For most, depression is related to our thought patterns, our automatic negative thoughts and the way we perceive and negatively appraise situations. The cognitive theory of psychology states that the way we feel is directly related to the way we think. Simply put, happy people tend to have happier, more positive thoughts.
In the book, the 101 Simple Secrets of Happy People, David Niven condenses and summarizes over 100 studies on happiness from empirically reviewed scientific journals. The studies took a closer look at the differences in a variety of factors between individuals who reported high and low levels of happiness and life satisfaction. I recommend reading the book in its entirety for some tips on improving your mood and overall outlook.
A main point that Niven makes is that "much in life is simply a matter of perspective. Its not inherently good or bad, a success or failure; its how we choose to look at things that makes the difference." This statement is all to true. The 101 Secrets highlights this point, emphasizing how truly happy and satisfied people think about and process their world. Below are a few gems that Niven mentions that particularly resonated with me.
1. Have a purpose. A purpose is any intention towards accomplishing something meaningful, whether for yourself or for others. Niven describes the link between having a life purpose and life satisfaction. People with a purpose in life report higher levels of happiness.
2. Keep your competitiveness in check. To a certain degree, a competitive streak keeps us motivated and gives us drive, energy and a push forward. At a certain point, ultracompetitiveness can actually impede upon our happiness. We become disappointed when we lose; we are not satisfied when we win because we already assumed that we would; and we do not appreciate what we have accomplished because we are already thinking ahead to the next goal. Most interestingly, Niven reports that "ultracompetitive people rate their successes with lower marks than some people rate their failures."
3. Create close friendships. Niven says, “If you want to know if people are happy don't ask them about how much money they have in the bank. Don’t ask how large their take-home salary is. Ask them about their friends.” Friendships and social support allows us to feel important, cared, loved and respected and a lack of close friendships typically leaves us feeling lonely. Niven explains how 70% of our overall satisfaction is related to the number and closeness of our friendships and the relationships we have with coworkers and neighbors.
4. Turn off the TV. Niven introduces this point with a great quote: "TV is nothing but the creamy filling that distracts us from the substance of our lives." It's true. TV is a time-filler and a distraction from life. Instead of filling our lives serving a purpose (see point #1) and creating friendships (see point #3) we choose to sit and stare, watching back to back reality shows on how other people live their lives, instead of being out living our own.
5. Set goals. Make sure that goals are gradual and achievable. Even though our intentions when goal setting are good, many of us make the mistake of setting a goal that is too big, or too lofty and unattainable, which ultimately sets us up for frustration and failure. Goals should be realistic and act as stepping stones towards our larger ambitions. Goals that are challenging, yet within reach will keep you motivated and on-track, and you will feel a sense of pride as you accomplish each step. Niven says, “people who find themselves dissatisfied in life often set unreachable goals for themselves, setting themselves up to fail.”
6. Get to know your ethnic roots. According to research, individuals who are in touch with their ethnic identity are 10% more satisfied in life than those who aren’t. It is important to understand your heritage and to celebrate it. Do some family research and reinstate the old traditions of your grandparents. Tell your children family fables. Eat traditional foods, whether its pasta, souvlaki, gefilte fish or bratwurst.
7. Reminisce. There are therapeutic benefits of reminiscing and remembering past events and experiences. Looking at old photographs, old home movies or listening to music from an earlier era can help boost mood. As Niven says, “recalling happiness from the past has a powerful ability to bring us happiness in the present.”
Read more secrets in Niven’s book, The 101 Simple Secrets of Happy People, available on amazon.com
Nicole Andreoli, PhD