These are the the ten keys to happier living according to Action for Happiness, a UK-Based NGO backed by luminaries such as the Daila Lama and Sir Richard Layard – focusing on disseminating knowledge on Positive Psychology to the general public and helping people to set up local meetings groups (among many other things). Please help to share the wisdom!
Most of us know these days: You´re rushing from one meeting to another, squeezing in those important calls with the tax consultant and your child´s class teacher – while desperately trying to finish that presentation for your boss which is due at 06:00 pm. This is what days at the office look like for a lot of who earn their money as so-called knowledge workers.
To make it through days like this (and perform well!), maintaining a high level of subjective energy is paramount. In the words of Jane Dutton (Center for Positive Organizations at Ross School of Business), human energy is the “fuel” that helps organizations run successfully. Here, an interesting question arises: How do people manage – and in the case of depletion – replenish their energy while still at the office?
This issue was addressed in a paper by researchers Charlotte Fritz, Chak Fu Lam, and Gretchen Spreitzer via an article in “Academy of Management Perspectives” from 2011. In order to do so, they surveyed 214 knowledge workers across all hierarchical levels on their subjective levels of energy (separate for presence and depletion of vitality) throughout their work days – and additionally assessed what kind of (micro-)strategies these people employ to maintain their energetic balance – and how often they use certain strategies compared to others. Here´s the key takeaway:
When trying to recharge at work, most people get it wrong most of the time!
Among the most frequently used micro-strategies to recharge were:
- drinking water or coffee, or having a snack;
- checking e-mails, switching to another task, or making a to-do list;
- surfing the net or talking to a colleague about non-work issues (e.g., sports).
In the study, none of these behaviors was associated with a heightened energy level, and some were actually connected to further depletion. Instinctively, many people seem to resort to strategies that shift their attention away from the current task. Yet, the scholars show this may be a severe case of looking in the wrong direction. Those energy management strategies found to be most positively related to vitality are:
- learning something new;
- focusing on what provides joy in work;
- setting a new goal;
- doing something that will make a colleague happy;
- make time to show gratitude to a colleague;
- seeking feedback;
- reflecting on how to make a difference at work;
- reflecting on the meaning of one´s work.
It´s a mental, or sometimes, emotional shift that breeds success.
In a nutshell, all of these strategies are work-related and reflect notions of learning, relationships, and meaning at work. Accordingly, the key to fill your batteries while at work may be to see your job with different eyes without taking your mind off the tasks at hand. It´s a mental, or sometimes, emotional shift that breeds success.
By the way: The only functional non-job-related strategy in the study was taking time to meditate. What about micro-strategies like taking a short nap or going for a walk? Fritz et al. found that these activities were related neither to the presence nor the depletion of energy – they just didn´t matter all that much. The researchers conclude that these strategies may have more potent effects as sources of recovery while being away from work, e.g., during evenings or weekends.
Most weeks, I put something between five and ten hours into bringing fresh Positive Psychology content to Mappalicious. Sometimes, people ask me about my motivation or my goals for the blog – which more or less translates to “Are your earning any money with this?”
The answer is: No, I don´t – and I don´t intend to do so. They pay me a heck of a lot of money in my management job which grants me the freedom to pursue Mappalicious as a delightful hobby.
Maintaining this blog is an autotelic activity: The journey is the destination.
Curiosity and love of learning are among my signature strengths according to the Peterson/Seligman typology. And my favorite way of learning new stuff is to read and then write about it. So, I´d probably keep on writing even if nobody ever read it – but it´s all the more fulfilling to hear that people actually enjoy and profit from my writing efforts. Funny thing: Wherever I go in the (Positive Psychology) world, a lot people feel they already know me – even though we´ve actually never met before.
Other than that, I just receive a lot positive feedback, mostly from students who share how, by way of example, my list of eminent Positive Psychology articles has helped them with finishing a paper or something like that.
Just over the last weeks…
- I was informed by the academic director of the MAPP program that people actually read my blog to prepare for their applications to UPenn.
