January 8, 2008 — U.Va. psychology professor Jonathan Haidt offers five steps you can take this week to increase your happiness:
1) Diagnose yourself. Go to www.authentichappiness.org and register. Go to the "test center" and take the "General Happiness Scale" and the "Satisfaction with Life Scale," to see how your happiness level compares to others. If you score low, or are sometimes depressed, take the CES-D questionnaire.
2) Improve your mental hygiene. If you scored below average on the tests above, OR if you tend to ruminate — to have anxious, angry, or self-critical thoughts running through your mind much of the time — then you will benefit from activities that "clean up" your mental chatter. The most powerful techniques are cognitive therapy and meditation, which you can start today (see further instructions on www.happinesshypothesis.com).
3) Diet less, exercise more. Dieting makes people irritable, petty and food-conscious. Plus, it doesn't work, and it robs you of pleasure. Stop avoiding fats! They are not more fattening than other foods, and are not bad for your heart (except for tropical oils). All that matters for weight loss is calories in minus calories out. You will have more luck, and will become happier, if you focus on increasing calories out. Just walk or bicycle 15 minutes more, five days per week.
4) Improve your relatedness. By far the most important environmental contributors to happiness are relationships. Don't take yours for granted. Work on them. Write a gratitude letter. Do something thoughtful and unexpected. Try to go beyond pair-wise relationships and create groups that get together on a regular basis to do some fun activity.
5) Improve your work. Go to www.happinesshypothesis.com/beyond-strengths.html and follow instructions for finding out your "VIA signature strengths." Figure out if you look at your work as a job, a career, or a calling. Then figure out how you can recraft your work to employ your strengths more often, and to avoid having to use your weaknesses. You don't need to fix your weaknesses; you need to find out how to work around them.
This list is drawn from a much more complete description of steps you can take to increase your happiness, which can be found at: www.happinesshypothesis.com/beyond-gethappy.html.
For information, visit:
• www.HappinessHypothesis.com; see especially the "beyond the book" tab.
• www.PositivePsychology.org (to get to the Penn Positive Psychology center, the homepage for Martin Seligman's organization)
• www.AuthenticHappiness.com (register and then take personality scales to assess your strengths and many other traits).