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June 7, 2014

The Happiness Experiment: Using Our Strengths to Create Happiness.

Happiness Smile

When asked the question, “What do you want out of life?” many people respond with one word—happiness.

“Some pursue happiness, others create it.”

~ Unknown

I remember vividly the moment I realized that meeting the man of my dreams did not equate to finding eternal happiness. For my entire life, up until that point, I literally thought: girl meets man, girl finds happiness, and life is perfect.

I may have watched one too many Disney movies growing up. Nevertheless, you can imagine my disbelief when I realized this was, in-fact, not the case. You see, meeting the man of my dreams is an external source of happiness, and, yes, it may bring me momentary happiness, but that will not withstand.

Happiness derives from within us, from our very core.

My “aha” moment about Prince Charming sparked a happiness interest within me and I submerged myself in research on the topic. Throughout my exploration on the emotional state of happiness, I have learned that it is not a goal to be reached, it is not tangible and it is not something that one can hold on to forever.

Happiness is, however, continuously and actively cultivated throughout one’s life. At first this may seem daunting; the thought of continuously striving to find happiness without ever reaching a state of complete attainment. Fortunately, and I speak from experience, it does become easier to stimulate moments of happiness and there are numerous avenues of doing such.

Inspired by Martin E. P. Seligman’s Authentic Happiness, my friend and I paired up and created a Signature Strengths Experiment. Instead of chasing after it or waiting for it to magically come to us, we decided we would actively create more happiness in our lives.

Utilizing our top-five Signature Strengths we decided we would focus on one-strength per week for five weeks: each day utilizing a designated strength in a novel and unique way. The idea behind this experiment was that instead of focusing on strengthening our dim attributes, we would put a significant emphasis on our signature strengths as a means of creating happiness. Previous studies have shown that people that participated in a similar experiment increased their happiness and sustained it six moths later.

We began our journey to happiness by formulating a plan. We decided to meet once a week to talk about our experiences with our process, and to share our innovative and unique ideas we’d come up with to express our individual signature strengths. We severed as a support group for one another and it was gratifying to share the experience with someone else.

A sample of my Happiness Experiment:

Week 1: Gratitude. This week was actually more challenging than I had originally anticipated. I tend to be a very grateful person and I utilize a lot of avenues to express my gratitude. Coming up with novel ways proved to be a challenge, but enjoyable at that.

I sent postcards to family members expressing my gratitude for a specific event/instance that took place between us. In today’s world of e-mails, text messaging and social media, I find it enjoyable to receive snail mail.

Another day, I made a list of the people in my life that were currently a frustration to me. I then noted reasons for which I was grateful for their presence in my life; after all the most difficult people in our lives are actually our teachers.

Example: Even though I was in a hurry, I am grateful that the person at the checkout stand was unusually sluggish, because it enabled me time to practice my patience, which is one of my New Year’s resolutions.

Week 2: Playfulness and Humor. This week proved to be difficult for me. For gratitude I could produce something as a means of expressing my strength, a postcard or a list, but playfulness and humor I found to be more of an internal quality.

One night I stayed in and watched a funny movie that I had never seen before.

Another day I found funny e-cards and silly animal images online and emailed them to various friends in an effort to share my playfulness and humor with others.

Week 3: Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence. This week was fairly easygoing for me as I tend to find beauty and pleasure in all of the little things life has to offer.

Inspired by the documentary Happy, I decided to take a different route on my daily walk and mindfully slow down my pace so that I could fully absorb the beauty that surrounded me. I allowed myself the time to notice flowers, houses, and rope swings that hung from trees (where I imagined children playing, upon returning home from school).

While sitting on a beach, I listened as the ocean pulled stones back and forth, creating a beautiful rhythmic sound. I had once read in my happiness research that taking a memento from a scene could be a pleasant trigger of happiness in the future. I took a small stone from that beach to remind me of the sound of the ocean. It still sits on my dresser, and every time I look at it I am taken back to that moment.

Week 4 and 5: Curiosity and Interest in the World and Love of Learning. My final two strengths, to me, were very similar and I encountered difficulty in distinguishing between the two on multiple occasions. During Week 4, I foresaw myself engaging in more adventures, however sometimes life happens and adventures are not possible in that moment, therefore one must improvise. I have combined these two for this article.

Upon moving to Hawaii my fascination with the Green Sea Turtle has amplified. I love everything about these beautiful creatures of the sea, but realized that I did not know much about them. I decided to set aside some time to research them, creating a mini fact sheet of all the information I learned.

I decided to deepen my knowledge of Hawaiian culture by researching common phrases and practicing them. A favorite of mine is, “E Ho Mai,” which means, let it come and let it flow.

These are merely examples from my experience with my top five signature strengths. My friends’ were different, although there was some overlap.

To find out your strengths visit: Authentic Happiness

We found that journaling daily about our personal practice and then meeting once a week to share our ideas and experiences with one another was beneficial and extremely enjoyable. We also served as a support system for one another: offering ideas, suggestions, tools and resources.

While our experiment took place months ago, it is something that we often reflect back on with fond memories. I believe that sharing this experience with one another strengthened our bond while empowering us to create happiness within ourselves.

Instead of focusing on our areas of weakness, let us utilize our strengths to begin creating happiness in our lives—allowing ourselves to fully indulge in the moments of authentic happiness.

 

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Editor: Travis May

Photo: Louis Agace/Pixoto

 

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