Dec 26, 2007

8 Ways For You To Find Happiness in 2008

The time is here yet again for new year's resolutions and what could be more rewarding than making 2008 your happiest year yet? Here are 8 tips that will virtually insure a happy life.

1. Fill your life with gratitude. Gratitude is being "re-discovered" as the key to happiness. Take the time to realize what you have, and how fortunate you are to be here- now- experiencing life. Take a few minutes at the same time everyday to write down 5 things you're thankful for. This is one of the quickest ways to lift your spirits and begin to create a happy life. It's simple, it doesn't cost anything, and all you have to gain is happiness. For more information on the power of gratitude, check out

"Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success." -Albert Schweitzer

2. Become an observer of life. When you encounter problems, step back and observe. Why is this occurring to me? What am I to learn from this problem? Time heals all issues and when you look back at a problem we can see how problems build our character and our life. Problems are not to be feared, but to be appreciated for the guidance they give to our lives.

3. Stop being judgemental. We add so much needless stress to our lives by worrying about what others think of us. And then to make ourselves feel better we judge and put others down. But by judging others, you begin to point out what's wrong with yourself. Stop judging and appreciate others for who and what they are. Stop living your life by what others think. You are an individual being with special gifts that others do not have. Be true to yourself and happiness will seek you.

4. Focus outwards, not inwards. Many of us look inwards and look to the world to make us feel better. But the real key is when we focus outwards on making the world around us better. When we work to make others around us to have a better life, you feel better, you gain a sense of fulfillment and you'll see happiness follow.

"Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others, cannot keep it from themselves." -James M Barrie.

5. Turn off negative media. Watch a local newscast for 30 minutes or so, or read the front page of a newspaper and observe how you feel. More than likely you'll feel like the world is falling apart, and that you helpless to affect change. Worrying about problems won't improve the world- or yourself! Remove the negative feelings created by the negative media and make room for happiness to appear!

6. Get away from "downer" people. Do you hang around with friends who are whiners and complainers? Negative, judgemental people sap your strength! Begin to seek out people who are passionate about life! Associate with happy people and their happiness will rub off on you!

7. Take time to meditate or relax each day. It's hard to be happy when you're all tensed up. Take some time for yourself each day to relax. Read a good book, go to a movie, call a friend or listen to music. Do something that you really enjoy doing.

8. See yourself as a happy person. Many things in life are a matter of perception. If you think you're happy, you'll be happy. If you think you're unhappy, then you'll be unhappy. Super successful businessman W. Clement Stone started each day with the saying, "I feel happy, I feel healthy, I feel terrific!" When you wake up each day, reconfirm to yourself that you're happy person. When things aren't going your way, just stop and smile. When you're having a rough day, stop and say thanks for what's going right.

"When you change the way you look at things, the things you're looking at, change." -Dr. Wayne Dyer

Now you've got the tools!

Have a great- and happy- 2008! :)

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Dec 1, 2007

The Science of Happiness and Gratitude

As I'm sitting here today, snowed in from the first snowfall of the season, I came across some interesting studies done about happiness and our constant search for happiness.

Happiness is a very individual thing. Happiness is hard to define and it's tough to describe where it comes from. Sometimes doing that special thing will make us happy, sometimes doing nothing makes us happy. Sometimes it's something we've bought, someone we've met, a special moment in our lives or something that's given to us, that helps define our happiness.

So what is the real science of happiness? Psychologists tell us a big chunk of our happiness is genetic. In fact, 50% of our happiness is in our genes, over which we have no control. But the good news is that the remaining 50% we do have control over. Things like how well educated we are, how old we are, how wealthy we are, how wealthy the country we live in is, how religious we are and whether we are married or not. All of these things can play into our level of happiness. Generally speaking, the more money we have, the smarter we are, the older we are, being religious and being married should put us at a happier state than most people. But while these things matter, it's surprising how little they matter. A study done by psychologists Sheldon and Lyubomirsky (2007) estimate that the importance of these things to be only 10% of the total picture. That's not much compared to the 50% we merely inherit. So what can we really do to be as happy as we can be? The answer seems to be in our everyday activities. It's what we do on a daily basis that can really determine how happy we will be.

