Happy Woman PERMA model seligmanHave you noticed that there are some people who are just really, truly happy? That these same people can be happy, even when life is hard or bad things happen? Have you wondered how they do that; how they can be that positive, that optimistic?

Fortunately, happiness is not limited to the lucky few. You can be happy too! And I will tell you exactly what you need to start doing to become one of those super happy, life-loving people.

Dr. Martin Seligman has done research for over 30 years on what makes us happy. His research has revealed that there are 5 components to being happy: Positivity, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement. These 5 things make up the PERMA model that is the core of Positive Psychology and the secret to being ridiculously happy.

Let's walk through how to incorporate each one into your life:

1. POSITIVITY

Having a positive, optimistic outlook is critical to being happy. This doesn't mean you have to pretend that you're happy about bad things happening, but it does mean that you need to look for the silver lining in bad situations.

To be more positive, try to do as many of the following things as possible, every day:

  • Think about what you're grateful for.
  • Think about what you're blessed or really lucky to have.
  • Savor the moment you're in and look at what good things are happening right now.
  • Think of what you have done right today.
  • Think about what kindness has been shown to you today.
  • Think about what's gone well in the last week and what you did to make them go well.
  • Think about the bad things in your life as having a silver lining. Use this format: I am thankful that  __(insert bad thing) ___ happened, because it means _____(put positive spin on bad thing)_____.  For example, "I am thankful that I have to pay taxes this year, because it means I have a job and I made more money this year than last." Another example, "I am thankful that my mother-in-law is coming over the holidays, because she gave me my wife and I am so lucky to have a great marriage."
  • Have a mantra that is realistic and positive. Something you can say to yourself when you're having a rough moment, like, "I screwed that up, but no one is perfect, and I am just a normal person." If you need help finding a mantra or inspiration quote, please visit Pinterest for many great ideas.

2. ENGAGEMENT

Engagement refers to you doing something that you are truly engaged and absorbed in every day. Have you ever noticed that there are certain activities you can do where you lose track of time? Maybe you can go for a walk and find that 4 hours passed in the blink of an eye? Maybe you like to work in your garden or in your garage and notice that you've been out there all day and it only felt like an hour?

When you are doing something that you like and you lose track of time, you are engaged fully in it.

Find something that truly engages you and try to do this thing for a little bit of time every day and a longer time as often as you can.

For me, I feel truly engaged when I am doing counseling (fortunately I get to do this every day!), I also feel truly engaged when I read and when I garden. So everyday, I try to get some time in reading and gardening. On the weekend, when I have time, I like to go and sit on the beach and read for a couple of hours or spend the whole day playing with plants in the yard. Doing this re-charges me and we want to find what recharges you!

If you need help finding what really engages you, try the VIA Character Strength Quiz (it's completely free). It will help you identify your strengths, tell you what you value most, and will give you some ideas about how to spend more time. (BTW, there is a paid version of the VIA survey, but you don't need to do that, try the free one first and see what you think.)

3. RELATIONSHIPS

Positive relationships are crucial to personal happiness. We are social creatures, we need other people in order to be happy and find joy in our lives. You cannot be truly happy without good, loving, close relationships in your life. 

We need a variety of positive relationships in our lives. We need a loving relationship with a spouse or partner. We need close relationships with our children. We crave connection with a few good friends. We need warm relationships with our family members. We do best when we have friends at work.

You don't need to make every relationship you have an ideal relationship. For example, if there's someone at work or in your family that you don't get along with, you don't need to knock yourself out trying to make that relationship better. Instead, choose a few people who are your VIP relationships (i.e., the most important friends, family members, co-workers) to really invest in. And of course, your relationship with your spouse is the MOST critical one.

If your romantic relationship is not going so well, start working on it. Do what you can to be a better spouse, be more loving and more positive. Plan some fun things to do together and convey an optimistic attitude. Spend time with friend and family while you're working on your relationship; you'll need some positive relationships to help you keep going.

One of the most important things you can do to be happier in your relationships is to practice forgiveness. Holding on to anger, bitterness, and resentment creates pain and maintains depression. You can start to forgive someone by writing them a letter: write down what they've done, how you felt about it, what you wish they knew, and then....try to imagine a neutral reason for why they did it. If you can imagine a neutral reason, see if you can find a way to forgive them. If you can, write this in the letter. You don't need to send or give them the letter. The purpose of this exercise is to just get your feelings out on paper and move you towards forgiveness. Some things are unforgivable and I don't want you to feel pressured to forgive someone for something that was truly horrific, but if there are people in your life that you can forgive, try to do so.

4. MEANING

A happy life is a life with purpose, a life where we are contributing something and making a difference. A life where we are doing something that we truly value.

The Positive Psychology Institute of Melbourne tells us: "Studies have shown that people who belong to a community and pursue shared goals are happier than people who don't. It is also very important to feel that the work we do is consistent with our personal values and beliefs. From day to day, if we believe our work is worthwhile, we feel a general sense of well-being and confidence that we are using our time and our abilities for good."

To increase your sense of meaning, let me ask you - what do you really value? What is your life's purpose? What do you want your legacy to be? What is your mission?

The answer to these questions will help you determine what you should focus your energy and time on. If your purpose is to be an amazing mom, really think about what makes someone an amazing mom. Think about the traits you have and how to leverage these abilities to be the best mom you can be. If you want your legacy to be that you advanced the treatment of cancer, find a local way to get involved or a research project to fund. We want you to be contributing to something you deeply value on a daily basis. So it won't be enough to just send in a check to the American Cancer Society (feel free to do this, it's a good thing to do); you'll need to do something daily, like volunteering with your local chapter of the ACS or by starting a blog that summarizes new research, so that you can be frequently involved with the project/group you value.

If you're not sure where to start, start by volunteering with a local charity that you like. Doing something for others almost always boosts our mood and our overall happiness.

5. ACHIEVEMENT

We need to be striving to be happy. Notice that I am saying striving, not struggling. You don't need to push yourself so hard that you're in pain, you need to challenge yourself with reasonable goals and be working to get to the next level. It turns out that achieving our goals is a key component of happiness.

To develop a sense of achievement, you should set some realistic and achievable goals for yourself.  The best goals are small and achieved often, so that you're constantly in the process of achieving a goal and making a new one. Ideally you will be saying, "Wow, I did it and I did it well!" 

Let's get started on increasing your sense of achievement... Think of something big that you want to do - maybe building a porch on the side of your house? Writing a novel? Saving for a special trip? Ok, now once you have your big picture goal in mind, let's break it down into 10 small steps. Take out a piece of paper now and write down your goal, then list the 10 smaller steps. Once you've done that, figure out how much time each step will take. Be fair and reasonable - you probably won't write 1 chapter of a novel in an hour, but you might be able to do it in a week. Keep breaking down your steps into smaller steps until you have about 1 step per week to achieve. Remember that we want to be achieving AND feel that we're doing a good job. So don't rush yourself, just give yourself a little push. Then please come back and tell me what amazing things you're achieving!

By following Dr. Seligman's PERMA model and incorporating these 5 steps into your daily life, you really can be ridiculously happy. It's worked for me and so many people that I've taken care of. I encourage you to give these approaches a try, even if you're skeptical about how well they'll work. What do you have to lose?

If you'd like to know more about Positive Psychology, listen to Dr. Martin Seligman in this amazing TED Talk: 

 

 

 

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