Will Proactively Seeking Out Positive Experiences Improve Your Wellbeing?
“We only got 86, 400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away”
Live Like We’re Dying, by Kris Allen (click here for the song)
Earlier this week a client said to me “everyone seems to be setting into the routine for 2021, which is bringing a sense of control and comfort, especially in the midst of all this chaos. But to be honest.... it is making the work days a bit flat, monotonous and uninspiring.”
I have written in the past about the benefits of increasing variety into the work day to improve luck, (click here for the blog), creativity (click here for the blog) and serendipity (click here for the blog). Regular readers would also be familiar with the benefits of variety in your leisure time (click here for the blog) and even lunch breaks (click here for the blog). But can we do something about the way we schedule our work and lives to increase the likelihood of feeling happy?
Given that psychologist have found that the “highs” we get from one-time events like going on vacation or winning a prize wear off over time, Lahanna Catalino decided to research the impact of prioritising positivity in our daily routine. She looked at people who purposefully organise their day-to-day life so that it contains situations that naturally give rise to positive emotions. These individuals proactively put themselves in contexts that spontaneously trigger joy and happiness.
Specifically they do the following:
Block out time in their daily routine to do things that they genuinely love.
Heavily weigh the positive emotional consequences before making major life decisions, making sure they understand the potential emotional impact of the daily situations in which they will find themselves.
In short she found that people who literally weaved positive behaviours and experiences into their daily lives rather than expecting it to come from a few isolated events, improved their overall wellbeing.
“Good things might come to those who wait Not for those who wait too late We gotta go for all we know” Just the Two of Us, by Bill Withers, and Grover Washington, Jr. (click here for the song)
Seizing the day or making hay while the sun shines, seems a bit like the words of a poet or lines from a movie. Never the less researchers have found that small everyday actions cause an immediate lift in positive emotions. Over time the impact of these positive activities is cumulative, on feelings of happiness, the capacity to be mindful and the experience of flourishing. In addition, as you get into the habit of prioritising positive events and begin to frequently experience positive emotions, it will increase the likelihood that you will prioritise positivity in your daily routine.
"Our day-to-day positive emotions function as nutrients for our overall wellbeing. Today’s positive emotions do not simply exemplify today’s wellbeing, they also help to create next month’s increases in wellbeing"
How on a practical level can we realistically increase the likelihood of experiencing joy?
Take the time to list all the activities that, spark your interest, give you joy or contentment. Remember this list could be quite personal as individuals differ greatly in terms of what delights us. For some people, joy comes from connecting with nature, helping others, spending time with a loved one, reading a book or doing something physically active. If you are lost for ideas Laura Archer may give you inspiration (https://www.goneforlunch.com/about)
Schedule a realistic number of activities in your diary, where possible ensure some are a part of your daily routine.
When you participate in the activity take the time to savour it (click here for my past blog)
Naturally wherever you are in the world there will be different practical ways to do this, regular readers would be aware that there is always something, no matter how small, that is in your sphere of influence that will bring you joy. Remember it is too extreme to have the mindset that you should feel joy, contentment, gratitude, peace every second of the day. Regular readers would know that the negative emotions that arise from life events are natural, and provide vital information about what we value and what might need to change in our lives.
So take a moment and please email and tell me “how will you prioritise happiness in your life and work?”
Finally, thank you to my client and colleague for indirectly inspiring this blog.
“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,”
Henry David Thoreau
References: Datu, J.A.D. and King, R.B. (2016). Prioritizing positivity optimizes positive emotions and life satisfaction: A three-wave longitudinal study. Personality and Individual Differences, 96, pp.111–114. Catalino, L.I., Algoe, S.B. and Fredrickson, B.L. (2014). Prioritizing positivity: An effective approach to pursuing happiness? Emotion, 14(6), pp.1155–1161. Catalino, L.I. and Fredrickson, B.L. (2011). A Tuesday in the life of a flourisher: The role of positive emotional reactivity in optimal mental health. Emotion, [online] 11(4), pp.938–950. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3160725/. Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218–226. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3122271/