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Positive Psychology Techniques Proven to Boost Happiness

 
Positive psychology is a branch of psychology whose aim is to boost people’s everyday happiness and life satisfaction. Positive psychology interventions have been found to be effective at both decreasing depression as well as increasing well-being [1], [2].

So, what types techniques have they found effective?

Well, in one study [3] they tried 5 different exercises to boost happiness, all of them made people happier and have fewer depressive symptoms immediately after the test. Two of the exercises continued to make people happier even 6 months after they had stopped doing them.

Here are all the techniques, in order of how effective they are:

1 – Three good things

Every night for a week, write down three good things, big or small, that happened to you that day and why each thing happened.

While this may seem to be a very simple exercise, it had the most lasting effects. Even 6 months later, people who had tried this exercise for a week were feeling happier than those that didn’t.

2- Using your Signature Strengths in a new way

First, figure out your top 5 signature strengths using the Signature Strengths Self Rating Scale. Then pick one to work on this week. Each day of the week, find a new and different way to use this strength.

So, for instance if your signature strength is curiosity, you might listen to a podcast on a topic you don’t know much about like history or astrophysics or economics. If your signature strength is creativity, you might try out a new medium like clay or watercolours. If you’re stuck for ideas on how to use your signature strength, see this page for suggestions.

This exercise also had very lasting effects and people who tried it were significantly happy even 6 months later.

3 – Gratitude visit

You have one week to write and deliver a letter of gratitude in person to someone who has been especially kind to you and have never properly thanked. Describe to them in specific terms why you’re grateful to this person and how their behaviour affected your life. Tell them what you’re doing how often you remember their efforts.

This exercise had the largest increase in happiness immediately after doing it and people continue to have a happiness boost even one month later.

4 – Identifying your Signature Strength

Like exercise 2, you start by identifying your top 5 signature strengths using Signature Strengths Self Rating Scale. Then you try to use these strengths more often this week.

While this exercise didn’t continue to make you happier once you finished it, the way trying to use your signature strength in new ways did, using your signature strength more often made people happier during the week they tried it.

5 – You at your best

Write about a time when you were at your best. Reflect on the personal strengths displayed in the story. Read this story every day for a week, and reflect on the strengths displayed in the story.

 This exercise made people happier during the week they performed it, but didn’t continue to make people happier once they stopped.

Other studies have found additional effective exercises to boost happiness. Because they are in different studies, it’s harder to compare their efficacy, so here they are in no particular order:

6 – Best Possible Selves

For 4 days in a row, set aside 20 minutes to write. Each day you’ll write about your best possible self. Think about your life in the future. Imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals. Think of this as the realization of all of your life dreams. Now, write about what you imagined.

This exercise is designed to help you practice optimism. One study found that in the short-term, there were improvements to happiness, and in the long-term, there were improvements to health [3].

7- Counting Kindness

Every night for a week, write down the number of acts of kindness you performed that day. These may be small gestures such as holding the door open for a stranger.

This exercise has been proven to increase happiness just by making you pay more attention to how often you are kind each day [4]. The study for this exercise did not track whether there were long-lasting effects.

8 – Counting your Blessings

There are many things in our lives, both large and small, that we might be grateful about. Once a week, think back over the past week and write down on the lines below up to five things in your life that you are grateful or thankful for [5].

This exercise done once a week, has been shown to boost happiness over the long-term [6].

9 – Savouring Your Best Moments

For 3 days, spend 8 minutes per day thinking about one of the best experiences of your life. Replay these thoughts as though you were rewinding a videotape and playing it back. Think about the events of the day with an emphasis on what happened, how you were feeling at the time, and how you behaved. Remember exactly what happened in as much detail as you can. What exactly did you do or say? If another person (or people) were involved, what exactly did they do or say? How did you feel about this experience at the time it occurred? How did you feel about yourself following this experience?

This exercise increases people’s life-satisfaction even one month after completing it [7].

In conclusion, since all of these techniques boost happiness in the short-term, you can try incorporating any combination of them into your life to create sustainable long-term happiness. The key points are: reflecting on the good things in life, cultivating and expressing gratitude, identifying and practicing your strengths, practising optimism, being aware of your kindness, and savouring moments. If you’re short on time, you can start with exercise 1 or 2, which have long lasting benefits, even if you only practice it for a week.

References

[1]        L. Bolier, M. Haverman, G. J. Westerhof, H. Riper, F. Smit, and E. Bohlmeijer, “Positive psychology interventions: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies,” BMC Public Health, vol. 13, p. 119, Feb. 2013.

[2]        N. L. Sin and S. Lyubomirsky, “Enhancing well-being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions: A practice-friendly meta-analysis,” J. Clin. Psychol., vol. 65, no. 5, pp. 467–487, 2009.

[3]        M. Seligman, T. A. Steen, N. Park, and C. Peterson, “Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions,” Am. Psychol., vol. 60, no. 5, pp. 410–421, 2005.

[4]        K. Otake, S. Shimai, J. Tanaka-Matsumi, K. Otsui, and B. L. Fredrickson, “Happy people become happier through kindness: A counting kindnesses intervention,” J. Happiness Stud., vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 361–375, 2006.

[5]        R. A. Emmons and M. E. McCullough, “Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life,” J. Pers. Soc. Psychol., vol. 84, no. 2, pp. 377–389, Feb. 2003.

[6]        S. Lyubomirsky, K. M. Sheldon, and D. Schkade, “Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change,” Rev. Gen. Psychol., vol. 9, no. 2, Jun. 2005.

[7]        S. Lyubomirsky, L. Sousa, and R. Dickerhoof, “The costs and benefits of writing, talking, and thinking about life’s triumphs and defeats,” J. Pers. Soc. Psychol., vol. 90, no. 4, pp. 692–708, Apr. 2006.

Mariana Kishida is a researcher and community health educator who received her PhD in Psychology from King’s College London.