- One of the top researchers in the field analogously said Mappalicious is one of the best free resources on Positive psychology on the net.
- Mappalicious was included in a list of noteworthy happiness blogs along with top-notch sites such as the blog of the Greater Good Science Center and FulfillmentDaily.com.
Oh, and then I received this beautiful piece of feedback via Facebook – and I have permission to share it with you:
I feel grateful and lucky that your posts appear in my homepage every day, I think you might want to reorganize your signature strengths and put zest/energy above all of them! I´ve never seen that much discipline to post everyday a well thought and evidence based posts. Very good combination or as I like to call it “orchestra” you have there playing your character, the melody is inspiring.
Maybe you deserve to be paid, if not in hard currency, definitely in emotional currency, and hear that from someone: I usually save your posts to read them later while I´m cycling. Your posts have a great impact on people´s day.
A couple of days ago, I shared some memorable quotes coined by Viktor Frankl whom most people consider to be the biggest influence on research related to meaning in life (and work).
Today, I´d like to honor another luminary, the person who actually coined the term Positive Psychology in the 1950s: Abraham Maslow, probably best-known for his hierarchy of needs framework (mostly depicted as the “pyramid of needs” you´ll find in a lot self-help and management books).
Here are some of his most intriguing thoughts:
Abraham Maslow on Self-Actualization
It looks as if there were a single ultimate goal for mankind, a far goal toward which all persons strive. This is called variously by different authors self-actualization, self-realization, integration, psychological health, individuation, autonomy, creativity, productivity, but they all agree that this amounts to realizing the potentialities of the person, that is to say, becoming fully human, everything that person can be.
We fear our highest possibilities. We are generally afraid to become that which we can glimpse in our most perfect moments, under conditions of great courage. We enjoy and even thrill to godlike possibilities we see in ourselves in such peak moments. And yet we simultaneously shiver with weakness, awe, and fear before these very same possibilities.
Abraham Maslow on Purpose in Life
A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be.
Abraham Maslow on Other-Orientation
The needs for safety, belonging, love relations and for respect can be satisfied only by other people, i.e., only from outside the person. This means considerable dependence on the environment. A person in this dependent position cannot really be said to be governing himself, or in control of his own fate. He must be beholden to the sources of supply of needed gratifications. […] He must be, to an extent, “other-directed,” and must be sensitive to other people’s approval, affection and good will.
The great lesson is that the sacred is in the ordinary, that it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends, and family, in one’s backyard.
Abraham Maslow on Perseverance and Post-Traumatic Growth
Not allowing people to go through their pain, and protecting them from it, may turn out to be a kind of over-protection, which in turn implies a certain lack of respect for the integrity and the intrinsic nature and the future development of the individual.
One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.
Abraham Maslow on Appreciation, Awe, and Gratitude
The most fortunate are those who have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy.
Abraham Maslow on Mindfulness
I can feel guilty about the past, apprehensive about the future, but only in the present can I act. The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.
During these days, Mappalicious has surpassed the total number of page views for 2015 – and it’s only May. So, I just want to express my heartfelt gratitude to you for joining me on my ride across the world of Positive Psychology, for helping this baby grow, writing comments, and sharing my stuff with your friends and communities!
Want to lead a happier life in 2016 (and beyond)?
This list includes valuable tips, exercises and “hacks” to be happier and lead a more meaningful life. All of these recommendations are backed by psychological science. In case you are interested to learn more, I´ve included links to some research articles that have examined the corresponding topic. No. 12 – 22 can be found here, No. 23 – 33 ½ will be published shortly. The pieces of advice are ordered (roughly) by difficulty/level of effort etc. Share and enjoy!
1) Smile, Baby
Conventional wisdom holds that people tend to smile because they are happy. And while that is certainly true, it turns out that the other way around makes sense as well. We get happier because we smile. This is called facial feedback hypothesis and it has been shown to hold true over many studies. Accordingly, one way to better our mood is to make ourselves smile – even if we don´t feel like it in that particular moment. A popular method in order to achieve this is to hold a pencil between your teeth for a minute or so.
