Not a bad idea in times like these. Intriguing research suggests that positive psychology can help you weather the routine ups and downs of life and also build resilience for times of greater difficulty.
Here are three ways to capture the benefits of positive psychology, according to Harvard Medical School’s HEALTHbeat.
Express gratitude. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what you have — from a roof over your head to good health to people who care about you. When you acknowledge the goodness in your life, you begin to recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside yourself. In this way, gratitude helps you connect to something larger than your individual experience — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.
Set aside a few minutes every day and think about five large or small things you're grateful for. Write them down if you like. Be specific and remember what each thing means to you.
Leverage your strengths. To reap the benefits of your strengths, you first need to know what they are. Unfortunately, according to a British study, only about one-third of people have a useful understanding of their strengths. If something comes easily, you may take it for granted and not identify it as a strength. If you are not sure of your strengths, you can identify them by asking someone you respect who knows you well, by noticing what people compliment you on, and by thinking about what comes most easily to you.
Certain strengths are most closely linked to happiness. They include gratitude, hope, vitality, curiosity, and love. These strengths are so important that they're worth cultivating and applying in your daily life, even if they don't come naturally to you.
Savor the "good." Most people are primed to experience the pleasure in special moments, like a wedding or a vacation. Everyday pleasures, on the other hand, can slip by without much notice. Savoring means placing your attention on pleasure as it occurs, consciously enjoying the experience as it unfolds. Appreciating the treasures in life, big and small, helps build happiness.
Multitasking is the enemy of savoring. Try as you might, you can't fully pay attention to multiple things. If you're scanning the newspaper and listening to the radio during breakfast, you're not getting the pleasure you could from that meal — or the newspaper or radio program. If you're walking the dog on a beautiful path but mentally staring at your day's to-do list, you're missing the moment.
A matter of mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment, like how the air smells and feels as you walk your dog, or how a bite of bread tastes with dinner. The ultimate goal is to help shift your thoughts away from your usual preoccupations toward an appreciation of the moment and a larger perspective on life.
Scientific examination of mindfulness shows that it can improve both physical and psychological symptoms and create positive changes in health attitudes and behaviors.
Here are two mindfulness exercises you can try on your own.
Basic mindfulness meditation
1. Sit on a straight-backed chair or cross-legged on the floor.
2. Focus on an aspect of your breathing, such as the sensation of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth, or your belly rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.
3. Once you've narrowed your concentration in this way, begin to widen your focus. Become aware of sounds, sensations, and ideas.
4. Embrace and consider each thought or sensation without judging it good or bad. If your mind starts to race, return your focus to your breathing. Then expand your awareness again.
Mindfulness in everyday moments
A less formal approach to mindfulness can also help you to stay in the present and fully participate in your life. You can choose any task or moment to practice informal mindfulness, whether you are eating, showering, walking, or playing with a child. With practice, this sense of awareness will become more natural.
1. Start by bringing your attention to the sensations in your body.
2. Breathe in through your nose, allowing the air to move downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully. Then breathe out through your mouth. Notice the sensations of each inhalation and exhalation.
3. Proceed with the task at hand slowly and with full deliberation.
4. Engage your senses fully. Notice each sight, touch, and sound so that you savor every sensation.
5. When you notice that your mind has wandered from what you are doing, gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the moment
To learn more about drawing on your strengths and finding the positive meaning in your life, buy Positive Psychology: Harnessing the power of happiness, mindfulness, and inner strength from Harvard Medical School.