In celebration of the Mental Health Awareness month, all the blog posts for May will center on Happiness. The following topics will be discussed:
“How to be happy”
“How to increase happiness?”
“How to find happiness?”
If you will check my Google search history, you will see that these are some of the topics I searched for. I did this because of three reasons: (1) I am curious about happiness, (2) It is a topic I was assigned to talk about in a seminar, and (3) it is a pep talk for me whenever I feel down and lonely.
Happiness is the summon bonum, meaning it is humans’ ultimate goal. We work hard for money because we want to be happy. We aim for fame because we want to be happy. We search for freedom and for love because we want to be happy. All our goals lead to our desire to be happy.
WHAT IS HAPPINESS?
We cannot achieve happiness if we do not know what it means to us. We can set our own definition of what happiness is ( sometimes food means happiness, right?) but Martin Seligman, a psychologist and pioneer of the Positive Psychology theory, defined happiness as:
The state of feeling positive emotions, capacity to recover from negative emotions quickly and holding a sense of purpose.
If we will break down the definition, there are three things that define happiness: positive emotions, recovery from the negative and sense of purpose. I believe that if we will work on these three aspects, we will be able to increase feelings of happiness.
In each blog post this month, we will digest each of these three aspects. For this first post, we will discuss about positive emotions.
Positive emotions are considered “tiny engines” of Positive Psychology. To feel positive emotions, gratitude and optimism are key factors. Researching about happiness, I saw this list of things we can do to increase happiness that Sin & Lyubomirsky (2009) enumerated (they are both positive psychologists). They listed expressing gratitude and thinking positively about the future (a.k.a optimism) as two of the three things we can do to be happier.
WHAT IS GRATITUDE?
Harvard Medical School defined gratitude as:
“a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives… As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature or a higher power”
This is the definition I have shared because it captured the whole essence of what gratitude is. But in simple terms, gratitude is feeling and expressing thankfulness.
I believe that cases of depression and anxiety increase because people do not practice gratitude as much as they should. We tend to compare ourselves to others and we focus on things they have that we think we do not have. The things we believe we lack are magnified to us by our own minds and we feel inadequate.
I have been a victim of the Comparison Trap myself.
I would see other successful people who seem to have it all and I would compare myself to them. Instantly, all the good things I have, all the blessings I received and all the achievements I gained seem non-existent. This has lowered my self-esteem. The fear of not being good enough has taken over me. It prevented me to experience things which I would have enjoyed and learned a lot of things from.
Convinced that I need to improve my mindset, I decided to journal the things I am grateful for each day. It could be big things or mundane things, tangible or intangible. I just list it all down. By doing so, I am able to reflect on my day with “positivity” glasses on. Gratitude journaling also helped me realize my skills and talents which make me feel more confident and happy with myself.
GRATITUDE BREEDS OPTIMISM
Is the glass half-full or half-empty?
If you feel grateful and you appreciate that your glass has water in it, you will take the half-full mindset. You will think that you are blessed no matter how much content there is in your glass.
We live in the world we think we live. Our mindset affects how happy we are in life. If we hold a pessimistic mindset, what we will see are all negative, dark and sad. But if we work on seeing the positive, our lives will feel happier and lighter. Plus, optimism can be contagious too. You have the power to have that positive influence to others.
The concept of manifestation and law of attraction are created through the practice of optimism. Believers of this concept think that if we set our mind into that thing we want or if we behave as if we are already in the place we are dreaming of, our desires will manifest into reality. In addition, optimistic people are more likely to live longer because they feel less stressed than their pessimistic counterparts. There are truly a lot of benefits in just taking a positive mindset.
Moreover, cognitive psychologists also believe that our mind is a very important factor to what we feel and how we behave. Therapies like Cognitive Behavior Therapy center on reframing the negative core beliefs of a person to more positive and helpful beliefs. It is challenging to change and improve our mindset but it is certainly doable.
What can we do then? Choose gratitude and optimism every day.
CHOOSE TO BE POSITIVE
One thing we can do to improve our mindset is to consistently choose to be grateful and optimistic. When you hear your inner critic reprimanding you for not being good enough, try to think of counter arguments that do not support the lies it is telling you. Acknowledge your skills, talents and achievements. Be grateful of even the most mundane things. Do all this consistently until it becomes a habit.
But I know this is not easy. It needs consistency and determination to really change our mindset. Good thing is we can start small.
CALL TO ACTION
I lost my habit of journaling a few months ago. This time, I want to re-build habits I think will be helpful for me to live my life to the fullest. I want to do journaling again and list down all the things I am thankful for. I want to be more mindful and more optimistic. Journaling would be one habit I can do to develop these traits.
I invite you to join me in this week’s challenge. You may choose one (or you can choose all three) action below and do it for seven (7) days straight.
What can we do to develop gratitude and optimism?
- Start a gratitude journal where you can list and write about all the things you are grateful for each day
- Reflect on your skills, talents and achievements. Write it all down on a notebook. Then create a mantra you can tell yourself whenever doubt and pessimism knocks.
- Post in your social media accounts (Facebook timeline, Facebook My Day, IG feed or IG stories) about the things you are grateful for. You can post at least one thing per day. Use the hashtag #GratefulOptimist so that I can see your posts (and I will know I have accountability partners! Yay!) or tag The Uplifting Space to your posts.
Start cultivating a happy mind and you will see that success will follow.
Positive Emotions and Well-Being by Dr. Marianna Pogosyan. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/between-cultures/201611/positive-emotions-and-wellbeing
TED Talk: How To Make Stress Your Friend by Dr. Kelly McGonigal
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha
What is Gratitude and Why is it so Important. Retrieved from http://positivepsychologyprogram.com/gratitude-appreciation