Living fit is not just about looking great— it’s also about feeling great. While consistent exercise and a clean diet certainly contribute to a happy and healthy mindset, positive psychology* offers us a few other reliable methods for improving our sense of well-being and happiness… immediately. Gotta love instant gratification. Even better, these happiness-boosting recommendations have been researched and proven effective, so they won’t waste a minute of your time. Good stuff, huh?
In Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar’s Book Being Happy, he explains that our sense of happiness and well-being is mainly contingent upon our state of mind— specifically, what we choose to focus on and how we interpret external events. And, he further explains that boosting our happiness can be as simple as being aware and grateful of our blessings.1
But, if it’s so simple (and obvious), then why don’t we always do it? My belief is that we’re just not in the habit of doing so. We’re used to rushing through life putting out fires rather than fanning our flames of success. However, like working out and eating healthy, we must form habits to help make our desired behaviors— like an attitude of gratitude— stick. So, join me in getting our minds as healthy and happy as our bodies with these two habit-forming appreciation activities:
- What Went Well Exercise. (Also known as “Three Blessings”) – Each day, write down three (or more) things that went well or for which you are grateful and why. The key to making the most of this activity is to stay engaged in it and not allow your answers to become routine. Think about what was really important to you that day, and record it in a journal or in a computer document.
Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough completed a study where they asked participants to write down things that they were appreciative of on a daily basis. Compared to the control group, the gratitude listers become significantly more appreciative of life, enjoyed higher levels of well-being and experienced more positive emotions. They also got more quality sleep.2
- Gratitude Visit. Once per month, write a letter to someone that has made a difference in your life, deliver it in person (if possible) and read it aloud.
Dr. Martin Seligman’s research on the gratitude visit found that the increased positive feelings and happiness as a result of the visit were still evident even one month after it occurred.3
A Winning Thought
I know what you’re thinking: “Yeah, yeah…I’ve heard this positive thinking stuff a million times before.” I get it. I thought the same thing. However, if you’re anything like me, you had heard this information before, but you hadn’t consistently acted on it. A few weeks ago, I decided to follow the advice of the positive psychologists and do the daily “What Went Well” listing. Not only have I felt less stressed and more exuberant, I’ve also become more aware of great things happening all around me, which further fed the happiness machine. Said another way— appreciation made my happiness appreciate. Love it. So, make gratitude a daily habit and enjoy an even healthier and happier you. Now, that’s winning the day.
* Positive Psychology is a branch of psychology, which focuses on the empirical study of topics like positive emotions, strengths-based character and healthy institutions.
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1. Cooperrider, D.L. and Whitney, D. (2005) Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
2. Emmons, R. A. and McCollough, M.E. (2003). Counting Blessings Versus Burden: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 377-389.
3. Seligman, M. E. P. (2011) Flourish, A Positive Revolution in Change. Free Press. 38.