Jacque Ristau, MS, LPC, 2006

We know that each of us owns our happiness. We can make decisions and changes in our lives that increase our happiness. It's possible to increase our level of satisfaction with our lives and relationships by building our happiness. Each of us has a certain level of happiness we operate within and we now know what it takes to live in the upper range of our personal happiness quotient.

Life tends to be emotional at times, positively and negatively. It goes without saying that we enjoy ourselves more when feeling positively. Building positive emotion in your life is one way you can increase your experience of happiness.

Recent research on the subject tells us there are three basic paths to happiness. First there’s the pleasant life where we experience pleasure and fun. Secondly, the good life is where we find ourselves engaged and experience flow, where there is no sense of time. And third, there’s the meaningful life; the experience of using our character strengths and finding purpose and a life beyond ourselves. The commonality among these areas of happiness is positive emotion. When I say positive emotion I’m not talking about the opposite of negative emotion. I’m talking about what makes life worth living.

All of our emotions serve a purpose. Negative emotions are about survival. We experience fear and sadness when something is wrong, there is danger out there. Fear is protective just as anger is protective, telling us we need to fight or flee. We all experience these emotions as we navigate life. Fortunately, there’s more to life than survival. The positive emotions build resilience so we will have the emotional resources we need when the bad stuff happens. We can all develop more positive emotion and well-being in the midst of life’s challenges.

So what are some positive emotions? They include feelings like contentment, affection, interest, and relief, as well as the ones that immediately come to mind like joy, love, and peace. Positive emotions jolt us into a different mode of thought. They give us more to work with when problem solving after we’ve used our survival skills. Positive emotions build our personal resources, they feel good, and beyond that, there are many other benefits.

There are social benefits. Positive people are more desirable to be around (more popular.) Research tells us positive people make more money. There are cognitive benefits. Positivity builds better brain function like attention and thinking skills, so positive people are smarter and more creative. There are physical benefits. Happy people tend to live 9 years longer than average. And there are psychological benefits. Positive people are less depressed and anxious.

So, how can we build positive emotion to achieve more contentment, serenity, and satisfaction? Research has found that one of the best ways to build positive emotion is to be aware of and use your personal virtues or character strengths. Strengths are not the same thing as talents. Talents are relatively automatic, but strengths are more voluntary. Strengths are moral traits, character traits, the values you put into action.

Research has shown that people who deliberately find ways to use their signature strengths are significantly happier and less depressed. Each of us use different strengths at different times in our lives. Some will be consistent throughout our lives, some will be more important to us at one time than another. There are five key strengths that are more closely and consistently related to life satisfaction:
gratitude, optimism, zest for life, curiosity, and the ability to love and be loved

You can go to the web site, www.authentichappiness.org and take the V.I.A. (Values In Action) Signature Strengths Survey to find out what virtues you value and put into action in your life. This is invaluable information for the person who wants to build happiness. Think of your strengths as tools to keep in good repair. Once you’ve identified your virtues or character strengths, you can explore the effective ways you already use them and think of new uses that will build happiness in your life.

Of course there are other paths to happiness, but this is a place to start. It takes effort to be mindful of how we live our values, but a sense of well-being makes it worth the effort.

Jacque Ristau, MS, LPC

Copyright 2011, Jacque Ristau

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"Everything can be taken from a

man but the last of the human

freedoms- to choose one’s attitude

in any given set of circumstances,

to choose one’s own way."

Victor Frankl