Well, anything that sparks feelings of joy, contentment, and love will do the trick. You probably know what things work well for you.
1. Meditation — Recent research by Fredrickson and her colleagues has revealed that people who meditate daily display more positive emotions that those who do not. As expected, people who meditated also built valuable long-term skills. For example, three months after the experiment was over, the people who meditated daily continued to display increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, and decreased illness symptoms.
2. Writing — This study, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, examined a group of 90 undergraduate students who were split into two groups. The first group wrote about an intensely positive experience each day for three consecutive days. The second group wrote about a control topic. Three months later, the students who wrote about positive experiences had better mood levels, fewer visits to the health center, and experienced fewer illnesses. (This blew me away. Better health after just three days of writing about positive things!)
3. Play — Schedule time to play into your life. We schedule meetings, conference calls, weekly events, and other responsibilities into our daily calendars… why not schedule time to play? When was the last time you blocked out an hour on your calendar just to explore and experiment? When was the last time you intentionally carved out time to have fun? You can’t tell me that being happy is less important than your Wednesday meeting, and yet, we act like it is because we never give it a time and space to live on our calendars.
Give yourself permission to smile and enjoy the benefits of positive emotion. Schedule time for play and adventure so that you can experience contentment and joy, and explore and build new skills.
Happiness vs. Success (Which Comes First?) There’s no doubt that happiness is the result of achievement. Winning a championship, landing a better job, finding someone you love — these things will bring joy and contentment to your life. But so often, we wrongly assume that this means happiness always follows success.
How often have you thought, “If I just get ___, then I’ll be set.”
Or, “Once I achieve ___, I’ll be satisfied.”
As Fredrickson’s “broaden and build” theory proves, happiness is essential to building the skills that allow for success. In other words, happiness is both the precursor to success and the result of it. In fact, researchers have often noticed a compounding effect or an “upward spiral” that occurs with happy people.
They are happy, so they develop new skills, those skills lead to new success, which results in more happiness, and the process repeats itself.
Positive thinking isn’t just a soft and fluffy feel-good term. Yes, it’s great to simply “be happy,” but those moments of happiness are also critical for opening your mind to explore and build the skills that become so valuable in other areas of your life.
Finding ways to build happiness and positive emotions into your life — whether it is through meditation, writing, playing a pickup basketball game, or anything else — provides more than just a momentary decrease in stress and a few smiles.
Periods of positive emotion and unhindered exploration are when you see the possibilities for how your past experiences fit into your future life, when you begin to develop skills that blossom into useful talents later on, and when you spark the urge for further exploration and adventure.