Practicing Seeking

The Science of Happiness: What Is It, How Can It Help?

Happiness is not a fixed thing, we have the power to positively influence our own level of happiness and wellbeing by adopting specific behaviors and habits. Furthermore, there is an entire school of Psychology that is solely dedicated to studying what makes humans happy; it’s called Positive Psychology, and it has been revolutionizing our entire understanding of well-being and mental health.

Traditionally, psychologists have focused on what was “wrong” with people and predominantly studied what contributed to mental illness and suffering, so a lot was known about what made people unhappy, and much less about the opposite. That was until psychologist  Dr. Martin Seligman, from the University of Pennsylvania, decided to start studying “happiness,”  what contributes to mental wellness, what makes people happy, thrive, and flourish in life.

From that point, the “Science of Happiness” was born, Seligmans’ work has literally turned traditional psychology on its head and led to profound discoveries of what factors in life contribute to “happy people.” Furthermore, the habits and practices discovered by Positive Psychology have all been backed up by rigorous scientific testing and research. In fact, the science has proved so remarkable that even the US government has implemented Positive Psychology practices within the US army.

So how does “The Science of Happiness” work?

Our happiness depends on complex interactions between our genes, behavior, and environment. But contrary to what most people think it is not “set in stone”, it is not something predetermined 100% by our genes. In fact, one of the underlying premises within Positive Psychology is the fact that we as individuals have a lot more power to influence our own happiness than we might think. A study by Lyubomirsky et al indicated that while genetics account for approximately 50% of individual differences in happiness levels, our life circumstances account for around 10% – leaving quite a sizeable 40% that can be consciously influenced by our own thoughts, lifestyle, and behaviors.

Studies such as this one by Lyubomirsky et al were groundbreaking as they further fuelled the fire for Positive Psychology research into what we now call “habits for happiness.” Scientists were keen to know exactly what steps can be taken to increase our own positive emotions.

This led to the development of practices such as “Three Good Things” which is proven to increase feelings of happiness within just one week of practice. Furthermore, studies show that participants also felt happier up to 6 months after adopting this daily practice.

Human beings have evolved to focus much more on negative things in life and in the past, this has served us well as a protective mechanism. The brain notices and pays more attention to “bad things” or “perceived threats” to allow us to take action and protect ourselves. While this mechanism may have been excellent in the Stone Age, it’s not required in quite the same way within today’s modern society. The “Three Good Things” exercise is designed to train the brain’s focus away from the negative and more towards noticing positive events and experiences. The exercise aims to help us to cultivate gratitude, increase optimism and boost happiness.

It really is one of the simplest exercises, but its effectiveness lies in carrying it out consistently and in detail. Take a look at the steps involved below:

Three Good Things: “What went well today”  (Time required: 5 minutes)

  • Find a quiet space in the evening and take a look back over your day.
  • Think of 3 good things that happened. It doesn’t matter how small they are, whether it was your first cup of morning coffee and 5 minutes of peace or that you got a promotion. If it made you feel good,  it makes the cut.
  • Next, write down these 3 good things in a journal, note book or on your computer. What’s important is that you not only write what the “good thing” was, but that you also elaborate on “why” it made you feel good.
  • For example: Today at the grocery store the girl on the checkout was very friendly and complimented me on the coat I was wearing, it cheered me up and made me smile that someone else noticed my new coat, and it made me feel good about myself.

With recent world events, the pandemic and a constant stream of negative news, I think it can definitely help us to hear that there are actually some simple practices proven by science, which can help us feel more positive and happier.

Furthermore, there are many other exercises and habits similar to this one that we can adopt to help lift our mood a little; so why not take a look and try out “The Science of Happiness” for yourself.

-Catherine Smith

Photo by Fakurian Design on Unsplash

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