We all know people who seem to be just naturally cheerful and upbeat. Our friend, “Sam,” immediately comes to mind. His partner “Beth” told us that he was one of the happiest people she has ever encountered. It’s what initially attracted her to him nearly 30 years ago, and what helps sustain their bond decades later. We, too, have noticed his incredible and consistently positive attitude. Despite any challenges that he may be going through personally or professionally, he seems to maintain an optimistic outlook on life. His mere presence seems to uplift everyone in his proximity. What a great person and role model to have around! If only we could all be like “Sam!”
Many of us automatically might think he was born this way naturally seeing the sunny side of life. Indeed, his genetics likely play a factor. However, that’s not the full picture. After inquiring more about his daily activities, we soon discovered something he’s been doing for years that has been recently found to be associated with heightened well-being. And the good news is it’s a practice that we can all adopt in our daily lives.
“It’s called “prioritizing positivity,” which means making decisions and organizing our lives in ways that are likely to result in the experience of positive emotions. We discuss this important concept in our book Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts. In a nutshell, positive psychology pioneer Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues found those that “prioritize positivity” experience greater well-being than those who simply will themselves to be happy or wait around for happiness to happen. In fact, research indicates that overvaluing and obsessing over happiness can backfire making us feel even worse off.
Rather than dwelling on how we are feeling at every moment, forcing ourselves to be happy, and feeling frustrated if we aren’t feeling as upbeat as we wish to be, we want to plan our days in ways which are more likely to result in the triggering of positive emotions. Perhaps, spending time in nature evokes a sense of serenity, tackling the NYT crossword puzzle fills you with pride, or delving into an engaging historical novel stimulates deep feelings of interest. The activities will vary from person to person, of course. The key is noticing what they are and consciously scheduling them into your daily life which is likely to result in greater levels of positive emotions.
So the next time you are not feeling as happy as you’d like, stop beating yourself up by comparing yourself to those who seem to naturally wake up on the right side of the bed. Instead, remind yourself that perhaps they experience regular positivity precisely because of the daily effort they place on prioritizing positivity in their lives. Follow in their footsteps by practicing the following suggestions:
1. Don’t overvalue and force yourself to be happy. Research has shown this can backfire making you feel worse.
2. Ask yourself what activities and experiences bring you joy and contentment. Who are those people who uplift and inspire you?
3. Take a few moments each day to plan those positive activities into your day and schedule time to meet with those people who inspire you to become better.
While these suggestions won’t magically transform you into a “sunny Sam,” who couldn’t benefit from some more positivity in one’s life? In the beginning it might seem unnatural and tedious to practice these tips. With time and effort, however, they will likely become enjoyable habits that may pay off in dividends with a boost in your daily happiness.
This article was adapted from Suzie and James’s Psychology Today “Happy Together” blog. Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts, written by positive psychology experts and husband-and-wife team Suzann Pileggi Pawelski and James Pawelski, is the first book on using the principles of positive psychology to create thriving romantic relationships.
James O. Pawelski, PhD, is Professor of Practice and Director of Education in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
Suzann (“Suzie”) Pileggi Pawelski has a Master of Applied Positive Psychology degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She is a freelance writer and well-being consultant specializing in the science of happiness and its effects on health and relationships.