How to be happy | 7 principles of positive psychology
Positive psychology for happy and successful people
What is positive psychology?
If there is a topic that we can all agree on, it is that our ultimate goal in life is to be happy. We hear a lot about happiness, wellbeing, and methods to feel happier, fulfilled, and successful. All these approaches relate to positive psychology. The goal of positive psychology is to make people excel at what they do, to make them happier than they already are. Let’s put it like this: if you are happy in your life, then positive psychology is for you!
Happiness and success: which one comes first?
Does success come from happiness or does happiness come from success? Think of people you know and who seem to succeed in everything they do, both in their professional and private life. At least, that’s what their Facebook, Linked In or Instagram profiles tend to show. Do you think they are happy because they are successful? Or are they successful because they are happy?
Close your books, I collect the tests in 2 hours.Nooo, I am kidding. Here is the answer.
Success come from happiness, and not the other way around!
Studies show that it is not professional or financial success that makes us happy. It is because we are happy in life that we have more chances to succeed in what we do AND to be more healthy.
Negative feelings impair our ability to think and act. Positive feelings have the opposite effect: to open up our minds to new possibilities and new ideas. Our brain is flooded with dopamine and serotonin. There are the hormones of happiness. They also boost the parts of our brain responsible for learning processes and memory.
Put it differently, if you want your kids to do great at maths, make sure they are happy first! We like this educative approach, don’t we?
The 7 principles of happiness according to positive psychology
Here are the 7 principles to make you feel happier and to optimize your chances to achieve your goals.
Principle 1 – Adopt the happiness attitude
There are 3 ways to adopt the happiness attitude:
A/ Start by showing appreciation for small things in life: the smile of a stranger, a good meal, the help of a friend, the satisfaction of a workout, etc.
B/ Do some positivity exercises. Meditation, mantras and positive affirmations are very good exercises. Studies on monks show that they have a bigger prefrontal cortex than average. This is the part of the brain responsible for the happy feeling. You don’t want to become a monk? No problem! Just start with 5 minutes of daily meditation.
C/ Focus on something that you are looking forward to. Research shows that the most enjoyable part of an activity is not the activity as such, but the anticipation of it! Think of your holidays, the pizza that you will have tonight, the picnic with your friends, a bubbly hot bath, etc. This can increase your endorphin level by 27%!
Principle 2 – Create your positive reality
We cannot change our reality but we can change the way we react to it.
The brain resources are limited and the brain has to decide whether to allocate resources to feelings like pain, negativity, stress, OR to use these same resources to experience other feelings like hope, optimism, and sense of purpose.
Studies have shown that the way we perceive our reality tends to define our reality. So, instead of thinking of yourself are someone with low self-confidence, think of yourself as a self-confident person. Put yourself into somebody else’s skin (e.g. Beyonce) and act(/ dance) as if you were this person!
The more we believe in our ability to succeed and the more chances we have to succeed.
Principle 3 – Train your brain to see the positive side of life, instead of the negative one
Some people spend a lot of time complaining. I am French and that’s kind of a French touch to complain all the time! When you listen to such people, their life is completely negative.
When we train our brain to focus on what does not go well, it becomes an expert at it and cannot see what goes well. Train your brain to focus on positive rather than negative things. You will feel much happier.
A very good exercise for that is the gratitude journal. Every day, take note of 3 events/ situations/ people that contribute to making your life better. Even small things count!
Principle 4 – Transform the negative events into a positive force
We may train our brain to focus on positive things, it does not mean that we should close our eyes to the negative and sad events of our life. However, use your energy to transform negative events into positive ones. When Walt Disney got fired from his first job for “lack of creativity”, he did not give up. He worked even harder and he is now famous worldwide.
It is the same for you. Are you bored at work? Good, then focus your energy on suggesting new projects to your boss, or work on personal ones that are important for you. Who knows, it may lead to nice opportunities!
Principle 5 – Take charge of your life and focus on what you can control
One of the greatest keys to success is the feeling to control over our future, our wellbeing, and our performance. Make a list of the objectives you want to achieve and break it down into smaller objectives. In the implementation phase, be aware of what you can control and what you cannot control.
Imagine one of your objectives is to teach your first yoga class. You have prepared the content of your class, rented the studio, and invited the participants. On the day of the class, it is raining cats and dogs and nobody shows up. What do you do?
Taking charge of our life means acting as best as possible to control what we can control. Don’t bother with what you cannot control! This will allow you to allocate your energy to things that you can influence and hence optimize your chances of success.
Principle 6 – Our willpower alone is not enough to create new habits
Why is it so difficult to implement new habits (eating healthy, working out) and give up the bad ones? Often, we rely on our willpower alone. But this resource is limited. Studies show that willpower alone is not efficient to maintain life changes because willpower is depleted when it is used too much. The goal is to reduce the amount of energy activated, the physical and mental energy that we need to overcome a situation.
For example, you have decided to write daily in your gratitude journal. To limit the amount of activated energy and make this new habit last, keep a notebook open and a pen next to your bed. This is a small effort but it works! Do you want to smoke less? Do not buy a big stock of cigarettes and hide the ones you have as far as possible from you.
Principle 7 – Social support is one of the biggest keys for happiness
Imagine that your boss gives you a big project to handle alone, without support or any kind. You have 2 options: either you fail or give up, or you exhaust yourself trying to handle it alone. Successful people know that their social relationships are a good investment. Social interactions fill us up with positivity and, the more our relationships get stronger, the more our happiness level increases.
Studies have confirmed the link between social support and happiness. People who have less social relations have a higher risk to suffer from depression.
This applies in the professional world as well. At work, a team gets better results when it is united. Even a team coffee break can have a huge impact on the happiness level of the team. If you are a manager, show gratitude to your team, if possible in public.
Happiness is contagious
In this period of a worldwide pandemic, let me warn you: happiness is contagious! But fear not, share your happiness and surround yourself with happy people.
Bonus tip: make gifts! Research shows that spending money for others boosts happiness levels more than spending money for ourselves. So buy lunch for someone or give money to a charity!
If you like the content of this article and would like to know more about the 7 principles of happiness, I invite you to read the book from Shaw Achor: The Happiness Advantage.