In the last few decades, an increasing number of psychologists have shifted their attention from what is wrong with us, to what is right with us. Rather than focusing on healing, this new field of “Positive Psychology” focuses on the symptoms of psychological health and how to foster them.
This field has been pioneered by Martin Seligman. This fascinating new branch of psychology has investigated the key factors which lead to psychological health and well-being: known to the rest of the world as “happiness.” By now most of us have come to recognize that happiness is not actually caused by the external factors that many people thought it was, just a few decades ago.
Money would be a great example.The psychologist Oliver James wrote a fascinating book in 2001 called “Affluenza”. James points to studies that demonstrate a bell curve relationship between income and happiness. If you are earning up to about 50,000 British Pounds a year ($74,000), making more money can be tied to greater feelings of well-being and positive psychological characteristics. After the peak of the bell curve, however, psychologists were surprised to discover that the correlation between wealth and happiness goes down. In other words: the more you earn after $74K, the more discontented and unhappy you are likely to feel.
The same kind of research has now been done with a lot of the other fairy-story bench marks of success. For example, celebrities such as Russell Brandt, Sean Penn and many others have spoken about how their celebrity status is not all it was cracked up to be, and frequently leads to a lower standard of well-being. The same could be said for political power, sexual prowess and many other such external benchmarks.
So what exactly does lead to happiness, if it is not money, fame, power or making out like a bunny-rabbit? Researchers such as Seligman have asked this question long and hard. They have determined reliable methods, based largely on subjective reports, to increase someone’s level of happiness. Here is a really good example, which has been the subject of 17 academic research papers. It is called “3 Good Things.”
The method is to be done in two parts and takes just a few minutes a day.
Step 1: Ask yourself the question,
“What is something good that happened to me today?”
Step 2: ask yourself the question,
“Why did this happen?”
Repeat these two steps 3 times a day.
The most important part of this practice is the question, “Why did this happen?” Enormous amount of research has gone into this simple practice. It demonstrates that almost all the good things that happen to you can be traced back to your own skills, traits and characteristics.
Let’s take the example of connecting with a friend, as something good that could happen to you today. Why could that happen? It might be because you were willing to reach out and be vulnerable. It might be because you have the ability to attract people who care about you.
It has been demonstrated that the regular use of this practice helps you see that you regularly create great moments for yourself, through the expression of your best characteristics. Doing this practice 3 times a day raises your level of happiness (measured by subjective reporting) by 25% in a week. Compared to other benchmarks, this is more effective than doubling your income, starting a new relationship, or going on vacation.
I think one of the most interesting people I have talked to about the study of positive psychology is Dr. Jonathan Robinson. He was, at one time, the youngest ever clinical psychologist licensed by the state of California. He did a lot of research with MDMA (the drug now known as “ecstasy”) in the 1980s before it was classified as a class 1 drug by the FDA.
One of the things I most love about Jonathan Robinson is that he is one of a growing number of people who are offering their gifts widely on the internet without being in it for the money. His most recent 30-day course on how to increase happiness he sells on a “pay what you want” basis.
Please join me for a live tele-seminar with Dr. Jonathan Robinson this Saturday, August 31, at 11 am PST (8 pm in Europe).