On Making Lemonade

lemons3 One of the practical applications of the behavioral science of psychology: help making lemonade out of all the lemons that seem to be piling up these days. Positive psychology helps individuals and organizations identify strengths and use them to increase and sustain well-being.

What do we know? The bad news: it appears that genes control 50% of personality traits related to happiness. The good news: the other 50% is linked to lifestyle, career and relationships – things we have some control over.

Who cares? Seems happy people have more resilience in the face of difficulties, live longer, earn more… It’s kind of circular: happy people experience things in ways designed to make them happier, like seeing the unexpected positive aspects of a seemingly only-negative situation. And research suggests that positive emotions can undo cardiovascular effects of negative emotions like anger. We’ve seen the damage that can do (see my post The Angry Heart).

What are the rest of us, the 50% less-well-endowed to do? Time to start some serious psychological training. 3 easy techniques empirically proven to work:
1. Keep a gratitude journal (ok, a bit hokey and Oprah-ish, but research does suggest it’s effective, and it’s cheap, so why not give it a shot?)
2. List your strengths and make an active effort to use them in new ways daily.
3. Come up with 3 positive aspects or opportunities of your lemon-y situation.

Positive emotions broaden our awareness beyond the obvious and increase creativity. With practice, this broadened behavioral repertoire builds skills (like problem solving) and resources (like resilience). So come up with your own #4, a novel way to look at your situation, a positive emotion to focus on. Give it a try. Couldn’t hurt. Just might help.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

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