How can we feel happier in our day-to-day lives when there are so many competing tensions surrounding us? Positive psychologist Miriam Akhtar is an expert in the science of happiness and wellbeing. She’s got some hints and tips to share on how to bring more positivity into your day.
What is positive psychology?
Positive psychology is the science of optimal human functioning and how to feel good, function well and flourish. It studies what it takes to be happier including the benefits and barriers we all face when approaching our own happiness. There are two main types of happiness:
Hedonic happiness is the immediate pleasure we feel when we experience something we enjoy. It tends to be a short-term feeling with peak moments of happiness. Sex and food are common examples of hedonic happiness. Remember that chocolate cake that was irresistible? Or perhaps it was a hot night in Spain…
Eudaimonic (juːdɪˈmɒnɪk) happiness is the type of wellbeing that comes from having a sense of purpose and the satisfaction that goes with achieving it. It can be about ‘doing good’, making a contribution in some way to the greater good. The reward is that this leads to a deeper happiness that is a form of sustainable wellbeing. Volunteering to help others is a great way to experience eudaimonic happiness. Learning a new skill or developing your subject knowledge is another example, something you can do right here in The Joy Club!
As humans, we flourish when we experience a balance of hedonic wellbeing (‘feeling good’) and eudaimonic wellbeing (‘doing good’) combining these two types of happiness. When we strike the right balance between pleasure and purpose, it enhances our wellbeing and puts us in the joy club.
Take a look at the following boxes, which of the four are you in?
If you have neither a sense of purpose nor much pleasure, then it’s the empty life. What could you do to add more to your life?
If you have lots of pleasure (and there’s nothing wrong with that!) then it’s the sweet life. The trouble is that rather like a sugar high, you might experience a crash later. Maybe it’s time to think about what gives your life meaning and devote some energy to that? As life gets shorter, the need for meaning grows. We want to prioritise the things that are important in life and not waste time on activities that don’t count.
If you do have a strong sense of purpose that you’re working towards, then you’ll gain satisfaction from achieving your goals. But if you’re devoting all your time to it, then you might end up feeling that life is quite dry. What can you do for the sheer pleasure of it? To add more fun times, lightness and enjoyment into life?
How else can we live a happier life? Miriam recommends a range of practices that are all proven to increase feelings of happiness:
- Learning to play. Children play but as adults, we don’t make enough space for it. (Find out ‘Why we should play more as we get older’ in our article by Chris Guiton.)
- Expressing gratitude. Take time to notice what’s positive in your life and appreciate it. (Take a look at Ruth Dudley’s article on ‘Gratitude for technology’ for some inspiration.)
- Savouring the Positive. Slowing down to marinate in those moments of joy as and when they happen.
- Harnessing your strengths. Your strengths are you at your best. Find out what they are and find ways of using them more.
- Living life with meaning. What is your ‘ikigai’. Your reason for getting up in the morning? Having a sense of purpose leads to a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment in life.
- Learning optimism. Those people who see the glass as half full have higher levels of both psychological and physical wellbeing. Thinking optimistically protects your mental health, preventing a downwards spiral into depression.
- Valuing relationships. The happiest people on the planet have two things in common. They have good, close relationships and active social lives. (Take the opportunity to connect with your fellow members in the comments section below.)
- Practising kindness. When you do something for someone, both the giver and recipient feel good and you get positivity bouncing back and forth. Acts of kindness nourish our relationships.
- Getting Physical. One of the best ways of preventing dementia is to be physically active. Exercise also helps protects you against depression. A great excuse to take part in one or two of our exercise classes!).
- Turning to Nature. Getting into green space calms the mind and acts as an instant digital detox. Green exercise is physical activity in a natural environment. If you do it by a body of water, it enhances the benefits.
- Practising mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us to be present rather than caught up in ruminating over past distress or worrying about the future. (Join our monthly LIVE classes with mindfulness teacher Catherine Nasskau or find some simple mindfulness exercises to do by yourself here).
- Striving for Success. What are your goals for 2022? To build motivation, think about what positives achieving the goal will bring you. Focus on what you’re moving towards (approach motivation) rather than what you might be trying to get away from.
Are there any lessons you would like to take away from either this article or – if you attended it – Miriam’s live online talk in January? You can share them in the comments section below!
Miriam Akhtar – positive psychologist
Miriam Akhtar MAPP is a practitioner of positive psychology and was one of a hundred global experts invited to contribute to the World Book of Happiness, given to world leaders with a request to put wellbeing on their national agenda. She works as a trainer and coach and runs courses including the Positive Psychology Foundations, an online training in practices from the science of wellbeing, which you can use yourself and pass onto others, now in its tenth year.
You can stay up to date with Miriam via her website and on social media:
Instagram – @pospsychologist
Twitter – @pospsychologist
Facebook – Miriam Akhtar, Positive Psychology Training