What’s Your Personal Happiness Style?

Personal Happiness StyleOne man’s happiness is another’s  ho-hum.  I learned that lesson forcefully when I was helping my friend Jan redefine her personal happiness style.

Jan was recovering from major surgery.  She was depressed because she didn’t have the energy to enjoy her previous active lifestyle.

Jan loves to be on the go.  She’s always meeting friends for golf, for lunch and shopping, for an hour at the gym, an afternoon at the movies.  She takes classes and attends workshops and loves to entertain.   And now it was all she could do to get dressed in the morning and stroll around the block.  She was frustrated and bored.

As we played with finding a way to reframe her situation so she could more easily embrace it, I asked her how she felt about the trying to adopt a mindset of contentment.

“I hate it!” she spat out such vehemence that I laughed in stunned surprise.  Personally, I love contentment.  It’s one of my favorite feelings.  It had never dawned on me that anyone could find it as distasteful as Jan apparently did.

Eventually we came up with the phrase “joyful ease” to represent a mindset she could enjoy cultivating.  She could learn to go slowly buoyantly, she decided, floating with ease on her way to greater stamina and strength.

The Flavors of Happiness

That experience with Jan showed me that, just as we all have our own set of personal strengths, we have our personal preferences for particular flavors of happiness, too.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson In her landmark book, Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life identifies ten primary positive emotions.  Each of them has the power to make us feel upbeat or uplifted.  In other words, they’re the different flavors that we group together in the big category, “Happiness.”

Read through the following list of the primary positive emotions slowly, and as you do, try to sense how each one feels in your body.  Notice which ones seem to hold a special attraction for you, which ones shine more brightly or resonate more clearly with you.  Which ones make your happiness taste buds tingle?

  • Gratitude
  • Serenity
  • Interest
  • Hope
  • Pride
  • Amusement
  • Inspiration
  • Awe
  • Love
  • Joy

Finding Your Own Brand of Happiness

Your happiness preferences aren’t inborn, fixed traits, and you’re capable of enjoying every one of the positive emotions.   But you’re likely to experience some of them more frequently or more deeply than others.

I have a cousin, for example, who meets life with enormous humor.  He has a real talent for finding fun in almost any situation.  And he creates fun in unexpected ways, too.   At a family wedding, he once gave a loud wolf-whistle right in church as the mother of the bride walked down the aisle.

No doubt, he would find himself strongly identifying with the emotions of amusement and joy.

Identifying which flavors of happiness feel most natural or familiar to you will help you notice them more often.

All of the positive emotions have in common that they don’t linger long.  They’re like brief passages of music that play on our inner radios and then float away.   They may impact our mood and color the feel of our day, but they’re fleeting in themselves, all too often gone and forgotten before we consciously registered their presence.

However, when we notice them as they’re happening, we can choose to savor them, to give them our full attention and to immerse ourselves in them.  That makes them more vivid and allows their particular harmony to reverberate inside us with greater richness.

When you know what kinds of happiness you most enjoy, you’re also in a better position to create experiences that will produce them.  You can intentionally make time to spend doing the kinds of things you’ll genuinely enjoy.

How to Build More Happiness

The key to experiencing more happiness is to simply pay more attention to those times when it dances into your life.

Start by deciding which of the ten primary flavors are your “signature” happiness feelings.   Focus on those for a while, using as many of the activities below as you like. Then, over time, experiment with  adding more flavors, one or two at a time, until you’re fully aware of them all.

  • Try beginning each day with a conscious intention to notice when you’re experiencing one of your signature flavors of happiness.   Notice what triggered it.  And in the evening, take a moment to replay your happiness moments, savoring the memory of them.
  • After you’ve identified your preferred flavors of happiness, pick one or two to focus on for the next week or so.   Focusing on one of them at a time, think of a time when you were feeling that feeling.  Let yourself recall as many details of the situation as possible—the physical surroundings, who was with you, what the weather was like or what the room was like, the colors and sounds around you.   Make your focus feeling as intense as you can.  Then notice how it feels in your body, and say to yourself, “This is [name the feeling].”   Pay special attention to how your face feels.   Then, as you go through the week, let your body signal you when it is feeling the same way and you’ll be able to enjoy the current happiness more fully.
  • To broaden your awareness of your signature happiness feelings, you may want to look each of them up in a thesaurus (thesaurus.com) and scout out other feelings that fall in the same family.  My favorite, “contentment,” for instance, is a member of the “serenity” family.
  • If you want some variety in your happiness practice, write each of the ten primary emotions on a slip of paper, fold it, and put it in small basket or bowl.   Draw one out at random each morning and let it be your focus of the day.  Watch for it, and enjoy it when it appears.
  • Play with keeping a happiness log or journal where you jot down what positive emotions you experienced during the day and what triggered them.
  • Create a family ritual where each member shares his or her happiness stories with each other over a meal.  Or enlist a friend to be your happiness buddy and exchange happiness stories on a regular basis.  (Research shows that simply sharing happy stories increases happiness, by the way.  This one is truly a win-win.)
  • Share a happiness experience on your favorite social media site every day

Expanding Happiness

What we focus on expands in our experience.   Let yourself play with your signature happiness feelings daily and they’ll grow by leaps and bounds.

Research shows that happiness is contagious by at least three degrees.  When you’re happier, so are your friends, and your friends’ friends, and their friends.  So by expanding your own experience of happiness, you’re literally making the world a happier place.  You can rightly consider being happy a public service.

Most of all, expand your happiness because it adds richness and health and well-being to your life –in all the flavors that are most delicious for you.   As Houston auto dealer Tommie Vaughn says, “You only get one go at it… might as well Rock it.”

