Happiness is…understanding the primacy of positivity

Happiness is…understanding the primacy of positivity

This article I wrote was recently published here but you can read the full version below…

Having spent many years working with people trying to find happiness (and achieve various forms of success) I_ã_ve discovered that one of the main obstacles to happiness is what I_ã_ve come to call _ã–the tyranny of when_ã. To what am I referring, you may well ask? Well, _ã–the tyranny of when_㝠is the phenomenon we_ã_ve all experienced at some time or other when we say to ourselves (or to others) that _ã–I_ã_ll be happy when_ã_when I have more money, when I have a bigger house, when I have a better job, when I lose some weight, when I find the love of my life, when [insert pretty much anything you like in here]_ã.

Now although there_ã_s nothing inherently wrong with aspiring to be and to have more, the problem for many people is that (for a variety of reasons) they never get there; and even if they do, they then think of something else that they _ã–need_㝠before they can really feel happy. In recent years positive psychologists have come to refer to this as the _ã–hedonic treadmill_㝠which is a great metaphor likening the experience to one where we_ã_re constantly running, as though on a treadmill chasing that carrot, and never actually getting anywhere! As a result, we don_ã_t every really get to experience as much joy or satisfaction as we_ã_d like but, even worse than not experiencing positive emotions like happiness, such an approach to life can actually cause us to feel frustrated, disappointed and downright miserable (how else would you feel if you frequently imagined a wonderful reward or prize but never quite got your hands on it?).

But despite being relatively unsuccessful and unhelpful, it_ã_s not really all that surprising that many people take this approach as this is what we_ã_ve always been taught_ã_that if you work hard you_ã_ll achieve your goals, and if you achieve your goals you_ã_ll then be happy. Except that as noted above this approach doesn_ã_t always work.

With this in mind, and with a view to helping more people find happiness and success, I_ã_ve developed a new approach_ã_get happy first and then you_ã_ll be more likely to achieve your goals (whatever they might be _ã_ losing weight, getting that promotion, finding the love of your life etc). And the good news is this isn_ã_t something I just made up. Well, it is something I made up, or at least something on which I put a new twist, with but it_ã_s based on good, solid science. Technically, it_ã_s based on a theory developed by an American academic, Professor Barbara Fredrickson, and it_ã_s typically referred to as the _ã–broaden and build theory of positive emotions_ã. Let me explain_ã_

Traditionally, psychologists have focused on negative emotions and as a result we know quite a bit about how they affect us. In short, when we experience negative emotions (such as fear or anxiety) we close up. We tend to withdraw physically and psychologically and as a result, we tend not to cope as well. In contrast, broaden and build has come about through the investigation of positive emotions and what we_ã_ve discovered is that positive emotions lead to improved performance, coping and resilience via the broadening of our minds and the increased capacity to build on previous experiences.

What this means is that positive emotions are not just nice; they are nice, but they_ã_re also much more important than that. What they do is help us enjoy the good times even more and (and this is an important and) help us cope with the tough times. As a result, positive emotions are not just phenomenon we should enjoy after we_ã_ve achieved something of significance they_ã_re also tools we can use to increase our chances of achieving outcomes of significance.

This is a finding of profound significance because what it means is that rather than succumbing to the tyranny of when, we can utilise _ã–the power of then_㝠by which I mean that we can leverage off the idea that if we can create happiness first THEN we can achieve more of our goals. How great would that be? We get to enjoy the wonders of positive emotions both before and after succeeding in our efforts.
Accordingly, I encourage you to try the following tips (based on my book _ã–100 Ways to Happiness: a guide for busy people_ã) for increasing your experience of positive emotions and, as a result, your chances of achieving your goals:

  • Set yourself a very small, achievable goal, something you can achieve within less than an hour (the sense of satisfaction you get will motivate you to go on and achieve something bigger)

  • Reflect not just on _ã–what_㝠you_ã_re trying to do but also, on _ã–why_ã; being more aware of your purpose will inspire you to focus

  • Engage in some form of exercise, preferably something you enjoy (exercise is a powerful mood enhancer and stress reducer)

  • Try a short session of meditation or relaxation

  • Laugh!

  • Listen to music and/or dance

  • Imagine yourself at your best in a world that_ã_s just as you_ã_d like it to be

  • List at least 3 good things about you and your life

  • Write down as many things as you can think of for which you_ã_re grateful (because happy people focus much more on what they have and much less on what they don_ã_t have)

  • Do something good to or for someone else; be kind and/or generous to someone (because happiness isn_ã_t just feeling good it_ã_s also doing good)

  • Give some thought to what you_ã_re best at and how you can use this more in your everyday life

So there it is; don_ã_t wait until you succeed before you find happiness_ã_find ways to make yourself happy first and then discover real success.

To find out more about our “Primacy of Positivity” programs, including my keynotes and corporate courses, email drhappy @ thehappinessinstitute.com