We mistakenly tend to believe that life circumstances outside of our control play the biggest role in how happy we are, but research says that (after basic needs are met, and if we’re not suffering from extreme adversity) circumstances actually plays the smallest role in our overall happiness. If we’re wanting to boost our happiness, working with our thoughts, attitudes and actions can have the biggest impact.
Today I continue in my exploration of two more “best practices” from the positive psychology movement that make use of your imagination and can help boost the level of happiness in your life.
Mental Subtraction Exercise
Do you find yourself taking things for granted in your life? Would you like to be more grateful for the good things in your life? Human beings are very much subject to something called habituation. Habituation simply means that when we become used to something we start ignoring it. Try this subtraction practice for a about 15 minutes a day, several times a week, for two weeks. This simple practice can remind you of how good you really have it in ways that simply listing things you’re grateful for doesn’t quite accomplish.
- Focus on someone or something good in your life. Think about an important relationship, an educational or career achievement, the birth of a child, or a special trip you took.
- Then imagine a life where this had never come about. What if circumstances had never came together that had you meet your partner, achieved your goal, made that friend, or had that experience. Ponder on how, if circumstances had been different, this might never have happened.
- Write down what could have gone differently and prevented this good thing from occurring. Imagine how your life would have unfolded differently. Think about the benefits and joys you would have missed out on.
- Now shift back to having actually met this person, achieved that goal, or had that experience. Think about the benefits and joys you have experienced a result. Allow yourself to feel grateful for the life you now have.
Best Possible Self Exercise
Here’s an exercise that can help you adjust your priorities and begin investing your time and energy in ways that move you towards where you want to be in your life.
Who we are is actually quite malleable. This exercise takes advantage of that malleability. Many aspects of who we are can strengthened or weakened. Studies showed that people who engaged in this exercise showed increases in positive affect and increases in feelings of possibility and optimism. We won’t try at something if we don’t think is possible. This exercise can make our aspirations seem more possible, which makes it easier to get going. It can also help us prioritize what is really important.
- Take 15 minutes out of your day, several times a week for two weeks, and write about your best possible future self. Think and write about areas of life that are most important to you, such as relationships, work, and health. The more specific the better. Write whatever you can.
- You might find yourself bogged in what you don’t have or the barriers you are facing. Try not to do that. Instead focus on how you’d really like your future self to be. Write all the things you want without judging yourself.
- Watch out for perfectionism, which is the enemy of progress. Don’t take it to the point where not reaching goals equals failure. Think instead it in terms of growth and possibility, getting a little closer each day and improving, but not attempting to be perfect.
The principles and practices in this blog come from the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley California. Check out their website for more good stuff . You can register with the University of Pennsylvania in order to take their Authentic Happiness Quiz and measure your progress And you can take a free happiness course from Professor Lauie Santo’s course on “The Science of Well Being” by registering at coursera.com.