Have you ever heard this phrase while venting and felt your skin crawl? It turns out there may be some validity to those aggravating words (as much as it pains us to admit it).
Positive psychology is a relatively new field of scientific study and its objective is simple: to find out what makes life most worth living.
“The aim of positive psychology is to catalyze a change in psychology from a preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building the best qualities in life.” Explains Martin Seligman, the Director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center.
Focusing on the good and shifting your mindset to a more positive outlook can completely revolutionize your mental and even physical health. Positive psychology has been shown to decrease stress and depression levels, help improve focus and cognitive plasticity, strengthen relationships, and increase quality of life.
Still don’t believe us? Try these three practices out for yourself.
Whether you are an optimist by nature or tend to see the glass as half empty, practicing gratitude has numerous scientifically backed benefits. Gratitude is simply the act of being thankful–of acknowledging the good things we have, no matter how minuscule or trivial they may seem.
Immune system strength, sleep improvement, decreased loneliness, and reported higher levels of joy and happiness are only a few of the benefits. The more we practice the art of gratitude, the better our relationships with others and ourselves become (Mindful.org).
Try starting your morning out by verbally listing five things you appreciate about your life. Write them down, as many as you can list. This list of gratitude can be things from your past, present, or future, but try to center at least one of the gratitudes around your current life.
In an experiment done at Mind and Body, college students struggling with mental health were divided into three groups. All of the participants received counseling and mental health care, but only one group was tasked with practicing gratitude in addition to their treatment. Of the three groups, those who took the time to write letters of gratitude for three weeks self-reported significantly better mental health than the other two groups who did not.
Gratitude challenges us to appreciate the things we have and let go of prioritizing those we don’t. Practicing gratitude forces us to release our grasp on negative emotions and invite in positive ones instead.
2. Giving back
Giving back–whether it’s financially, time-spent, or emotionally–makes us happier and healthier people. Spending our time with people outside of our normal circles increases our empathy for people from different backgrounds and cultures than us. It also fosters a sense of connectedness and community that we often long for in our personal lives and friendships. Furthermore, people who volunteer without receiving anything in return statistically are happier than those who do not, not to mention less stressed and less depressed.
Participating in volunteer work with specific objectives leaves a sense of fulfillment the same way completing a personal task does. It also nurtures important skills like patience and resilience.
Find an organization with a mission that speaks to you and find ways to get involved. Once you see the fruit from your labor, it will be hard to stop tilling the soil. Get out there and make a difference.
3. Nurturing your best self
Manifestation has been all the rage in self-help in recent years, and many swear by it as an effective spiritual practice. Science shows that there is some truth to the concept if we put it into practical, actionable steps.
Everyone has a best self, even if you’ve buried it under self-loathing and disappointment. Envision the person you could be–the skills you have but need to enhance, the habits you want to adopt but haven’t, the dreams you’ve had but ignored. Take the time to really reflect on your ideal version of yourself and envision yourself metamorphosizing into them. Now, write down in detail this self as well as actionable steps you can take to get there. Commit to writing about this best self every day. Positive psychology shows you’ll have increased motivation, happiness, and even get sick less often.
Imagine your life after you become this person. How will you feel? Who will you be? How badly do you want it? Now, make it a reality.
The key to happiness seems to be elusive, but it may just lie within our ability to shift our mindsets.
We can help unlock satisfaction through the daily discipline of exercising these three practices. Above all else, positive psychology showcases the power of positive in a world of cynicism.