One of the most encouraging aspects of positive psychology is that it is possible to develop our capacity for happiness – approximately 40% is under voluntary control. Even a born pessimist can learn to become more optimistic and increase their potential for satisfaction in life. With this in mind, two positive psychologists in the west of England came together two years ago to develop the Happiness Training Plan, an audio programme of practical strategies for a happier life, which was launched at the 2008 Happiness Lectures at the University of Bristol.
Dr Chris Johnstone is a medical doctor who has pioneered the use of positive psychology in the NHS through his work as an addictions specialist. Miriam Akhtar is a coach and consultant who discovered positive psychology when she produced one of the first programmes on the science of happiness for BBC Radio 4. Drawing on positive psychology research and personal experience of overcoming depression, Chris and Miriam formulated twelve practical strategies for a happier life.
1 – Express Gratitude
Practice switching focus from the glass half empty to the glass half full by savouring the good things you have in your life. Expressing gratitude, for example, by keeping a gratitude journal, is a powerful way to develop happiness.
2 – Use Your Strengths
Identifying your natural talents and finding new ways of using your strengths is a route to long-lasting happiness. Visit www.viastrengths.org for a free online test to discover your strengths.
3 – Live With Purpose
Finding a sense of purpose, a direction in life, brings together two of the three pillars of happiness – meaning & engagement. Identify your life purpose and take steps towards bringing it into reality.
4 – Find Your Power
This strategy is about finding the motivation to move past obstacles and feeling empowered to achieve goals. Using the cycle of dream, plan, do and review is a way to overcome stuckness and make positive change.
5 – Get Physical
Physical activity stimulates the production of “happy hormones”. Research shows that physical activity can be more effective than anti-depressants in depression recovery.
6 – The Happiness Diet
Food influences mood, in particular through the impact of blood sugar on emotional state. To produce serotonin, the brain chemical associated with good mood, you need to eat foods containing the amino acid tryptophan, found in chicken, fish, beans and brown rice.
7 – Learning Optimism
One of the most powerful ways to boost happiness is by learning the skills of optimism. Pessimism is a fast track to depression but the good news is that it is possible to develop greater optimism through techniques like reframing and disputing pessimistic thoughts.
8 – Bounceback-ability
Some people seem to have the ability to bounce back from adversity and turn a minus into a plus. This strategy is about building up reservoirs of resilience to cope with life’s hard times and the use of “hitting rock bottom” as a trigger for a positive life change.
9 – Improving Relationships
“No man is an island”, so the saying goes and it is true when it comes to happiness. Research shows that one of the characteristics of the happiest people in the world is that they have good, close relationships. Nurture your relationships and they will grow.
10 – Spiritual Happiness
Spirituality is to do with our relationship with the bigger picture and acting for the whole rather than the individual. According to research people with some form of spiritual practice have higher levels of happiness. Eight weeks of mindfulness meditation, for instance, can lead to greater activity in the left, pre-frontal cortex, the seat of positive emotions in the brain.
11 – Rest & Renewal
Modern lifestyle may not allow much time for rest and renewal but without it, you risk becoming depleted and depressed. Renewal involves attending to your needs, restocking your reserves and finding the right balance between activity and rest – too much of either leads to sub-optimal living.
12 – The Fun Factor
Make a “playlist” of things you enjoy and prioritize spending time doing them. Use all your senses to savour the pleasures of the here and now. Having fun isn’t just about boosting happiness after-hours, it can also stimulate creativity and productivity in the workplace.
The Happiness Training Plan CD is available from http://happinesstrainingplan.com