- Duchenne smile, emotional experience, and autonomic reactivity: A test of the facial feedback hypothesis
2) Eat (dark) Chocolate
Consuming moderate amounts of chocolate, especially the darker, less sugary type, has been shown to improve peoples´ mood. Whether this is just a consequence of the pleasurable eating experience, or caused by specific psycho-active ingredients in the cocoa, is still under debate. It works, anyway. But don´t overdo it. You know what I mean…
3) Please don’t stop the Music
Listening to happy and/or you favorite music is associated with elevated mood. It seems that there´s music that has a general happiness-inducing quality (e.g., Happy by Pharrell Williams) but otherwise, it´s more important that you really, really like what you´re listening to. By way of example, I´m really into heavy metal – a type of music that was once seen as fostering aggression and antisocial behavior. In the meantime, it became clear, that the emotional consequences of listening to music should be attributed to the fit between music and listener.
- Trying to be happier really can work: Two experimental studies
- The Effects of Heavy Metal Music on Arousal and Anger
Low levels of Vitamin D seem to be associated with depressive disorders, especially S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder a.k.a. winter blues) – and it´s comparably difficult to generate enough intake just from food. Our body is able generate this vitamin, but we need exposure to sunlight in order to pull off that stunt. That´s why we need to go out regularly, even when the weather is not all that great. You don’t need to take an actual sunbath – just being outside is enough (even when it´s cloudy), especially around noon-time. Sitting in the sunlight inside of the house does not help. What´s more, sunscreen seems to inhibit the process that generates the vitamin. For more advice, please see this article on Psychology Today.
- Vitamin D deficiency may play a role in depression
- Vitamin D Deficiency Is Associated With Low Mood and Worse Cognitive Performance in Older Adults
5) Go green
Paying heed to No. 4 will additionally help you with this one: the so-called biophilia hypothesis states (among other things) that spending time in green environments (parks, forests etc.) helps to fight off stress and boosts our mood. Basically, the equation goes: the greener, the better, so you´ll profit more from a stroll in a nearby forest than a walk in the park. Long-term studies have found that moving from an inner-city area (lots of concrete, few greens spots) to a more rural area is greatly beneficial for several aspects of our psychological and physiological health.
- Biophilia: Does Visual Contact with Nature Impact on Health and Well-Being?
- Longitudinal Effects on Mental Health of Moving to Greener and Less Green Urban Areas
6) Shake that Booty
Now, I´m perfectly aware of the fact that dancing may not be the most favorite subject among lots of my fellow men. Actually, psychologists have described a specific facet of our personality by the name of dance confidence – and that tends to be a bit lower with the not-so-fair sex. Nevertheless, regular dancing – even when you do it on your own in your living room – has tons of positive side effects, e.g., lifting your mood, boosting your immune system, and fighting stress by decreasing the concentration of cortisol in your blood.
- Shall we dance? An exploration of the perceived benefits of dancing on well-being
- Enhancing positive affect and divergent thinking abilities: Play some music and dance
7) Hit the Pillow
It is known that people need different amounts of sleep, and that the need for sleep changes over our lifetime (generally becoming less the older we get). And yes, there are people out there that claim to get along with just four hours of sleep per night. But the truth is: those folks are probably killing themselves very slowly. Most “normal” adults need at least seven to eight hours of good rest per night. Anything below that level for prolonged periods of time will very likely lead to performance problems (e.g., concentration disorders) – and yes: bad moods.
- Effects of sleep deprivation on performance: A meta-analysis
- Evolution of Sleep Quantity, Sleep Deprivation, Mood Disturbances, Empathy, and Burnout among Interns
Most people start exercise regimens at the onset of a new year to lose some pounds in order to look better in their Speedos once summer comes along. As less known fact: regular physical activity, especially endurance exercises like jogging, swimming etc. at medium intensity might just be one of the strongest anti-depressants out there.
