On Sunday 20th March 2016, it will be the 4th International Day of Happiness. Founded in June 2012 by the United Nations General Assembly, the first International Day of Happiness was in 2013 and is celebrated throughout the world. It is an opportunity for people to remember to find happiness in their day and also to bring happiness into the day of others. Positive psychology has often been labeled the ‘science of happiness’ and while a large body of research has been carried out about being happier, positive psychology covers much more than just happiness, with other key tenets being hope, resilience, strengths and positive emotions.
Misconceptions of Happiness and positive psychology
Being happy can be a challenge for people, in that there can be an expectation that we must be happy all of the time. When discussing happiness, Dr. Vanessa Buote said, “One of the misconceptions about happiness is that happiness is being cheerful, joyous, and content all the time; always having a smile on your face. It’s not—being happy and leading rich lives is about taking the good with the bad, and learning how to reframe the bad.”
Interestingly, in the book Second Wave Positive Psychology: Embracing the Dark Side of Life, Dr. Tim Lomas highlights that there are pitfalls to happiness and that it can even have a negative impact in certain circumstances.
However, on the International Day of Happiness, we are encouraged to foster more joy in the world and to brighten up our lives. For many, this may be easier said than done and people may be scratching their heads about how they would go about bringing more happiness into the world. Fortunately, positive psychology research has put forth simple and effective evidence-based interventions to become happier.
Finding what works for you
I’m not going to claim that the research has found a ‘one-size fits all’ way to become happier, more that it has produced a number of applications that people can find which works best for them. In her book, The How of Happiness, Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky talks about the ‘Person-Activity Fit’ Diagnostic (PAFD), which is a questionnaire designed to discover which four of the happiness activities are the best fit for an individual. The PAFD includes 12 different happiness activities, which are:
- Expressing gratitude
- Cultivating optimism
- Avoiding overthinking and social comparison
- Practicing acts of kindness
- Nurturing relationships
- Developing strategies for coping
- Learning to forgive
- Doing more activities that truly engage you
- Savouring life’s joys
- Committing to your goals
- Practicing religion and spirituality
- Taking care of your body
When I took the PAFD, my top four activities were savouring life’s joys, expressing gratitude, avoiding overthinking and social comparison and practicing acts of kindness. Over a two-month period I would take it in turns to focus on one of my top four activities each day and the impact on my happiness was profound. I discovered that I was happier as a result of the activities and that I was experiencing more enjoyment in my day. What was also interesting was that when I was having a tough time, I was able to cope better and become happier more quickly.
What was good about the four activities and why they were a good fit for me was because they came naturally to me and were something that gave me joy when I carried them out. Additionally, the activities were alignment with my values and so carrying them out gave me a sense of meaning, which contributed to increasing my levels of happiness.
#spreadhappiness on International Day of Happiness
So on International Day of Happiness, find an activity that brings you enjoyment or that you know makes another person happy and lets spread more happiness throughout the world.