Five Ways to Enhance Your Happiness: Way # 1—Improve Your Positivity Ratio
Five Pathways to Happiness: P-E-R-M-A
Since the time of Aristotle, people have been trying to figure out the formula for long-term happiness. Is happiness defined just by feelings of pleasure? Or does it also include living a meaningful life? What else is involved? I can’t tell you that I’ve cracked the code, but I’m pleased to report that many brilliant scholars continue to work on the issue. While there is no consensus on the definition of happiness or well-being, multiple theories are percolating.
For example, a leader in the science of human thriving, Dr. Martin Seligman, defines well-being as made up of five elements: 1) positive emotion, 2) engagement, 3) relationships, 4) meaning and purpose, and 5) accomplishment. Together, these elements create the acronym “PERMA.” Much scientific evidence supports each PERMA element as contributing to well-being.
My recommended happiness boosters all stem from the PERMA theory. The five things you can do to enhance your happiness are to pick one PERMA element as your theme each day. Today, we’ll focus on the “P” (positive emotions) in PERMA, which is a fun place to start.
Multiplying Positive Emotions
Positive emotions include, for example, feelings of joy, delight, contentment, serenity, curiosity, interest, vitality, enthusiasm, vigor, thrill, and pride. Frequently experiencing positive emotions like these has a whole host of beneficial effects across our life domains—including individual and team job performance, better physical health, life satisfaction, resiliency, satisfaction with friendships, marital happiness and satisfaction, and much more.
And the benefits of your positive emotions aren’t limited to yourself. Positive emotions are contagious (as are negative emotions). They spread to others. So, on the day you choose positive emotions as your theme, don’t be surprised if those around you also appear more cheery.
Also keep in mind that, for evolutionary reasons, negative emotions are much stronger than positive emotions. We are hardwired to react more strongly to bad things. As a result, we’re not likely to feel happy (and experience the related beneficial effects) unless our positive emotions outweigh bad ones. To feel happy, shoot for a ratio 3-5:1. In other words, try to offset every bad thing with three to five good ones.
This means that you may need to consciously seek out good things to restore your equilibrium after something bad happens. No one said happiness didn’t require some work! This is especially true for lawyers and other professionals who often experience many negative events and emotions as part of their daily work routines. We may need to work a little harder to create opportunities for positive emotions.
So let’s get down to practicalities. What can you do to add more positive emotions to your day this week?
Do You Experience Positive Emotions Frequently?
As a first step, consider measuring your own tendencies toward positive emotions. If you continue to focus on improving the positivity ratio in your life, you may be delighted to see your scores improve—and your feelings of happiness along with it. You can take the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (“PANAS”) free of charge by going to the Questionnaire Center on the Authentic Happiness website run by the University of Pennsylvania.
16 Ideas to Add More Positive Emotions to Your Day
Next, think of several concrete ways that you can add more positive emotions to your day. Even small things count—and they can really add up. If you choose some things that require advance planning, then actually plan them (novel idea, right?). When you engage in goal-setting, establishing specific, challenging goals improves the likelihood of success. Identifying how you’ll implement goals (when, where, how) also improves chances of success.
Here are a few ideas for increasing positive emotions this week:
1. Go to lunch with a friend or co-worker with whom you enjoy spending time. Relationships are among our best resources of positive emotions and well-being.
2. Ask everyone who comes to your office to tell you their favorite joke.
3. Tell three people why you’re grateful that they’re in your life or grateful for specific things they’ve done recently. Research shows that engaging in acts of kindness and gratitude not only makes others feel good, it also improves our own well-being.
4. Compliment everyone that you speak to.
5. Say hello to everyone—and use their names.
6. Do kind things for three people without expecting anything in return.
7. Give a small gift to a colleague to show your appreciation for their work or support of you.
8. Ask friends for recommendations for the most uplifting TED talks and watch a few.
9. Listen to music. Research indicates that music relieves stress and uplifts mood.
10. Alone or with a friend, go for a walk outside—the greener the space, the better. Research shows that walking in nature lifts mood, among other good effects.
11. Ask friends to participate in an “Avalanche of Happiness” on your Facebook page. Ask them to post anything that makes them happy—photos of family and friends, cat videos, jokes, etc. (I tested this out recently and it left me smiling for days.)
12. Add fun to your meetings. For example, ask everyone to say one good thing that they’re happy about or looking forward to, start the meeting with a thumb war, tell jokes, etc.
13. Give a bouquet of flowers to a colleague at work, ask him or her to keep it for the next hour and then pass it on to someone else and ask them to do the same.
14. Start a bulletin board for posting “thank you” notes to publicly express gratitude for each other.
15. In a Good Company article, Miles Kohrman recommended 10 Ways to Make Your Office More Fun including having an office dog, happy hours, decorate your office, group exercise, a good snack stash, play games, pranks, and an in-house barista.
16. Other fun things to do at work, include wearing a costume to work (pleeeease, somebody do this other than at Halloween and tell me about it!), posting funny signs around the office, instituting potluck Fridays, regularly taking two-minute exercise breaks, bringing your pet to work (just remember the “three poops and you’re out” rule).
Just because summer is over doesn’t mean that fun has to be over. Doesn’t just thinking about the ideas above bring a smile to your face? Imagine how you’ll feel if you can make a habit of incorporating more of these smile-inducing activities into your every-day routine. Now get out there and have some fun this week!
Next up: Engagement.
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