- The influence of physical activity on mental well-being
- Long-term Association Between Leisure-time Physical Activity and Changes in Happiness
9) Put down that Smartphone
Now, I certainly don´t belong to the type of people that engage in simple-minded smartphone (and social media) bashing – but: there are more and more studies that show detrimental effects of too much smartphone use. Especially among heavy users, there seem to be several adverse effects such as concentrations disorders – and also, a kind of separation anxiety when not having access to one´s favorite toy, e.g. due to low battery. Bottom line: the tool is fine, but don’t get attached to it.
- The relationship between cell phone use, academic performance, anxiety, and Satisfaction with Life in college students
- Out of sight is not out of mind: The impact of restricting wireless mobile device use on anxiety levels among low, moderate and high users
10) Don’t be a Hater, stop the Gossip
Research shows the more meaningful conversations you have (as opposed to small talk and gossip), the happier you will be. Additionally, certain types of expressions on social media, such as swearing and verbalizing aggression, seem to be associated with bad moods and even adverse health conditions, e.g., a higher risk rate for cardio-vascular diseases. So, watch your language, young ladies and gentlemen.
- Eavesdropping on Happiness: Well-being is Related to Having Less Small Talk and More Substantive Conversations
- Psychological Language on Twitter Predicts County-Level Heart Disease Mortality
11) Practice Gratitude
Cultivating gratitude seems to be the Swiss Army knife of Positive Psychology. It´s one of the most thoroughly researched positive interventions. Mostly, it comes in the form of keeping a gratitude (or: www for “what went well”) journal; please see this post on Greater Good Science Center´s website for more detail). The power of gratitude lies in its ability to counter the effect of what psychologist like to call the hedonic treadmill. We get used to almost all circumstances and things in our lives, whether they be desirable or undesirable. That´s why it´s helpful to actively focus our attention on all the good things in our lives once in a while. Also, it doesn’t cost thing.
- Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life
- Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration
Science shows that you do not have to practice all of these things (at once) to be happier. Rather, you should find out which of these activities best fit your personality and current way of life – so you´ll find it easy to sustain them. Please refer to: To each his own well-being boosting intervention: using preference to guide selection.
I´m putting a lot of time and effort in this blog, bringing together valuable information, inspirational things, and sometimes fun stuff on Positive Psychology and related topics. I´m doing this for free – and to be honest: for fun, because I just love writing. I´m not selling anything and I even pay 80$ (or so…) a year to WordPress so Mappalicious stays free of ads.
Nevertheless, I do have goals: I try to broaden the audience of Mappalicious year by year, because I want as many people as possible to learn about research and practice in the field of Positive Psychology. At the beginning of this year, I set a goal of reaching 80.000 page views for 2015 (after managing close to 60.000 in 2014). Due to some exceptional outreach in early summer, I extended that goal to 100.000 page views – but in the fall, I was too busy working in my main job, so I couldn’t write as much as I would have liked to do. Therefore, the audience dropped for some months. Still, right now the count is at 90.400.
In really, really good months I have +10.000 page views. So, if December will be a really, really good month for Mappalicious, I will be able to reach the goal I´ve set for myself in summer. And this is where you come in to play: Only you, my cherished readers, can help me to turn December into a really, really good month for my blog. So here´s my plea:
If you have found something useful/joyful on Mappalicious in 2015, I kindly ask you to share this (again) with your friends on Facebook, Twitter etc. pp.
To make life a little easier for you, here you´ll find a list of the 10 most-read articles on Mappalicious for 2015. But of course, you can share anything that you particularly liked.
- Positive Psychology People and Institutions to follow on Twitter
- Positive Psychology Articles – a topical Collection
- 5 essential brand-new & upcoming Books on Positive Psychology
- 7 wonderful TED Talks related to Positive Psychology (Self-Motivation, Body Language, Positive Stress… and more)
- Do you know “Action for Happiness”? Well, you should!
- 7 Methods to find almost any (Positive Psychology) Research Paper on the Internet
- 22 Positive Psychology-infused Articles every (HR) Leader should know
- Positive Psychology Constructs
- Study: Some Languages are Happier than others. Hint: German didn´t make No. 1
- Positive Psychology – a topical Collection of 45 TED Talks
Thanks a lot in advance!