New Perspectives on Increasing Happiness

Can you learn to be happier?  Positive psychology says yes, with some effort. Genetics plays a role, possibly contributing up to 50% of our happiness quotient. It is likely that 10% is influenced by our life circumstances, but a full 40% is through our actions and thoughts. With 40% of our happiness influenced by our actions and thoughts, we have a lot of room to increase our happiness if we are intentional and effortful.

In the 1990s, Martin Seligman started the branch of psychology called positive psychology. Positive psychology studies what is right and how we can improve further on the good.

Relationships are a large part of our happiness. Focusing on relationships is a big first step toward greater happiness. We are social beings and social connection is key to health and happiness. 

If healthy relationships contribute to our happiness, then improving our relationships with better communication is important. Better communication does not mean we have to agree all the time. We may even decide not to communicate about touchy subjects.

John Gottman is a researcher who describes six conflict management skills. They are softening up (approach the problem softly), complain but do not blame, use “I” statements not “you” statements, describe what is happening without judgment, be polite and appreciative, and don’t store things up.

Another approach to increasing happiness is to introduce variety into your life. Call someone you have not spoken to for a while, go a different way to work, or be open to chance opportunities.

A third way to increase happiness is to take time out. Time out could be meditation or to give yourself permission to sleep enough nightly. Optimally, you would give yourself both gifts daily. Doing so may reduce feelings of overwhelm, decreases stress, and improve immunity and creativity. To consider how the lack of mental health affects us, sick days from work are due more from mental distress than physical illness.

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