By MH Staff - Posted on 10th December 2013
South Africa ranks among the unhappiest nations on Earth. To cheer us up we turned to Professor Martin Seligman, a pioneer in positive psychology for the key to lasting fulfillment.
WHAT WE FEEL: PLEASURE, RAPTURE, ECSTASY, WARMTH, COMFORT. That’s how Professor Seligman describes positivity in his book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being (R171, Kalahari ). But attention hippies: all-day cheer doesn’t work. Psychologists at North Carolina University calculated the optimum ratio of positive to negative statements by analysing how people spoke to each other. It’s 3:1. Anything above 13:1 and you’ll lose credibility and become unproductive too. To ensure the good times eclipse the bad, you need to plan more. Whether it’s a holiday, tomorrow’s steak dinner or golf on Sunday, research shows that you get a greater mental boost from planning something than you do from actually doing it. Finally, when good things do happen, make sure you notice. Call your partner to tell them or put an update on Facebook.
THIS IS ABOUT FLOW: TIME SHOPPING, THE LOSS OF SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS DURING AN ABSORBING ACTIVITY. The simplest way to achieve Seligman’s “flow” is to find out what you’re good at in different areas of life, then transfer those skills into new settings. If you’re a taskmaster at the office, you can also be “that guy” when organising a night out. If you’re a very empathetic friend, take on a mentoring role at work. You can manufacture engagement in the most humdrum of tasks by setting a challenge. Take the supermarket run: aim to beat your previous time each week, without missing items on your list.
LITTLE THAT IS POSITIVE IS SOLITARY. OTHER PEOPLE ARE THE BEST ANTIDOTE TO THE DOWNS OF LIFE AND THE SINGLE MOST RELIABLE UP. You can get more from existing relationships and build new ones quickly just by refining your conversation style. Psychologists at the University of California identified four response styles that we all use when reacting to good news from a friend or family member. The only one you need to know is “active constructive”. When somebody is pleased with something, probe them about it. Ask them for context: what made them happy, when did it happen, who were they with, what will they do next? This enthusiasm not only makes the other person feel good, but research shows it fosters a bond, and infectious good spirits, between you.
HUMAN BEINGS, INESCAPABLY, WANT PURPOSE IN LIFE. THIS CONSISTS IN BELONGING TO AND SERVING SOMETHING YOU BELIEVE IS BIGGER THAN YOURSELF. We have created all the institutions needed to achieve this: a family, political parties, religion, even the Sharks Supporters Club. But perhaps the one that requires the most work is, well, work. The few people who describe their jobs as a “calling” claim to have more meaning in their lives than most. In order to reframe your job satisfaction, psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania say you should ask yourself these four key questions – then act on the answers: A.] Draft an ideal version of your current job description. What new responsibilities would you like? B.] How is this ideal different to the reality of your job? C.] What would you stand to gain from making this change? D.] What would enable you to achieve it?
ACHIEVEMENT IS OFTEN PURSUED FOR ITS OWN SAKE, EVEN WHEN IT BRINGS NO POSITIVE EMOTION. But, Seligman continues, that’s no bad thing. Taking action can be its own reward. Getting things done is gratifying, whether learning a language or restoring a vintage car. Create a table to map out achievements from every decade of your life – include both the big and the small triumphs. Now select one from years back and pick it to pieces: what did you do well? How have you changed over time and how can you recapture some of that old form? Then, in the final column, write down what you want to achieve in the next 10 years. Seeing your goals beside your past glories will reboot your confidence: and that’s a happy prospect.