September 7, 2010

6 Happiness Tips from the Most Popular Teacher at Harvard.

The doctor says: these 6 practices will make you a happier person.

Tal Ben-Shahar’s lectures on The Science of Happiness used to pack lecture halls at Harvard. Now he shares his positive psychology with the rest of us.

According to Ben-Shahar, psychologists have traditionally focused on everything that is wrong with us—our anger, our anxiety, our depression. The field of positive psychology turns that strategy on its head, focusing instead on what is working well in our lives. If all we ever do is try to eliminate ailment, he points out, then the best we’ll ever do is not be sick. By learning to emphasize joy, happiness and personal development, we find benefits far beyond the “not sick” set point.

6 Things You Can Do to Chipper up:

1. Give Yourself Permission to Be Human

Ever been told, “Don’t cry… Everything will be okay…”? Turns out your alleged loved one could have been the one responsible for that episode the following year when you spent three weeks in bed watching The Facts of Life re-runs.

“When you feel like crying, cry,” Ben-Shahar advises. “When you feeling like laughing, laugh.” He refers to something called Ironic Processing, which promises that suppressing an emotion will only ensure its clear announcement later. That totally appropriate crying fit could become prolonged despondence or an act of rage if suppressed. Instead, permit yourself unconditional acceptance and be okay with exactly who you are–tears, shame, crazy fits and all.

2. Simplify – Do Less

Try doing less or even nothing, the good doc suggests (no wonder his courses are so popular). By embracing that less goal-obsessed side, we actually learn more, grow more and reflect upon desires, tendencies and emotions we wouldn’t have understood otherwise. In fact, he argues, doing less can actually make you more successful. Woo hoo!

Less is More

3. Develop Self-Concordant Goals

In order to be happy, positive psychologists say, align your goals and values. When we register our accomplishments as meaningful PLUS pleasurable, we get document-able physiological benefits in return. So, churning out TPS reports does not lead to contentment — go figure. This probably explains why so many in the healing profession will toil for a pittance, smiling even as they swim through overdraft fees.

4. Value Your Healthy Personal Relationships


Too many folks make a big mistake when it comes to long-term relationships, says Ben-Shahar. We end up looking for friends and lovers who will validate us or assure us that we’re likable and normal. That kind of validation should come from within (see #1). In healthy relationships, the partners seek to understand each other, to know one another’s most private fears, insecurities and motivations. “Be known, not validated,” advises the professor. Allow yourself to be exposed, and express your loving care by not overlooking “the little things.”

5. Cultivate Your Mind-Body Connection

Ben-Shahar calls ours a “touch-deprived culture” and emphasizes the impact of movement and physical affection on well-being. He describes one study wherein major depressive patients who exercised were less likely to “relapse” after ten months, compared to groups who improved by combining exercise and medication or by medication alone. “Not exercising is like taking a depressant,” he argues. He is also an outspoken advocate for meditation.

6. Focus on the Positive

This one is probably easier prescribed than carried out, but there are scientific reasons why we should develop a habit of dwelling on the positive. Positive psychologists find that happiness is more dependent on STATE of MIND than on any environmental factor, as long as basic needs are met.  A growing body of work that falls under the rubric of Gratitude Research finds that practices like listing everything you’re thankful for or identifying everything you take for granted lead to statistically significant increases in happiness. So, call your failures learning experiences, your losses opportunities.


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