“For untold generations, we have been led to believe that happiness orbited around success. That if we work hard enough, we will be successful and only if we are successful will we become happy. Success was thought to be the fixed point of the work universe, with happiness revolving around it. Now, thanks to breakthroughs in the burgeoning field of positive psychology, we are learning that the opposite is true. When we are happy – when our mindset and mood are positive – we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful.
Happiness is the center, and success revolves around it.” – Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage
Positive psychology is the study of what works, not just what is broken. Through positive psychology, we know that:
- Happiness is actually a learned trait. It is a choice, and often a difficult one at that.
- Happiness is not just a mood, it’s a work ethic.
- If we can change our mindset, change the way we view what's going on in our world, we can raise our levels of happiness. Focus on what you have, not on what you’ve lost – this is an important shift in mindset to make.
- We need to find ways we can make that choice more often.
Start training your brain to focus on the positive. Reflect on the past 24 hours. Pick out something positive that occurred. When you get in the habit of identifying something good that has occurred, it makes it easier to focus on the good in the present.
The Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania
offers free resources to learn about positive psychology including strength inventories and more.
Strategies to increase happiness
There is no single definition of happiness. Happiness is relative to the person experiencing it. It’s based on how we each feel about our own lives. The following are suggestions of how to raise your level of happiness:
- Meditation. An ancient Buddhist technique grounded in the belief that living a value-based life enhances wellbeing. Try this guided meditation for MS designed by someone living with MS.
- Practice gratitude. The more opportunities for positivity we see, the more grateful we become.
- Journal. Rochelle Ratner writes about how journaling can help people cope with living with MS.
- Find something to look forward to. It’s important to schedule pleasurable activities regularly. They may be things you do with others or by yourself, including simple activities that are not expensive – like going to a Sunday movie, meeting for tea or coffee, engaging in hobbies or taking a gentle walk. Get creative and stay engaged.
- Commit conscious acts of kindness. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has quantified the effects of kindness. Learn what kindness can do for you.
- Infuse positivity into your surroundings. Think about your home and the clothing you wear. Do the colors around you reflect positivity? What pictures do you have on your walls? Start small. It’s possible to make little changes on a budget. Surround yourself with positive people who make you feel good and laugh, and with whom you share mutual support.
- Exercise. In addition to being essential to general health and well-being, exercise is helpful in managing many MS symptoms. A study published by researchers at the University of Utah in 1996 was the first to demonstrate the benefits of exercise for people with MS. Additional studies have confirmed the benefits of exercise, including improvement in cognitive function and mood.
- Spend money, but not on “stuff". Invest money on experiences and activities that are fun, pleasurable and focus on self-care. This increases wellbeing and happiness, and has a lasting effect. Plant a small garden or listen to a musical performance at your neighborhood university or community theater.
- Exercise a signature strength. What are your best qualities and how can you continue to express them? Are you a good listener, community leader, artist, etc.? Remember, living with MS and adapting your life doesn’t have to mean giving up who you are. Your strengths can help you envision new ways to do things you love or help you develop new activities to pursue.
These strategies may not resonate with you; think of unique ways you can raise your personal level of happiness.