engage the exercises… you are likely to increase your happiness. 

More Information:
  • To read a PDF version of Time Magazine’s “The New Science of Happiness” (including “Eight Steps Toward a More Satisfying Life” …some practical suggestions from University of California psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, based on research findings… Satisfaction (at least a temporary boost) guaranteed!”) go to: http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1015832,00.html

[Thanks to Brian Johnson whose PhilosophersNotes on Martin Seligman’s books Authentic Happiness & Learned Optimism inspired my investigation of this topic.]