Written By: Tim Freundl, LPC
In my last blog I talked about gratitude and happiness, and their relationship with our overall well-being. Happiness can feel like a long shot at times. Anyone feeling as if they are stuck in a rut regarding happiness/well-being? It’s the winter months and often times people can find it hard to have fun or have a positive mood due to many factors that are outside of our control – cold, snow, ice, wind, short days, no sun, etc. Our mood is so much a result of the things we choose to do and what we choose to think. We have to remember to have fun and engage in the activities we enjoy even when it is hard to leave the warm house, it’s cold/snowy outside, roads are bad, etc.
Engaging in positive activities (such as showing gratitude, exercising, laughing, music, playing, self-care, meditation, getting outside, etc.) on a regular basis will help us feel better and give us more energy! Research shows there are many benefits of positive activities, which can be uniquely different to each one of us. I urge you to push your comfort zone to try new activities that make you feel good!
People who engage in positive activities just tend to have more positive perceptions of experiences in general and do certain things regularly (Lyubomirsky and Layous, 2013). Lyubomirsky and Layous (2013) mention that people who express gratitude and optimism reported greater satisfaction with their day to day life experiences over time, even though there actually was no objective evidence of improvement. This goes to show that it’s all about our mindset! Engaging in positive activities can have a ripple effect by prompting people to engage in unrelated positive behaviors that they otherwise would likely not do (Lyubomirsky & Layous, 2013).
It is because of this domino effect that positive behaviors and activities are relevant and practical in relation to happiness and resiliency. For example, through practicing gratitude, people start to realize all that they have, and cherish and treasure it more deeply, which leads to wanting to experience new things while fortunate enough to be able to do so. Life is short and we never know when it can change, so make the best of every moment.
There are other secondary needs that are met by engaging in positive activities. According to Deci and Ryan (2000), due to satisfying secondary needs, overall well-being may be increased by engaging in positive activities. These researchers mention the basic human psychological needs for autonomy and control, relatedness and connectedness, and competence and efficacy are all bolstered by engaging in positive activities, therefore increasing life satisfaction/happiness.
Through positive activities such as gratitude interventions and thinking mindfully, gratefully, or optimistically, people tend to gain more of a sense of competence, confidence, and optimism towards the future even when life circumstances are not ideal (Emmons, 2007; Lyubomirsky & Layous, 2013). Sin and Lyubomirsky (2009) noted that people became significantly happier when prompted to partake in positive intentional activities, as mentioned above.
Positive activities have an array of benefits to one’s life, and it is a situation of low-risk but high reward. It is important to remember that, as with any activity, one can adapt or habituate to positive activities (Lyubomirsky & Layous, 2013). This may mean that the same activity over time can have less and less of an increase in happiness or benefit than it did when the individual first started engaging in the activity – or we just get bored with it. Of course, this is not true in every case due to the many individual differences in preference, duration, activity selection, intensity, frequency, how the activity is selected, social aspect of the activity, in what environment it is practiced, etc. It’s good to change it up though every once in a while!
This again highlights the importance of pushing our comfort zones and taking some chances with new people or activities – especially when during the long winter months. Pushing ourselves to do things we know we enjoy, but don’t really feel like doing in the moment due to many reasons, has many benefits physically and psychologically.
I challenge you to do something you haven’t done in a while that you feel may bring about positive thoughts and feelings (or something you used to do that you enjoyed but haven’t done in a while). This can be something simple like taking a walk or writing a letter to a loved one. Thanks for reading and I hope 2020 is off to a wonderful start!
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78
Emmons, R. A. (2007). Thanks! How practicing gratitude can make you happier. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company
Lyubomirsky, S. & Layous, K. (2013). How do simple positive activities increase well-being? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22(1) 57-62
Sin, N. L., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2009). Enhancing well-being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions: A practice-friendly meta-analysis [Abstract]. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65(5), 467. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/236950514?accountid=8133