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Remember, sharing happy stories boosts your level!  If you enjoyed this article, pass it along to your network.

You might also enjoy:

Scavenger Hunting for Positivity Souvenirs
and
Why Happiness is Job #1

photo by hortongrou

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How to Make More Love

loving coupleA high school friend once said to me, “Everybody writes about love; but nobody has.”   It was one of those comments so profound in its simplicity that it’s stuck with me to this day.

The first part of his comment became almost painfully relevant as I set out to research this article about the positive psychology’s character strength of “Loving and Allowing Oneself to be Loved.”   Seemingly everybody does write about love!

Happily, the most visible writer on love these days happens to be one of positive psychology’s brightest lights, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a specialist on positive emotions.   In fact, her recent book, Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become, was even highlighted in an article in this year’s Valentines issue of O, the Oprah magazine.

And the acclaim she’s receiving is for good reasons.   Her research gives us some interesting new perspectives on love.

In this brief YouTube clip, Dr. Fredrickson describes what her new book tells us:

The book, by the way, is as engrossing and inspiring as it is scientific, and well worth the read.

What Love is Not

At first glance, Fredrickson’s research can feel a little disconcerting because it dispels some of our common and fondly held notions about love.   It demonstrates, for instance that love is not:

  • Sexual desire
  • A special bond
  • A commitment
  • Exclusive
  • Lasting, or
  • Unconditional

Instead, she says, it’s a “micro-moment of shared positivity” between people.  And that moment can occur between soul mates or between strangers, between two individuals or in a group.

Long-lasting bonds and commitments can evolve from these special, shared micro-moments, and cultivating shared micro-moments of positivity can nourish them.  But they are separate things.

If you’re willing to set aside your pre-existing beliefs about love while you listen to what she has to say, however, you’ll discover that instead of limiting love, her findings make more love accessible to us all.

The Micro-Moments of Love

The micro-moments of shared positivity that Dr. Fredrickson describes are powerful packets of nourishment for our bodies and souls.  Like all positive emotions—gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and joy—love literally broadens our awareness.  Under the influence of positive emotions, we see a wider range of the landscape around us.  We take in more information and see more possibilities.  Our perception expands to include the other; we’re more likely to think in terms of “we” then in terms of “me versus you.”

The beautiful thing about these micro-moments of love is that you can share them with anyone – even a coworker or a stranger in a check-out line – building your store of love on a cellular level, enhancing your health and expanding your experience of the joy of life.

Micro-moments of love happen when we share a positive emotion with someone else.   We connect with and mirror each other.  Our brains and our gestures synchronize and a resonance develops between us.  Add to this a mutual motivation to contribute to each other’s well-being, and voila!  You have love.  And it nourishes your growth and health more powerfully than any other source of positivity.

Two conditions are necessary for these micro-moments to happen.  First, you must feel safe.  And secondly, according to what Fredrickson told science writer Emily Estafan Smith for her article in The Atlantic, you have to physically be in the same space .  “For example,” Smith’s article says, “if you and your significant other are not physically together—if you are reading this at work alone in your office—then you two are not in love. You may feel connected or bonded to your partner—you may long to be in his company—but your body is completely loveless.”

Love is a biological dynamic.  And Fredrickson’s research details its neurochemical workings.

Smile Power and Long-Term Loving

The connection starts with a smile, followed by eye contact.   Eye contact lets your brain mimic the subtle musculature of the other person’s smile and understand its meaning.  Then, as you engage with the other person in a shared positive emotion of some kind, a resonance builds between you.  Your brains and bodies begin to do a mirror dance.  And you find yourself feeling elevated, open, and connected.  In other words, you’re experiencing one of those micro-moments of love.

Smile, make eye contact, share a positive experience, and a moment of love is yours.

If you’re in a long-term, committed relationship, you can use this knowledge to keep the spark between you and your partner alive.  Instead of complacently taking your love for granted, you can intentionally cultivate it – every day.   Make a point of smiling at your partner and of looking her in the eyes as you share moments of positivity—of interest, gratitude, inspiration, amusement or joy.

And what about those times when smiles are hard to come by?  What about the times when life is hard or tragedies strike?   “Love doesn’t require that you ignore or suppress negativity,” Fredrickson says in a special article for CNN.

“It simply requires that some element of kindness, empathy or appreciation be added to the mix.  Compassion is the form love takes when suffering occurs.”   In tough times, let your smile be a sympathetic one, and the shared emotion one of kindness and warmth.

Building Your Capacity for Love

One way to increase your capacity to love and receive love is simply to keep a journal of the loving encounters you experience throughout your day.   Practice smiling, eye contact and positive engagement with other people and make a brief note about what happened and how it felt.

Another wonderful way of building your capacity for more love is to learn to practice loving-kindness meditation.  In fact, one of the key findings of Fredrickson’s research is that our biological capacity for experiencing positivity resonance, once thought a fixed attribute, can be increased by practicing loving-kindness meditation for scarcely more than an hour a week for a few months.

The video below will walk you through the basic practice.  And for an in-depth description of the stages people transit while practicing it, I recommend Sharon Salzberg’s wonderful audiobook, Lovingkindness Meditation

 

As my high school friend said, although everybody writes about love, nobody ever has.  To feel its beauty and power is an experience that will forever remain beyond words.  But Fredrickson’s work is a worthy foray into its mysteries and holds some practical keys for ushering more love into our lives.

For more clues about how to make more love in your life, see:

And if you found this article of value, please do share it.  It’s the loving thing to do.

Photo by lusi at stock.xchng

 

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