Happiness Is A Skill We Can Cultivate

Reposted from I Married Me, my husband’s and my new project to spread love and happiness.

Google “neuroplasticity and happiness” and you’ll find nearly 200,000 results. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to rewire itself and this can occur with new experiences and with repetition. The fact is that research from at least the past fifteen years shows that happiness is a skill we can cultivate. This idea is at the heart of I Married Me. We want to inspire daily happiness practices, starting with recognizing the critical role love of self plays.

Here are a few of our favorite insights from researching how we an create positive brain changes:

  • Neuroscientist Richard Davidson: “Social and emotional learning can change brain function and actually brain structure and can produce adaptive emotional and cognitive functioning as a consequence.” This means, he explains, that the more effective you are at training yourself (repetition is key) to be calm, less anxious, to have more kindness, cooperation and patience, the more your brain can respond in positive ways.
  • Barbara L. Fredrickson: “As a product of recurrent play, joy can have the incidental effect of building on individual’s physical, intellectual, and social skills. Importantly, these new resources are durable and can be drawn on later, long after the instigating experience of joy has subsided.” What this means is that positive emotions are worth cultivating because they produce flourishing or an “upward spiral” over time. She also writes in her book, Positivity, that as people co-experience positive emotions, they are “reminded they are part of something bigger than themselves.”
  • Harvard Business School’s Francesca Gino: Feeling grateful has several beneficial effects on us: gratitude enables us to savor positive experiences, cope with stressful circumstances and be resilient in the face of challenges, and strengthen our social relationships.
  • Emmons and McCullough: “The personal commitment to invest psychic energy in developing a personal schema, outlook, or worldview of one’s life as a “gift” or one’s very self as being “gifted” holds considerable sway from the standpoint of achieving optimal psychological functioning.”
  • Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, Schkade: “Unwanted effects could be minimized by active efforts to steer oneself away from situations that detract from well-being or by avoiding being enticed toward maladaptive behaviors.”

Broaden and Build Theory

What is clear from so much research, much more than what is listed above, you have the tools to cultivate more happiness! Lyubomirsky, in The How of Happiness, describes happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”

We may not always even know what makes us happy. But if positivity is one way to cultivate more of it, we believe that’s a very good start!

Ten actions to get you started follow. This isn’t one-size fits all nor an attempt at simplifying the face of happiness (this is not an exercise in emoticons!). It’s important to acknowledge that for many, this is very difficult and daunting. How we each translate and emote happiness is as individual as we each are. For those of us that have experienced increased well-being from cultivating a practice of positivity, we know how intensely useful these actions can be, especially as they add up over time, helping us through some of the very tough emotional hardships we encounter in life.

  1. Say thanks! Share your authentic appreciation with others. Experience the gratitude effect.
  2. Notice the good. Recount a few of the things that you are grateful for each day. The benefits accrue over time.
  3. Cultivate optimism. Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, don’t mess with Mister In-between (Johnny Mercer 1944).
  4. Be present in nature. Spend time under blue skies, starry night skies, among majestic mountains and towering trees, smell the flowers, dance in a puddle, notice the wonder.
  5. Self-reflect on those luscious times you’ve felt loved, adored, respected and valued. You are worthy!
  6. Make time for social connections. Laughter with family and friends increases feelings of strong social support.
  7. Tend to your passions. Nurture your interests, creativity, curiosity and imagination.
  8. Get moving. You don’t even have to call it exercise!
  9. Eat for health. This is highly simplified… but be conscious of increasing high-nutrient foods and limiting bad fats and sugar-containing food and drinks.
  10. Engage in inspiring activities. Intentional activity can influence well-being.

Let’s start 2014 on a happy note! Help us spread more love and happiness to more people and in more places around the world! Try our roadmap to positivity complete with a self-wedding ceremony, three vows, a ring that serves as a daily physical reminder and affirmation cards–24 bold reminders for creating and reflecting on your awesomeness. You are reason to celebrate! Self-Wedding In-A-Box

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