Written by: Timothy Freundl, LPC
In my last blog, I discussed mental health and the adolescent population. As a person who tries to always emphasize and build upon strengths and positivity (personally and professionally), happiness is an important concept to understand. Fostering a positive and strengths focus is especially important to do with kids and young adults to start forming these lifelong thinking habits/patterns early on! Everyone, including adolescents, want to be happy, but it may be more challenging for some of us given a variety of factors and experiences.
Gratitude is strongly related to and tied to happiness, and utilizing it is a great way to enhance well-being. Gratitude heavily influences happiness by helping one deliberately and intentionally shift cognitive perspective to increase feelings of happiness and overall optimism. Gratitude is a part of happiness and vice versa. Gratitude is significantly correlated with optimism – optimism increases happiness, improves health, and has been shown to increase the lifespan by a few years (Chei, Lee, Ma, & Malhotra, 2018). Furthermore, happier people tend to be more optimistic, and consequentially more grateful and more aware of opportunities to express gratitude in their lives.
It is arguable that happiness is what most human beings strive for over the lifespan, and living a grateful life is one way to achieve higher levels of happiness (Emmons, 2007). Attainment of happiness consumes much time in the daily lives of humans, whether this is seeking wealth, health, physical beauty, inner beauty, career/academic goals, relational goals, familial goals, etc. Happiness means different things to different people and there are many ways to define happiness and go about seeking it.
Happiness not only feels good, it has many benefits. Seligman et al. (2005) mention the causal relations between happiness and well-being, which is an important yet relatively new fact about happiness. “Happy people are healthier, more successful, and more socially engaged, and the causal direction runs both ways (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2004)” (Seligman et al., 2005, p. 5). This means that happiness can be a cycle of good things happening in life causing feelings of happiness, and feelings of happiness causing more good things to come in life. There are many other correlations and consequences of happiness as well, and it is important to emphasize the causal aspect of happiness. “Happier people have more stable marriages, stronger immune systems, higher incomes, and more creative ideas than their less happy peers (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005)” (Lyubomirsky & Layous, 2013, p. 57).
The most important piece of the happiness puzzle is that so much of people’s happiness is under their control, and many do not even realize this! There are certain activities that can be deliberately practiced to increase happiness and, in turn, promote well-being. Practicing gratitude is one effective way to intentionally increase happiness.
Lyubomirsky and Layous (2013) examined happiness factors further and found that there are certain characteristics that happier people tend to display, such as being grateful, thinking optimistically, and engaging in prosocial behaviors. Researchers have been able to find activities that may increase peoples’s level of happiness if intentionally practiced. These researchers defined positive activities as “simple, intentional, and regular practices meant to mimic the myriad healthy thoughts and behaviors associated with naturally happy people” (Lyubomirsky & Layous, 2013, p. 57). Different researchers have found activities such as writing letters, expressing gratitude, counting blessings, performing kind acts, focusing on strengths and cultivating them, visualization of ideal selves, and meditation, just to name a few, to be great for fostering happiness (Lyubomirsky & Layous, 2013). These researchers highlight the point that, best of all, especially in this insurance driven and cost effective practice of modern healthcare, all of these activities are short, self-administered, and inexpensive.
Most importantly, you have to find what works best for YOU! Have fun with it and try new things. Push the comfort zone a little bit here and there. You never know what you may stumble upon and really connect with. Stay warm these next couple months and thanks for reading. Look for my next blog on the gratitude interventions.
Chei, C., Lee, J., Ma, S., & Malhotra, R. (2018). Happy older people live longer. Age and Ageing, 2018; DOI: 10.1093/ageing/afy128
Emmons, R. A. (2007). Thanks! How practicing gratitude can make you happier. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Lyumbomirsky, S. & Layous, K. (2013). How do simple positive activities increase well-being? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22(1) 57-
Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American
Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.60.5.410