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Habit 3 – Exercise

Our third activity will be exercise and even if you exercise regularly already, take at least ten minutes during your regimen to still your mind and focus your intention entirely on what you’re doing in the moment.  And, here are some characteristics of exercise that research (Berger & Motl, 2001) tells us increases its ability to positively alter our mood and sense of wellbeing:

  • Rhythmic abdominal breathing – it’s not as important that the exercise is aerobic as it is that it produces this type of breathing so that walking, running, yoga, swimming or tai chi could be equally effective in enhancing mood.
  • Non-competitive focus – if you’re focused on winning, training to win or evaluating performance rather than on the actual physical activity itself, exercise is less likely to result in a sense of psychological wellbeing
  • Closed environments – exercise performed in settings that promote predictability – like a track, a pool or a golf course – is more likely to produce a sense of wellbeing since participants are more free to let their minds wander and free associate while exercising instead of having to focus on changes in the environment
  • Repetitive, rhythmic motions – again, when engaged in activities that don’t require moment-to-moment focus on the motions being performed (running or walking as opposed to racquetball), participants are more likely to be able to engage in more meditative thought
  • Duration, frequency and intensity – exercise works best for improving mood and a sense of wellbeing when it lasts at least 20 minutes, is of a moderate intensity level and is somewhat frequent (2-3 times a week)
  • Enjoyment – this one is probably the most important; if you don’t like an exercise, you’re not likely to keep doing it and benefiting from it in the long term

 

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Habit 4 – The “Gratitudes”

The fourth happy habit is actually age-old wisdom in action: Count your blessings.  This bit of advice, which your grandmother might give you, actually has some support from researchers (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).  It seems that regularly recording things for which you’re grateful may result, among other things, in you feeling generally better, sleeping better and increasing the likelihood you’ll be helpful to others.  So, basically, this exercise may even allow our positive actions to affect not only our own sense of wellbeing but that of others we come in contact with.  So, we’ll be inviting you to write down, each day, three things for which you’re grateful – or, to count your blessings.  And, the act of writing down your three gratitudes – in longhand with a pen you love, in a journal you love – may be more powerful for you.   But, maybe you’re fully invested in the digital age so that pen and paper just aren’t your thing.  Not to worry – an online journal, blog or series of Facebook post or tweets might be the perfect medium for your gratitudes.  How you capture your three gratitudes isn’t crucial – just that you make them concrete in written language.

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Habit 5 – Journaling

The final happiness or gratitude activity in the Happy L.I.F.E. will be journaling about a positive experience at least once or twice a week for its 21-day period while you’re still engaging in whichever of the other four habits that have worked well for you.  The key to positive journaling is intention and focus.  If you treat this exercise as a to–do rather than an opportunity to reflect on the positives in your life, you won’t get much benefit from it.  From gratitude researcher Robert Emmons, here are the keys to making this habit work for you in a positive way.

Following are some tips on journaling from The University of California, Berkeley

  • Don’t just go through the motions. Research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and others suggests that journaling is more effective if you first make the conscious decision to become happier and more grateful. “Motivation to become happier plays a role in the efficacy of journaling,” says Emmons.
  • Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.
  • Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.
  • Try subtraction, not just addition. One effective way of stimulating gratitude is to reflect on what your life would be like without certain blessings, rather than just tallying up all those good things.
  • Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.
  • Don’t overdo it. Writing occasionally (once or twice per week) is more beneficial than daily journaling. In fact, one study by Lyubomirsky and her colleagues found that people who wrote in their gratitude journals once a week for six weeks reported boosts in happiness afterward; people who wrote three times per week didn’t. “We adapt to positive events quickly, especially if we constantly focus on them,” says Emmons. “It seems counterintuitive, but it is how the mind works.”