Monday, June 18 , 2018, 9:34 pm | Fair 62º


Winifred Lender: When Searching for Happiness, Try Prioritizing Positivity

We all want to be happy. In fact, the drive to be happy is a universal goal that defies gender, age, race and nationality. Our desire to be happy is reflected in the multitude of books, blogs and classes on how to find happiness that are marketed each year. The push toward becoming happier is based on our innate desire and research that shows that happier people have: higher quality relationships, perform better at work, are healthier and are more resilient.

While trying to be happier is a goal many of us ascribe to, it can be elusive. Studies show that the intentional pursuit of happiness is fraught with problems and can actually result in less happiness.

For example, a study by researchers found that when people were told that they could increase their level of happiness, they actually felt less happy. The researchers attribute this to the fact that people tend to engage in self-blame when they focus on maximizing their happiness, feeling pressure to perform and leading to a sense of failure.

In addition, researchers found that focusing on ones’ happiness level could lead to less positive effect. In this study the people who were asked to continuously monitor their happiness while listening to music, reported lower levels of happiness than those that those that were not monitoring their affect. In sum, it appears that trying to maximize our happiness in the moment and continuously monitoring it can actually decrease our happiness.

Lahanna Catalino and colleagues explored whether prioritizing positivity or the specific scheduling of positive activities could be an effective tool in increasing happiness. They evaluated the degree to which prioritizing happiness by intentionally scheduling activities that bring us happiness could boost our mood.

The researchers found that people who scored high on prioritizing positivity were more satisfied with their lives, experienced more frequent positive emotions, reported less depressive symptomotology, and demonstrated greater psychological and social resources (i.e. mindfulness, resilience, positive relationships). The people who prioritized positivity, made it a point of including activities that made them happy in their daily schedules. For example, someone who likes to garden would carve out time each day for gardening, someone who loved to read would schedule time for reading each day, and the enthusiastic athlete would find time each day for their preferred activity.

While it may seem obvious that engaging in activities that we enjoy will increase our happiness, prioritizing positivity by intentionally scheduling these activities on an ongoing basis is often overlooked. To harness the power of prioritizing positivity, make a list of the activities, both big and small, that bring you happiness. Next, try to select one a day to place in your daily schedule. On days you have more free time, select more than one activity. Ensure that you schedule these activities at a time of day they are likely to occur and treat them as you would any other important activity or appointment.

Instead of chasing the often-elusive dream of happiness, be active in prioritizing positivity. By scheduling activities that bring you happiness, you can harness positivity in your day.

Get started today and you can reap the benefits of days with prioritized positivity and improved affect.

— Winifred Lender, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Santa Barbara and can be contacted at [email protected]. She is the author of A Practical Guide to Parenting in the Digital Age: How to Nurture Safe, Balanced and Connected Children and Teens available at Chaucer’s and Amazon. Dr. Lender completed her undergraduate work at Cornell University and received her master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. She completed a fellowship at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia/The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and is a past president of the Santa Barbara County Psychological Association. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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