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!
Over the last weeks, I invested a lot of hours in trying to better understand the antecedents of meaning and purpose at/in work. While doing so, I created a couple of info graphics that serve to explain different theories and outlines. I thought it would make sense to collect them all in one place to show point of convergence and divergence. Here you go…
The final graphic is not my creation – the picture is taken directly from the article listed in the respective headline.
Share and enjoy!
Emma Seppälä, Ph.D is Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and author of the recently published book The Happiness Track. She is a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review, Psychology Today, Huffington Post, and Scientific American Mind.
Emma, if you had to describe your book in a short analogy (“We’re the Uber for x…” or something like that): What would it be?
The hack for success without stress.
I’m a manager and reaaaaally busy. If I had time to read only one chapter: Which one would you recommend – and why?
Read the second chapter on how to build your resilience. We believe we need high levels of adrenaline to get things done – so we over-caffeinate, over-schedule ourselves, and wait until the last minute to get things done. The result is not productivity, it’s burnout which is why we’re seeing 50% burnout across industries, 80% of doctor’s visits due to stress, and 75% of the American workforce disengaged. You can’t talk yourself out of stress but there is something you can do at the physiological way that will help you manage your energy, be more productive and emotionally intelligent, and be resilient in the face of the pressure and demands coming your way – cultivating physiological resilience.
In all these years of studying Positive Psychology: What is the one scientific finding that intrigued you the most?
The finding that has intrigued – and inspired – me the most is that the best kept secret to happiness is to give it away. By uplifting others, supporting them, helping them and living a more compassionate life, not only will you be making everyone else happier, you will be happier, healthier and live a longer life too. It’s win-win!
Thank you very much and best of luck with The Happiness Track!
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 are listed here, No. 23 – 33 ½ will be published soon. The pieces of advice are ordered (roughly) by difficulty/level of effort etc. Share and enjoy!
12) Sing when you´re winning
Just like dancing, singing seems to be a natural anti-depressant. Singing is enjoyable and a very healthy kind of physical activity. It doesn´t matter if you sing in the shower, the car, or for an audience. And it surely doesn’t matter if your singing is good or bad. An especially beneficial way seems to be joining a choir. In doing so, people additional profit from the social support such an environment entails.
- Choral singing and psychological wellbeing: Quantitative and qualitative findings from English choirs in a cross-national survey
- Does singing promote well-being?: An empirical study of professional and amateur singers during a singing lesson
13) Remember the good Times
Good things that have happened in the past can be a powerful mood (and meaning) booster for the present. It could be our fondest childhood memories, our wedding day, or that beautiful sunset from our last vacation: Actively remembering these events can turn today into a brighter day. Accordingly, it´s helpful to create what positive psychologists like to call a positive portfolio. This is a box or a folder (these days, probably a digital one) where you keep especially uplifting memories, such as the wedding video, the first photo of your kid, your favorite piece of music etc.
- The past makes the present meaningful: Nostalgia as an existential resource
- The power of the past: Nostalgia as a meaning-making resource
14) Buy that Concert Ticket, not the Dress
Conventional wisdom holds that money cannot buy happiness. And while the best things in life are really (more or less free), most things do cost some money. Now, a sizeable body of research shows that investing our money in experiences such as concerts and vacations will be more beneficial for our long-term happiness than buying “stuff”. First, those events are typically shared experiences, second they can be re-lived in memory (see No.13), and third, especially memorable experiences seem to become parts of our selves, an integral part of “our story” – whereas the “stuff” will mostly be gone at some point in the future.
- If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right
- I am what I do, not what I have: The differential centrality of experiential and material purchases to the self
15) Spend Money on thy Neighbor
If you´re neither into concerts nor vacations (see No. 14), and you don´t like to buy stuff, it could be a great idea to spend your dough on other people. There´s abundant empirical evidence for the notion that giving money to others (e.g., via charity) can be a veritable happiness booster. Some studies find that spending your bucks on others is much more beneficial for our emotional wellbeing than keeping it for ourselves. If you don´t know where to start: Mashable provides a great overview of online funding sites.
- Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness
- Prosocial spending and well-being: Cross-cultural evidence for a psychological universal
16) Practice realistic Optimism
Truth is: the world is a much better place than we think it is. Our senses and our brains are gauged to pay attention to and process negative information much more thoroughly than positive stimuli (see this post for more info). News editors are well aware of this fact and select their stories accordingly. When these two mechanisms join forces, our perspective on the state of the world can become pretty gloomy and depressive. At this point, it could be helpful to practice what Positive Psychologists like to call realistic optimism. It´s not based on seeing everything through rose-colored glasses, but rather on thorough investigation of facts and probabilities. A good way to start this is to learn how to fight off unwarranted negative thoughts. For information on how to do this, please visit this post on Positive Psychology News Daily.
- Cultivating Optimism in Childhood and Adolescence
- Positive Organizational Behavior in the Workplace: The Impact of Hope, Optimism, and Resilience
17) Go with the Flow
Flow (as described by eminent Positive Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi) is a state in which a person is fully immersed in a feeling of focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of pursuing a specific activity. It´s a surefire way to satisfaction and personal growth. The experience of Flow is dependent on a set of internal and external conditions, among them, focusing on a single goal and shutting of any distractions (see Wikipedia for an overview). There´s a great article on Fast Company about companies that try to enable better conditions for Flow at work.
