How to enhance and sustain happiness
It’s a little tricky – even yawn producing – to write about gratitude in Thanksgiving’s month, but that’s what I want to do, so let me approach it as a part of a story on Positive Psychology Interventions. PPIs are scientific strategies which focus on enhancing happiness and sustaining it for the long term. While in the past clinical psychologists have worked to find solutions to depression, anxiety, stress, and the like, PPIs work on preventing these conditions and can be used to promote wellbeing even in the absence of such pathology. Therefore, PPIs are tools for anyone and everyone looking to be happier.
I don’t mean to diminish the work of psychologists who use traditional talk therapy to help us find happiness. I have flourished in the past thanks to it and recommend it heartily. And when talking about psychological matters, it’s always best to mention the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline – now easily accessed nationwide by dialing 988. But beyond that, I am wondering if there comes a time in life when we try new strategies for happiness instead of old ones?
I recently spoke to a man just entering his seventies who said he had no friends and blamed it on the fact that his parents moved a lot during his childhood. I agreed it might have been their fault until he graduated high school, but why didn’t he make friends in college or in his career? He helped me realize that some of our past grievances – like old clothes in our closet – need to be packed off to Goodwill in order to promote goodwill. Should we send this guy off for lots of talk therapy to explore the past seventy years, or is there another approach to try?
Martin Seligman has an answer. He is considered the father of Positive Psychology. He was elected President of the American Psychological Association in 1998 and made Positive Psychology the theme of his term. His idea was this: instead of fixating on our weaknesses thanks to wrongs in the past, why not look to and develop our strengths?
There are many Positive Psychology Interventions. An article in Psychology Unlocked lists a dozen “established groups” such as these: Forgiveness Interventions, Savoring Interventions, Strength Interventions, Humor Interventions, and the one that interests me the most, Gratitude Interventions.
Before discussing Gratitude Interventions, let me offer a few disclaimers: My degree is in Elementary Education. I am not a psychologist. I have not worked with a psychologist trained in PPIs. I’m just an honest person: I have everything, yet it does not always add up to happiness. Thus, I seek new strategies to change that equation.
I turn to a Gratitude Intervention because of an article I read by Brené Brown on the connection of joy and gratitude. She is the author of many best-selling books and is also known for her 2011 TEDx talk that went viral. It has been seen by over 59.6 million people. In an interview with the Global Leadership Network, Brown said: “In my 12 years of research on 11,000 pieces of data, I did not interview one person who had described themselves as joyful who also did not actively practice gratitude. For me it was very counterintuitive because I went into the research thinking that the relationship between joy and gratitude was: If you are joyful, you should be grateful. But it wasn’t that way at all.”
Recognizing her emphasis on “actively practicing gratitude,” I have researched Gratitude Interventions and have five exercises to suggest:
- Write a letter to someone who has been influential in your life, and thank them for the part they played in making you who you are. You don’t have to send the letter, so the person can be dead or alive, or even a fictional character.
- Make a list of all the friends for whom you are grateful. Store the list in an easy-to-find location so you can add more names over the years. Having a blue day? These people are a phone call away.
- Count your blessings! Can you list 10? What about 20? Go for 30!
- Create a gratitude jar – find a container and maybe even decorate it. Using scraps of paper, each day write down one thing you are grateful for, and add it to the jar. In a month, there will be 30 things to look back on. In two months, there will be 60. Having a blue day? Pluck gratitude memories from the jar to read and savor.
- Use prompts to write in a gratitude journal:
- I am grateful for my friendship with ____ because:
- Here are three silly somethings I am grateful for:
- I am grateful because something good happened this week! Here it is:
- Write your name vertically down the center of the page. For each letter, list something you are grateful for.
- Write about a favorite travel memory for which you are grateful.
Positive Psychology Interventions like these are an offshoot of clinical psychology, and they have been in use for over two decades. For the right person they might be the road to happiness.
As for me, I’m the perennial good girl. If a psychologist told me to dredge up the past in order to find joy, I would dredge. But if instead he/she told me that positive behavior, positive thoughts, and positive feelings could lead to the same result, I would explore that route.
Thanks to Brené Brown, I start my exploration with gratitude, which is ever so handy since that is what I wanted to talk about all along. And I wonder, did I manage it? Did I write a story about gratitude in Thanksgiving’s month without provoking yawns? I sure hope so! And if I did, please know…
I am very grateful.
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