Somewhat different to the skills you might learn at the School of Hard Knocks, the skills that improve happiness are emerging from research in the field of Positive Psychology. If you are wanting to shore up your resilience and fortify your mental health, these practices have been scientifically tested and proven to improve your quality of life.
What are the qualities of the most resilient people?
Social researcher Brené Brown found that while resilient people are:
- Resourceful and practice good problem solving skills.
- More likely to seek help.
- Believe in their own ability to do something that will help them manage their feelings and cope.
- Aware of available social supports.
- Connected with others, such as friends and family.
She also found that cultivating, recognising and celebrating thoughts and actions based on love and compassion is a common element to resilience. As Ralph Waldo Trine beautifully captures:
A life… of a man or woman… that goes out in love to all, is the life that is full, and rich, and continually expanding in beauty and in power… In [this] larger love for all the world, he finds himself included.
In other words, if you love the world, you can't help feeling somewhat generous towards yourself as well. Nice side bonus 🙂
Friendships and connecting with people is important
So what happens if you are new in town, or the support of friends and family, for the moment, seems to be in short supply? Indeed making friends after a certain age or perhaps at any age is something that takes effort and a knack that doesn't always come easily. Amy Poehler's tips include:
- Be friendly to everyone. Even those who you don't immediately think you're going to be friends with. You never know!
- Be a joiner. Tap into your passions and join groups that do the things you like to do.
- If you can't find a group that celebrates what you love to do – make your own!
For more detail and a sympathetic viewpoint on something we all experience multiple times in our lives, check out the full article here: www.amysmartgirls.com.
Shawn Achor's happiness training in 21 days
According to current research, it takes 21 to 66 days to create new ways of thinking. Positive psychology researcher Shawn Achor makes his money from training people to view the world more positively and optimistically, using a series of daily practices that he suggests should only take about two minutes each day for 21 days. These five daily steps are all it takes to increase your resilience and happiness:
- Write down 3 new things you are grateful for. This teaches your brain to scan the world for the positive rather than the negative. This doesn't have to be anything profound – it could be the great decaf latte you had on your way to work this morning 😉
- Relive the good times. Journal about a positive experience you had in the last 24 hours. Make it as detailed as possible. This lets you relive the feeling of happiness for a second time and your brain gets the message to label this as important and the imprint the memory leaves deepens.
- Do 15 minutes of a fun cardio activity, like gardening or walking the dog, every day. This teaches you that your behaviour matters and is as effective as taking an anti-depressant.
- Do two minutes of deep breathing each day. This gives you a break from the culture of multi-tasking and allows your brain to focus on the task at hand. Remember to concentrate on having a really long out breath so you don't end up hyperventilating if you're not used to breathing exercises!
- Make a random act of conscious kindness. For example, write an email praising or thanking a person in your social support network and send it to them.
And the benefits? This process has been found to rewire your brain to be more positive, which in turn leads to greater resilience to stress and spreads ripples of positivity into your personal and business life. But don’t take my word for it, take the 21-day challenge and try it out for yourself.
To check out more from Shawn Achor and his book The Happiness Advantage, click here: www.goodthinkinc.com.
Being on a downward spiral vs cultivating an upward spiral
Neuroscientist Alex Korb has his own take on training your brain to be more helpful and positive as outlined in his book The Upward Spiral. He backs up his strategies with research into the brain chemistry of people who use these tips. His top four practical and effective ways to feel better and even reverse the course of depression are:
- Ask yourself the big question: What am I grateful for? Like Achor, Alex Korb knows the value of gratitude and has measured increases in serotonin and dopamine in those who search through their memories looking for things to be grateful for. Even if you can't think of something to be grateful for immediately, the very act of looking for it, gives your neurotransmitters a healthy boost.
- Label negative feelings. For some reason, your brain settles down if you name your emotions. In certain circles, it is thought that naming a thing removes it's power, demystifies it and gives the namer some sense of control over what is named. It seems neuroscience agrees. Be warned, however, suppressing emotions and leaving them unnamed has the opposite effect. The energy your brain gives to the feelings only increases. So label what you feel and minimise the subconscious power emotions have over you.
- Make a decision. Trying to make the perfect decision creates anxiety, however making a ‘good enough' decision reduces stress and makes you calmer.
- Touch is key. The power of human touch to reduce stress is amazing. So get out there and give someone you care about a hug – the longer the better. If you can't get a hug, have a massage. If you can't get a massage call a friend. PS Texting doesn't have the same effect, however, an actual phone call boosts brain activity and helps you feel better.
Check out Time Magazine's article on the principles from The Upward Spiral here: www.time.com.
Everyone feels anxious, down or depressed at times, just like everyone feels happy, excited, pleased, angry or upset at times. These are all normal emotions. However, if these emotions are too intense, last too long or interfere with your wellbeing they can become a problem. Feelings of worthlessness, failure, inadequacy and hopelessness are often the result of stress becoming too much and anxiety and depression interfering with how you see (and talk to) yourself. Developing resilience, a foundation of strength that allows you to bounce back from adversity, helps you safeguard against stress and have a more loving, accepting, optimistic view of yourself and your life, regardless of what you are going through.
Links to the free online education program ‘This Way UP’, online support communities and information on stress, depression and anxiety.
- The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown
- The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor