WHAT CAN I DO TO BE HAPPIER?

Jacque Ristau, MS, LPC

In the article WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT EMOTIONS AND FEELING HAPPY? I wrote about using our virtues or signature strengths to build happiness. If you haven’t already gone to www.authentichappiness.org to take the V.I.A. (Values In Action) Signature Strengths Survey, I hope you’ll take the time to do so soon. Here are some other research-based ways to build happiness.

Once you’ve identified your strengths, look back and deliberately recall the positive events and people in your life. What we feel about the past is determined by what we think about the past. We know that the brain biases thought about the past. Suffering trumps happiness in memory. Think about it. Which brain survives? The one prepared for disaster. To counter this tendency, tell your story from the perspective of your strengths. Try to think of a story that represents who you are, a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, that you could use as an introduction to tell people what you are about, how you use your strengths.

Our brains take success for granted. So what can we do to counter this tendency and build happiness? We look at the lessons of life as gifts. We find the gold in the dross of bad experiences. How? I have one powerful suggestion. Practice The Blessings Exercise developed by Positive Psychology researchers. This involves writing before you go to bed at night. Write down 3 events that went well today and why. This exercise builds optimism. The why an is an important component of this exercise as it helps you get in touch with gratitude for yourself, the people in your life, and the world around you. You can practice this exercise with children, your spouse, or perhaps a close friend.

Gratitude is the best way to build positive emotion and happiness in your life. There are many ways to practice gratitude in addition to The Blessings Exercise. You can make a blessings list and add to it over time. You can write a letter thanking someone for how they have influenced you. Acts of gratitude are as varied as the people expressing thanks. Acts of kindness increase positive emotion and happiness. Gifts of time can be especially satisfying, more so than giving things.

Another way to build happiness is to be mindful of pleasurable activities in the moment. We can be fully present and deliberately savor the good things. We can prolong pleasurable experiences by sharing them with others. We can deliberately build memories by making mental photos of good times. We can congratulate ourselves for a job well done. Write or talk about a positive experience by using discriminating words to describe it. This anchors it for us. We can intensify pleasure by blocking interference by turning off the radio or tv. You can slow down time and deliberately etch memory by basking and luxuriating in the pleasurable experience, thus slowing down time.

There is satisfaction in letting go of the need for perfection. Make choices that are good enough, not perfect. Make time and room for you to be the best you that you can be by being mindful of the ways you can influence your own happiness. Be grateful, be aware, be present, be pleasant, and be happy.

Jacque Ristau, MS, LPC

Copyright 2011, Jacque Ristau



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"If you concentrate on finding

whatever is good in every

situation, you will discover that

your life will suddenly be filled

with gratitude, a feeling that

nurtures the soul."

Rabbi Harold Kushner