- Optimal experience in work and leisure
- The Effect of Perceived Challenges and Skills on the Quality of Subjective Experience
One of the hallmarks of Positive Psychology is a taxonomy of 24 character strengths. You can find out what your top attributes are (so-called signature strengths) for free when visiting the website of the VIA Institute on Character (mine are: curiosity, zest, and love of leaning). There, you´ll also find tons of information on how to use that knowledge in order to lead a more satisfying life. Generally speaking, the more we use our most pronounced strengths (e.g., in our occupation), the happier we are.
- Strengths of Character and Well-Being
19) Be a Do-Gooder
Recommendation No. 15 already touched the beneficial effects of pro-social spending for our own happiness. The same can be said pertaining to pro-social behavior, e.g., volunteering and committing random acts of kindness. There seem to be positive short-term consequences for our mood (so-called helpers high) but also long-term effects. When we help others, our life becomes more meaningful – and that´s a source of happiness in its own right.
- Doing well by doing good: Benefits for the benefactor
- When helping helps: Autonomous motivation for pro-social behavior and its influence on well-being for the helper and recipient
20) The Pen is mightier than your bad Moods
Writing is one of the most potent methods for “getting a grip” on life. It can help us to focus our attention on the goods things (see No. 11) or, alternatively, to come to terms with bad events, especially as a way of creating mental and emotional distance. If you´re not sure how to start, you’ll find advice in this article on Psychology Today.
It has been shown that humans have lived together with domesticated animals for at least 500.000 years. Pets can be a valuable source of comfort, amusement, and distraction. As such, research shows that living with pets has several beneficial long-term effects for our psychological and physiological health, especially for children. Just a word of advice: Before you bring Lassie home, please make sure that you and your family are prepared and willing to take on the responsibility of owning a pet (hint: cats are much more low-maintenance than dogs).
- The Human–Companion Animal Bond: How Humans Benefit
- Companion animals and human health: Benefits, challenges, and the road ahead
22) Friends with Happiness Benefits
Typically, our social network (the non-virtual one, a.k.a. family and friends) is one of the most important sources of comfort and satisfaction in our lives. Now, the interesting thing is: almost everything can spread through these networks by means of social contagion. E.g., if of most of your friends are fitness freaks, your risk for obesity is considerably lower than when most of them are a little on the chubby side. The same goes for things like smoking, and even activities such as getting married. And this mechanism also holds true for emotions such as happiness (as well as depression). Bottom line: if your posse is a really cheerful bunch of people, this will positively influence your own emotional wellbeing in the long run (at least statistically). Conversely, this also means it could be beneficial to rid yourself of some “forms of energy” in your life.
- Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study
- Social network determinants of depression
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.
Since it´s “formulation” at the onset of the new millennium, researchers have tried to apply Positive Psychology to organizational settings. E.g., Adam Grant promotes pro-social behavior in business settings, Amy Wrzesniewski looks at how employees can foster (perceived) meaning via job-crafting, and Jane Dutton investigates the impact of high-quality connections.
Another interesting framework is offered by Fred Luthans and his colleagues. They have developed the idea of Positive Psychological Capital (PsyCap) which is seen as a valuable extension to the concepts of economic, human, and social capital (see table above; taken from Luthans et al., 2004). PsyCap is theorized as a higher-order construct that is “composed” of four underlying constructs, precisely Self-Efficacy (also called Confidence), Hope, Optimism, and Resiliency. It´s called higher-order because PsyCap is not just “made of” the underlying constructs, but taken together, they form something new, an entity that is more than the sum of its parts. Please see diagram at the bottom, based on Luthans & Youssef (2004). This shows the whole framework, precisely: the H.E.R.O. formation by which the constructs is sometimes known to the general public. What are the building blocks all about – as defined in Positive Psychology?
- Hope is as a positive state where our feelings of agency (goal oriented determination) and pathways (proactively planning to achieve those goals) interact.
- Self-efficacy is depicted as confidence in our ability to achieve a specific goal in a specific situation.
- Optimism is theorized as a realistically-positive view of what can or cannot do.
- Resilience is defined as successfully coping with adversity or stress. In organizational settings, it is characterized as the ability to “bounce back” from high workload, conflict, failure, and ongoing organizational change.
Why were these four concepts chosen? In the words of Luthans et al. (2004):
The four psychological capacities of confidence, hope, optimism, and resilience are measurable, open to development, and can be managed for more effective work performance.
Why is this important? Because it means that – unlike trait-like concepts such as general intelligence – PsyCap can be developed by deliberate practice. Just the other three forms of capital, it can be built and enhanced – in a rather short amount of time, by the way (see this paper for more info). As such, it can be a very valuable tool in organizational and personnel development.
Why should you care (especially if you are a CEO or HR Director)?
Well, you should care if you are interested in having a healthy, engaged, and high-performing workforce. A meta-analysis (a type of study that aggregates the results of prior studies) based on 51 empirical investigations found a wide array of positive consequences for workers displaying high (vs. low) PsyCap. From the study abstract:
The results indicated the expected significant positive relationships between PsyCap and […] job satisfaction, organizational commitment, psychological well-being, desirable employee behaviors (citizenship), and […] measures of performance (self, supervisor evaluations, and objective). There was also a significant negative relationship between PsyCap and undesirable employee attitudes (cynicism, turnover intentions, job stress, and anxiety) and undesirable employee behaviors (deviance).
Are you curious now?