Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.
Last year I began the Proof Positive blog here at Psych Central. The goal was to review the best research in positive psychology and offer applications from this research for everyday use. All of the techniques for promoting wellbeing and happiness were drawn from the research literature, and I experimented with each of them. Some had more power that others, and some were more difficult to maintain. But overall there was a clear, strong, positive shift not only in my way of thinking, but also in the degree of positive experiences noted, encountered, and received.
This is not to say that the miserable things that come with being human stopped happening, or the sorrows and grief from losses weren’t there; they certainly were. But in spite of these not-so-happy events a type of resilience emerged that allowed for an honest experience of the sufferings without staying glued to them.
Should you choose to venture into the land of positivity, let me offer you a map of the emotional landscape as I encountered it.
Mindfulness Meditation. You see it on everyone’s list, you’ve heard about it, so what is it and why does it work? Here is some information to get you started. But you should know there is plenty of research on meditation’s impact, and it’s almost universally clear: Simply following or counting your breathing will be enough to find the effect.
The real deal? Mindfulness meditation changed the way I understood and dealt with time. I used to be frantic about concerns of the past and the future; worrying about what I didn’t do, or had to do. The meditation practice changed that to allow me to be more fully present. This meant that when I was doing something I was ALL there doing it. This made me both more productive and happier. I was no longer fretting about what had to, or needed to, be done. I was doing.
Signature Strengths. Learning what my signature strengths were and using them was excellent. “I am what I am” not only worked for Popeye, it really seemed to have an effect on me. The signature strengths survey identifies your top five strengths and was developed as a positive trait categorization rather than a compendium of diagnostic symptoms used in the DSM-IV-TR (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual is used by professionals to classify various psychiatric disorders and conditions.)
There are 24 strengths and the top five are your most prominent. The understanding that came from this was that there were no surprises in what were my top strengths. But what was tremendously useful was the fact that I now saw them as my top five and could employ them with both more confidence and assurance that I was putting my best foot forward.
Gratitudes and blessings. Knowing that I have the capacity to change how I think allowed me to access a shift in perception to daily gratitudes and blessings. In spite of all the random misery that comes there was always something for which to be grateful. The blessings technique also asks you to identify why you think something good has happened. To my amazement, a clear pattern of good things happen following some effort on my part. If I won a writing contest it was because I entered it, if I made a new friend it was because I went to the party, if I was offered a job it was because I applied. I realize how lame it may be to read that there was some type of cause and effect between effort and result. But I can tell you the insight behind noticing this pattern was very powerful. If I want good things to keep happening I need to keep doing things that allow for them to occur. A simple, yet profound, truth.
Kindness & Compassion. The research on kindness & compassion was compelling and I noticed that the simple practice of counting the number of times I was kind in a day both enhanced my feelings of wellbeing, and caused me to notice more acts of kindness. The end result of all this was to feel more compassionate, which allowed me to have a greater ease in the world. Now don’t get me wrong here. If someone cuts me off on the New Jersey Turnpike I don’t shift gears into thinking about the next opportunity I have to be kind. Nope. I will, indeed, need time to decompress and restrain myself from gesturing toward the other driver, but the truth is when I can and do remember how powerful kindness is — it opens and softens me in ways that get me to a better place: Giving is receiving.
There were other practices that had been part of my regular routine, like exercise and diet, but the above really stood out as new practices for this past year. For 2011 my plan is to incorporate these practices into my regular personal routine, and offer some experiential workshops for those who want to get a jumpstart on applying positive psychology in theirs.
I wish you the absolute best in 2011 and hope you can find a way to use the new tools positive psychology is offering. That is my plan. As long as no one cuts me off on the Turnpike everything should work out just fine.