Psychologists have determined that happiness is therefore 50% genetic, 10% circumstancial and 40% daily activity. Daily activity is a big part of our happiness. So this is what psychologists say are 3 happiness enhancing activities we can work on daily:

1. Develop and maintain a strong, positive self image.
2. Be willing and participate in helping others.
3. Experience Gratitude.

Here's what the PsyBlog tells us we can do to work in each of these areas.

1. Visualising your best possible self.

Visualising your best possible self may sound like an exercise in fantasy but, crucially, it does have to be realistic. Carrying out this exercise typically involves imagining your life in the future, but a future where everything that could go well, has gone well. You have reached those realistic goals that you have set for yourself.

Then, to help cement your visualisation, you commit your best possible self to paper. This exercise helps draw on the proven benefits of expressive writing.

The effectiveness of this activity was tested in a study by King (2001). Students were asked to write about their best possible future selves for 20 minutes over 4 consecutive days. This group was compared with one writing on a neutral topic, one writing about traumatic life events and another writing about both traumatic events and their best possible future selves.

The results showed that those who had only written about their best possible selves showed greater improvements in subjective well-being compared to all the other groups. The benefits of the exercise could even be measured fully five months later.

Since the results were so encouraging after only a four-day exercise, two other studies have investigated longer periods. Sheldon and Lyubomirsky (2006) and Dickerhoof et al. (2007) carried out studies over 4 and 8 weeks respectively. Both of these backed up the previous findings.

2. Helping others

...helping others is beneficial to the self. Helping out at a soup kitchen, volunteering on a helpline, visiting shut-ins - all are certainly virtuous activities. But isn't helping others for no tangible personal benefit too much like self-sacrifice?

Actually, the research suggests there's a very good selfish reason to help others - it really does seem to make us happier. In one study students were asked to perform five acts of kindness each week for six weeks (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon & Schkade, 2005). These were things like writing a thank-you note, giving blood or helping a friend with their work. Students were told either to perform one act each day or all five acts on one day.

Both experimental groups showed a better outcome than the control group whose well-being declined over the six-week period (perhaps exams were looming!). Those who performed their acts of kindness each day showed a small increase in well-being.

But the highest well-being was seen in those students who carried out all their acts of kindness on one single day on each of the six weeks of the study. Their well-being increased by an impressive 40%.

Lyubomirsky, Sheldon and Schkade (2005) suggest the reason for the difference is that a single act of kindness each day doesn't make an appreciable difference to the everyday routine, especially as these were only small acts.

3. Practicing gratitude.

...the third activity that has shown promise in increasing happiness: practicing gratitude. A study conducted by Emmons and McCullough (2003) found that sitting down weekly to write about five things we are grateful for increased happiness levels by 25%.

This PsyBlog was interesting and again shows how important gratitude plays in our day to day life. It is practicing gratitude that makes everything come together.

A quick way to get started, is to write down 5 things you're thankful for. Pick a time each day (i.e. before bedtime) to take a few minutes and write down an additional 5 things that you're thankful for. This proven practice helps in all areas of your life. It will strengthen you image of yourself, it will make you more aware of others and most importantly, it will make you appreciate all the good things in your life. It will be here, that you will find the true happiness of your life.

For more information on the life changing power of gratitude, check out

Thanks to PsyBlog and their following references for their insights.

Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9, 111-131.

Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). Is it possible to become happier? (And if so, how?). Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 1-17.

Dickerhoof, R., Lyubomirsky, S., & Sheldon, K. M. (2007). How and why do intentional activities work to boost well-being?: An experimental longitudinal investigation of regularly practicing optimism and gratitude. Manuscript under review.

Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389

King, L. A. (2001). The health benefits of writing about life goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 798-807