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How to Cultivate Happiness That Lasts

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Siegel has identified five guiding principles to boost happiness, based on concepts and findings that have come from studies done by well-known researchers in the field of popular psychology, including Lyubomirsky, Martin Seligman, director of positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of psychology and management at the University of Chicago. Siegel has also drawn on age-old concepts of happiness from great religious thinkers and philosophers.

These strategies are:

 

  • Develop and use your virtues and strengths in daily life. Psychologists have identified six virtues or core characteristics that are universally valued: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence. "When you play from your strengths, you are likely to feel more energetic and perform better than when you are trying to use a capacity that comes less naturally,'' Siegel writes in his guide. If you don't know which of these core strengths you are best at, Siegel suggests asking someone who knows you well.

  • Gratitude. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish positive experiences, have better health and understand how to deal with adversity. Gratitude helps you focus on what you have instead of what you lack, according to Siegel.Siegel suggests keeping a gratitude journal to write down everything you are thankful for each day.

  • Savoring pleasure or savoring the moment. Appreciating the treasures in life, big and small, helps build happiness. Let yourself be happy when you complete a project or when something goes well, Siegel recommends.

  • Flow, or becoming engaged in an activity. In studies, people have reported feeling the greatest satisfaction when they are totally immersed in the task at hand. Athletes call this being "in the zone." "This means using our talents, whatever they may be - our capacity to sing or perform athletically - at a level commensurate with our skills so we can experience ‘flow,'" Siegel said.

  • Live a meaningful life. Accomplishing this varies according to the individual. It may be giving your life meaning through religious beliefs, by having children or making a positive contribution to the community, the world, or the health and well-being of others. "We need to notice our inter-relationship with others," Siegel said. "It's a matter of devoting ourselves to something larger."

 
"Most of these things are not about some huge new time commitment," Siegel said. "It's about how we work with each moment of our lives as we live it. Much of the change happens just by having a different attitude toward walking the dog, cooking dinner or taking a walk. All day long there are opportunities to relate differently to our experiences."

Increasing happiness over the long term has many benefits. Using positive psychology techniques can help you enhance your well-being, resilience and health, Siegel said. For instance, a Harvard School of Public Health study published in Health Psychology in 2005 found that people who are generally hopeful were less likely to develop hypertension, diabetes or a respiratory tract infection than those who were less hopeful.

In a study of older Mexican Americans published in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2006, study participants who reported having a high level of positive emotions had significantly lower blood pressure.

A 2008 review of studies on happiness and longevity done by Dutch sociologist Ruut Veenhoven found that happiness appears to protect against illness. In 19 research projects involving populations chosen independently of their health status, ratings of mood and life satisfaction at the beginning of a study had a large and positive impact on the chance a person was alive at the end of the follow-up period, with the most satisfied gaining an extra 7.5 to 10 years of life.

 
Meg Walker is a freelance writer based in San Francisco.

 

 

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