Wishing to boost our happiness and wellbeing sounds like a clear goal. But how to improve happiness and wellbeing, is a complex question which philosophers have grappled with for many centuries.
We do know that mental wellbeing cannot be reduced to single factors. We also know that it is not about short-term, quick fixes like alcohol, drugs and prescription medication. Nor is it about having a high IQ, being in the “popular group” or acquiring thousands of likes or followers on a social media account. Rather, there are a whole range of different elements which shape our happiness. Based on sound, scientific principles, Positive Psychologist Dr Martin Seligman highlights 5 key pillars of wellbeing which play a crucial role in young people’s sense of happiness:
So how do we tap into each of these 5 key areas of wellbeing, with the aim of developing in to a happy, fulfilled young adult? Seligman suggests that even the simplest exercises can have a powerful impact on our wellbeing. Here are some suggested exercises:
For the next week before going to bed, take 10 minutes to write down 3 things that went well for you that day. After identifying 3 things, ask yourself the question “Why did this happen?” Whether the examples include contributing to a class discussion; focusing a little harder, getting up earlier etc, you will start to recognise how your choices shape your positive experiences. This awareness is likely to increase the probability of you repeating the same positive choices in the future.
In this exercise, identify an act of kindness that you’d like to carry out. This may be as simple as giving an elderly relative a call, complimenting a friend or helping someone out. Observe and notice the impact of this behaviour. Over time, it’s likely that you’ll discover how kind gestures have a positive effect, not only on the recipients of your kindness, but also on your own mood.
Practise the skill of positive thinking exercises. For example, when you are reading or watching a movie, try to draw out the positive traits of each character. It’s also good to use this exercise in our relationships with others. Rather than focusing on what you don’t like about another person, draw your attention to the qualities, behaviours and characteristics that you do like.
Write / email a letter of gratitude or message to somebody who helped you, without expecting anything in return. Express your appreciation in a concrete way, detailing how their help made a difference to you. As in the kindness exercise, notice the effects of the letter on the person you’re writing to, as well as the impact on your own wellbeing.
These exercises do not rule out giving yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling, even if it includes anger, frustration and other challenging emotions. However, it’s also possible at the same time to train and condition your mind to encourage more happiness and wellbeing. Those who are more optimistic, grateful and kind have fewer symptoms of depression, lower levels of stress and anxiety, more resilience, greater productivity, better sleep and are generally more compassionate towards themselves. It therefore makes sense to spend some time developing the skills which support the 5 pillars of wellbeing. Don’t take my word for it, give the exercises a try and discover for yourself what impact they could have on your sense of happiness and wellbeing.
2 March 2021