01 Apr You Can Be Happy and Here’s Why You Should Never Stop Trying
via Psychology Today by Jennice Vilhauer
- Happiness is not an elusive, mysterious force—it is the result of skills that anyone can learn.
- Activities to increase your sense of well-being include practicing mindfulness and gratitude, removing negative inputs, and always having something to look forward to.
- Self-compassion, showing love to others, and physical wellness are also important for happiness.
The majority of my 15-year career as a psychologist, I have worked with people who have treatment-resistant depression. I’ve worked with the saddest of the sad. People who were so unhappy they often wanted to die, and they didn’t respond to the usual treatments. In order to help them, I had to think somewhat outside the box. So, I approached their depression from the perspective of positive psychology, believing that if I could teach people skills for how to thrive, focus on a better future, and be well, their depression would get better. Using this approach, I’ve witnessed many people not only overcome their depression but find a place of sustained emotional well-being, which often vastly exceeded the expectations I had for them.
Over the years I have come to believe that anyone who is willing to do what it takes can live in a state of being generally happy and maintain positive emotional well-being over a sustained period of time. That’s because, as I’ve learned through experience, happiness is not an elusive mysterious force, it is the result of a set of skills that anyone can learn.
There is a reason why everyone wants to be happy (which as I am defining it, includes a subset of positive emotions such as joy, interest, contentment, and love). It’s because not only are positive emotions good feelings, but all the good things in life come easier to us when we are happy. We make better choices, are more creative, have better relationships, and experience better physical health when we are feeling good.
Positive emotions also help us to cope better with life’s difficulties, which helps greatly with maintaining positive emotional well-being over time. The very well researched Broaden and Build Theory of positive emotion, shows us that positive emotion broadens our mindset, which facilities our ability to build the resources (social, personal, intellectual) that allow us to optimize our life experience.
Mental health and positive well-being, however, requires some effort, in the same way that physical health does. If you want good physical health, you can’t sit on the couch drinking beer and eating donuts; you have to do things that result in better health, such as eating right, drinking enough water, exercising, taking vitamins, and getting enough rest. If you want to experience positive mental well-being, there are things that if you do them on a regular basis, will result in mental wellness.
Does that mean if you do the things that facilitate positive emotion, that you will never experience negative emotion. No, of course not. That’s because emotions aren’t good or bad, even the ones we label as negative (fear, sadness, anxiety, etc.) are just indicators of what we are thinking about and the meaning we are giving to any situation. A sad event, such as a parent dying, is for most people a sad event. But the degree/intensity to which we experience negative emotion and the period of time it takes to bounce back to a more positive state, is heavily influenced by our general emotional state (usually positive, or usually negative) and the coping skills we use to deal with those negative emotions.
So, building and using a set of skills that facilitates positive emotional well-being, not only allows you to feel good/happy more of the time, which allows you to create a better life, it allows you to cope more effectively with the inevitable difficult events of life.
Below are eight essential mental wellness activities that, if done together regularly, will result in a sense of well-being that can improve the quality of your life.
1. Choose Responses as Opposed to Reacting Automatically.
Most of the way we deal with situations and events that come up in life is to react automatically. Your automatic thinking is based on past learned experience, happens so quickly that sometimes you aren’t even aware of it, and has the potential to trigger some very big emotions. The problem with automatic thinking, though, is that because it is based on the past, it may not be relevant to the current situation.
If a situation is triggering a negative emotion in you (fear, anger, frustration, etc.), see if you can pause a moment to ask yourself if how you are responding is the way you want to be responding in the situation, and if not, what would you like to do differently? What helps this process greatly is to become more aware of your automatic thought patterns, either by doing some self-help reading on cognitive behavioral therapy, journaling, or working with a therapist that has training in cognitive therapies. (See “How to See the Blind Spots in Your Thinking.”)
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