Historically, psychologists and other mental health practitioners have focused on illness and disorders. We have come to learn that it is vitally important to focus on happiness and satisfaction. Increasing happiness and satisfaction can make a substantial difference in enhancing well being and combating distress. There are a number of interventions that come from the field of positive psychology, a branch of psychology that emphasizes improving the quality of life in addition to treating illness, that have been shown to improve the quality of life and sense of well being. This article will focus on two interventions to increase happiness- expressing gratitude and savoring. Future blogs will address other techniques that increase happiness.
Research has shown that expressing gratitude increases well-being and decreases depression. Expressing gratitude is another way of saying count your blessings or take note of the things in your life that you can be thankful for. A simple way of expressing gratitude is to write down three things that you are grateful for daily. These things do not have to be big, extraordinary things..they can be everyday things that make your life better. Examples include having food to eat, having good friends, having the opportunity to get an education, having access to medical care, etc. Another way to express gratitude is to tell others who have helped you how they made a difference in your life by writing a letter or making a personal visit. A third way to express gratitude is to take a negative experience and find the good in it. In other words, you express gratitude for the opportunity to grow through some degree of misfortune.
Savoring, or luxuriating in an experience, is another path toward increasing happiness. It is a way of being in the moment and fully taking it in. Similar to the expression of gratitude, attention is focused on positive feelings and positive experiences. Savoring is accomplished by taking the opportunity to fully attend to the here and now. To savor, you become mindful of everyday things that are taken for granted. Another way is to infuse or “take in” a spontaneous positive experience by giving it your full attention and allowing it to permeate your senses – taste, touch, sight, hearing smell. So the next time you are snuggling up with a good book, enjoying a warm beverage, taking delight in a comedy or enjoying good company, consciously savor the moment and notice how you feel.
In order to increase both savoring and gratitude, think about the fact that you have a only a little time left in the particular experience. Paradoxically, thinking about the limited time available to enjoy an experience actually can increase the enjoyment in the moment!
Submitted by Holly Houston, Ph.D. Licensed Clinical Psychologist