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Turning Point:
Happiness and Well-Being III

July 15, 2014

We continue with the third part in a recurring series, Happiness and Well-Being.         

Happiness and Well-Being Part III:  Taking In The Good - A Basic Strategy To Promote Brain Wiring For Happiness.

Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom  - Benjamin Franklin

Creating new happiness-increasing habits, which involves changing how we think and what we do, is the most powerful and enduring way to increase happiness and well-being. Many people believe that large activities are required to increase happiness; however, studies show that small but regular happiness-increasing activities are actually more helpful.
Throughout the remainder of this series, I will present current thinking and research on different aspects of happiness and well-being. I will also include descriptions of a variety of activities that you may wish to consider incorporating into your daily life, to enhance your own happiness and well-being. Different articles in this series will present information that can help you to begin to: recognize what’s helpful or unhelpful about some of your choices; shift your perspective to promote your happiness and well-being;  nurture your ability to recognize, appreciate and pursue things that add enjoyment and/or meaning to  your life; learn about ways to promote peace of mind; recognize and cultivate your strengths and learn how to use them to facilitate positive change; review, revise and/or renew your goals; fortify your resilience; and in general, learn how to increase your happiness and well-being.

Some topics in this series may be more interesting or helpful to you than others, but they are all a part of a larger whole. After reviewing the various happiness and well-being issues and strategies presented, you can decide which activities are of interest to you, and find ways to integrate those you like into your life.
When choosing activities to increase your happiness and well-being, it is best to look for ones that fit well with your personality and lifestyle, and to establish a frequency that you find manageable. For example, if you are highly stressed and short on time, you can choose activities that don’t require much time, such as the gratitude activity of “counting your blessings.” To avoid adapting to your new activities, and to actually raise your happiness set-point, it is important to choose a variety of activities and not overuse any one approach. (The issues of set-point and adaptation were discussed in the first article of this series, Happiness and Well-Being Part I).
For reasons that will be discussed in a future article in this series, it can be very useful to choose activities that capitalize on your areas of strength. You can also choose some activities to help address areas that are of concern to you (e.g. if you are under a lot of stress you might want to choose mindfulness meditation). Keep in mind that social connections are integral to our happiness and well-being, so incorporating positive and supportive social relationships into some of your activity choices can be a helpful approach. Remember that whatever you select will require commitment, patience and practice.
No matter which other happiness-increasing activities you choose to incorporate into your life, there is one activity that should probably be a staple; in fact, it is a component of all or most other activities that contribute to happiness and well-being. But, it can also be integrated into your life separate from other, more structured happiness-increasing activities, and you can begin using it today. In his book “Hardwiring Happiness,” neuropsychologist Rick Hanson refers to this activity as “taking in the good.”
Taking in the good involves regularly focusing on and really absorbing the positive things you experience in life; this includes small and large positive events, positive feelings, accomplishments, physical pleasures, and anything you like about yourself and your life. As discussed last month, even though you’re not conscious of it when it’s happening, you are literally shaping and changing your brain by what you focus on, and over time this can have a powerful impact on your life.
HOW TO TAKE IN THE GOOD:  During the course of the day, notice positive things that you experience, and rather than just moving on to other things, stay with the positive experience for 10 or 20 seconds. Let it fill your mind, and try to feel it in your body. Enjoy it and allow it to become more intense. See if you can find something that’s novel about it, think about how it’s personally relevant, how it could be helpful to you, or how it could make a difference in your life.  Become aware that you are absorbing this experience, and using it to shape your brain and your life in positive ways. You might even generate a visual image that allows you to imagine how you are changing your brain for the better.
[Please Note: The articles in this series are intended as an introduction to these topics. If you find particular topics interesting and useful, and want to learn more, there are suggested readings at the end of each article. Please bear in mind that since the articles in this series build upon one another, there may sometimes be references to concepts introduced and explained in a prior article; when space allows, that article will be identified. As a caveat, it’s important that I mention to anyone who might be struggling with significant emotional difficulties, that these articles and exercises are not intended to be a substitute for psychotherapy.]

Frederickson, B. (2009) Positivity:  Top-notch research reveals the 3 to 1 ratio that will change your life. 

Hanson, R. (2013-10-08). Hardwiring happiness: The new brain science of contentment, calm, and confidence.  
Lyubomirsky, S. (2007-12-27). The how of happiness: A new approach to getting the life you want. 

Seligman, M. E. P. (2011-04-05). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being.                                        

Audrey Berger, Ph.D. has been a life coach, psychologist and psychotherapist for 33 years. In her life coaching practice she specializes in mid and later life transitions such as retirement, empty nest, midlife transition, positive aging in general, and creating a new life after divorce/loss.  She also works with an array of other life issues and goals, including helping couples to create the relationship they want. You can learn more about her life coaching services at Audrey can be reached at: (585) 292-0095 or at