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Creating Happiness

When asked want they want out of life, most people would say that they want to be happy or that they want their loved ones to be happy. The pursuit of happiness is even at the heart of the Constitution of the United States of America.

The million dollar question however for most of us is, how do we go about successfully pursuing and finding happiness in our everyday lives?

According to psychologist Martin Seligman, Ph.D., there are three distinct routes to attaining happiness. The first involves seeking to generate positive emotions and pleasure—the pleasant life. The second involves engagement in activities and relationships—the engaged life. The third is about meaning, being involved in whatever gives a person the sense that what they are doing has an enduring beneficial impact—the meaningful life. Dr. Seligman’s research has shown that the most satisfied people are those who pursue all three avenues, but mostly engagement and meaning.

Dr. Seligman’s team designed practical exercises to help individuals augment their sense of happiness. One of these exercises, the three good things exercise, is to daily, for seven days, list three things that went well each day and their causes. The exercise requires people to write down these three good things nightly (at the end of one’s day), and to state why they thought these things went well.

Another exercise devised by Dr. Seligman’s team involves identifying one’s “signature strengths” and then using a top “signature strength” in a new and different way every day for one week. (You can determine your “signature strengths” by going online to and taking the VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire.)

A study performed by Dr. Seligman and his colleagues found that doing the above two exercises increased participants’ happiness ratings and decreased their depression ratings for six months.1 This is a very impressive result, especially given the simplicity of the intervention.

I suggest that we make the three good things exercise a life-long habit! At any point during the day we need to ask ourselves, “What is going right so far today? And why?”

If we’re in such a “down” place that we can’t think of any positive examples in the course of our day, we can always be thankful for our physical health, the fact that someone loves us, we have a roof over our heads, or a vehicle that runs. To increase the beneficial impact even more, we can give thanks out loud for these blessings.

What we focus on has a powerful impact on our attitude, our mood and our overall well-being. Someone has said, “What you take takes YOU.” Whatever we choose to entertain in our minds grows in dominance and influence in our souls. If we choose to stew about things going wrong, magnifying the bad and downplaying the good, we are guaranteeing ourselves feelings of unhappiness and misery. If, on the other hand, we choose to identify ways that life is going well or ways to make it better, we cheer up. The battle for the emotional quality of our life is shaped by our outlook, what we pay attention to and what we say.

So learning to find even one shred of something good in challenging situations is a key weapon in winning the battle of the mind. The ability to identify benefits in the middle of apparent losses can replace hopelessness with a positive vision for the future. Folk wisdom has captured this truth in sayings such as, “Every cloud has a silver lining,” “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” or “Let your stumbling blocks become your stepping stones.” We need to discipline our thinking process to detect openings and opportunities in the face of opposition or apparent defeat. We also need to learn how to find the positive in mistakes, mishaps, and bad experiences.

Another way to counter negativity is to let our minds meditate on things of beauty, nobility, purity, innocence, loveliness. Think back on examples of healthy children or pets playing and laughing in all-out exuberance and joy. Remind yourself of people you admire for their courage, wisdom, or kindness. Come up with examples of individuals who bounced back after bone-crushing adversity. Saturate your mind with images of places of breath-taking natural beauty. Even better, as much as you can, surround yourself with loving relationships, and make the time to enjoy the majesty of creation.

In your free time, instead of playing violent videos or watching movies filled with hate and death, engage in positive activities. Create love-filled memories through joyful interactions with family and friends. Playing and laughing together is a massive stress reliever and a powerful bonding agent. Tell your loved ones what you appreciate about them. Point out their strengths and also areas where they are improving, maturing, or mastering skills.

You can do the same at work. Catch people—staff or inmates—doing something right and praise them for it. Commend them for their efforts. Encourage them for any progress they make, no matter how small it may seem to you.

When your mind slides back to its habitual setting of negativity and fault-finding, train yourself to come up with three good things about the person or situation you just put down. (And that includes yourself, as well!) Do that repeatedly until the default setting of your mind becomes the positive option. Get stuck on “positive!”

Being positive energizes you and those around you. Negativity on the other hand drains you and poisons your environment. Putdowns and ridicule discourage people and prompt them to give up.

Going against negativity takes discipline and determination, because pessimism, cynicism, and a general negative outlook are like the pull of gravity. They drag us down automatically. It takes effort and courage to keep our spirits up, in the same way that it takes energy and power to break free from the pull of gravity and fly.


1Seligman, M.E.P., Park, N. & Peterson, C. American Psychologist, July-August 2005, Vol. 60, No. 5, 410-421. Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions.


The last of all human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s own attitude
regardless of circumstances.

Viktor Frankl
Nazi concentration camp survivor

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ctudor Smart Living , ,

  1. August 3rd, 2009 at 21:27 | #1

    “good post”

  2. rudeman
    November 16th, 2009 at 12:41 | #2

    In my almost 50 years on this planet I have learned that happiness doesn’t just happen, but happiness is a choice; you choose to be happy!
    No matter what happen’s to me, I have to be careful to not let it happen in me.
    I see too many people postponing their happiness for when they, get more money, when they get a new job, when they get married, or when they start a new relationship.
    When you wake up in the morning you have a choice to either approach the day with a positive or negative attitude.
    I simply choose to be happy!
    Just choose to be happy today, with what you have, and don’t wait for something to happen to be happy!


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