Want to be happy?  Try friends, kindness, gratitude and appreciation

Portrait of black man very happy, smiling in urban background

Our earlier blogs have explored positive and negative emotions—the good, the bad, and the ugly! Now we turn to some practical applications you can use in your own life– how we can cultivate more positive emotions within ourselves.  How can we get away from the negative states with which we’re so acquainted that they often seem like family members?  In order to improve our positive to negative ratio, it’s important that we simultaneous work on two tasks:  increasing our experienced positive emotion and decreasing our experienced negative emotion.

Here are several basic approaches you can work on each day:

To begin with, strive to build new relationships and strengthen existing ones.  Our connections with others serve as a major source of positive emotions in our lives.  Of course, there are many ways to do this…volunteering, taking on new group assignments, and joining clubs are just a few.  The important thing is to put yourself in situations where you will be fostering relationships and connecting with others.  Although solitude serves a purpose, our relationships are fundamental wellsprings of positive emotions in our lives.

Next, be kind to others.  It sounds simple, but being generous and kind simply makes us feel better about ourselves.  So, go out of your way to help out a friend or co-worker.  Surprise others with acts of kindness.  Help the young mother struggling to carry her stroller out of the subway.  Hold the door open as the elevator doors are shutting.  Your kindness will not only benefit others but will ultimately increase your own level of positive emotion.

Another technique involves appreciation.  Carve out some time each day— at least two minutes–to take an “appreciation break.”  Go out for a brief walk.  Find something beautiful to admire.  Just take a moment to be present with something you find good and pleasing.  This may be easier if you live in San Francisco with a clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge.  But even a pretty street or a nearby park can work for a moment of appreciation.  This exercise will bring your mindset back to a relaxed, open, and affirmative place.

You can also work on steering conversations with others toward a positive direction.  Oftentimes, our interactions can dissolve into “complaint-fests.”  People by default seem to jump right into their frustrations or problems at the beginning of a conversation.  Try opening up a conversation instead with the question “What went well for you today?”  This redirects the whole tone of the interaction towards the positive.

Finally, count your blessings.  Research has shown that a practice of gratitude is one of the most effective techniques we can use to cultivate more positive emotion and satisfaction in our lives.  You may want to try keeping a journal in your desk.  Each day write down those things for which you are happy and grateful in your life.  Also make sure to take note of your recent successes, no matter how small.  Just keeping in mind what’s good in your life can have a transformative effect on your overall well-being.

These are just a few ways to demonstrate the profound importance of positive emotions on both your personal and professional lives.  Experiencing positive emotions is a true investment in self.  Clearly, these emotions deepen our enjoyment and satisfaction of the present moment.  They also strongly contribute to our future growth and flourishing down the road.   In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “A man is but the product of his thoughts.  What he thinks he becomes.”  Think positive and see the changes that unfold in your life.