In November I wrote about keeping a gratitude journal, a journal in which you literally write a list of things in which you are grateful for. Over time the journal builds a more grateful attitude, a useful tool for being happier. Professionals recommend an additional strategy when writing a gratitude journal; apply optimism in your journal writing. The most comprehensive look at what optimism is that is available online was written by Max More in 1998 (Dynamic Optimism) and has 2 parts:
Part 1: Interpreting experience positively
- Selective Focus: Emphasizing the enjoyable, constructive, open aspects of life.
- Refraining from Complaining: Avoiding pointless complaining and whining about one’s difficulties. Taking the world as it is and not complaining that life isn’t fair.
- Questioning Limits: A constructive skepticism that challenges the limiting beliefs held by ourselves, our associates, and our society. A fundamental creative openness to possibilities.
- Sense of Abundance: Feeling free to do what you want, rather than feeling compelled by circumstances or people. Recognizing the world to be full of opportunities. Being for things, not against things.
- Humor: Seeing one’s own shortcomings with a sense of humor. Allowing healthy, good-natured humor to reveal new perspectives and combat dogmatic thinking. (More, 1998)
Part2: Influencing Outcomes Positively
- Rational: Using reason rather than being lead by fears and desires. Objectively assessing situations and taking action based on understanding reality apart from our wishes.
- Self-Improving: Optimists see the self as a process and seek continual improvement. Their drive to improve is not pushed by fear but pulled by a inspiring self-image.
- Experimental: Frequently trying fresh approaches, staying out of ruts, actively seeking more effective ways of achieving goals, and being willing to take calculated risks.
- Self-Confident: Believing that we can bring about good things. A fundamental conviction of competence in living.
- Self-Worth: Believing one is worthy of success and happiness. Without this, attempts to improve one’s life will lack motivation.
- Personal Responsibility: Taking charge and creating the conditions for success. Being aware of how we determine our chances of success. This crucially involves integrity: living according to one’s values.
- Selecting Environment: Being attracted to positive people and situations. Seeking out those who will support and inspire, not discourage, distract, and undermine.
DYNAMIC OPTIMISM is an active, empowering, constructive attitude that creates conditions for success by focusing and acting on possibilities and opportunities.
Merely believing that everything will work out fine without taking action makes one a foolish optimist, not a dynamic optimist. For optimism to give us the power to overcome the limits in our lives it needs to fully recognize reality, not hide from it. For optimism to maximize our abilities and happiness, we have to take responsibility for our thoughts, our attitudes, and our actions. This world is full of possibility. We can achieve almost anything we can conceive. Yet we will move forward only by turning dreams into practical, rational, responsible thinking. This kind of thinking will naturally generate productive activity. (More, 1998)
To also practice optimism when writing your gratitude journal you simply add a negative event and ask the following questions about it?
- What will be the first sign this is no longer affecting me?
- How will I know I have bounced back?
- What evidence do I have that this event is something that affects most people, and isn’t necessarily my fault?
- Since it happens to others, does it make sense to continue to blame myself?
- What can I do today to bounce back from this?
- If this event didn’t happen, how would I have spent my emotional energy? What would I have done in its place? (source)
- Also consider what about optimism applies here. Maybe humour, should I laugh at this? Maybe I wasn’t being rational, maybe I need to select a better environment? Am I taking responsibility where circumstances warrant it? etc.
There exists a substantial amount of evidence that by changing our thinking we can change our moods (with a few exceptions). In fact, Cognitive-Behaviroual Therapy is based on this principle. We can use our journal to train our thinking to be more optimistic and grateful at the same time. Getting to the source of what made an event negative helps us to understand and deal with it better. In a future article we will look at the cognitive distortions that make an event seems negative to further understand why a negative event is not as bad as we think.
Ten Positive Psychology Practices for Boosting Happiness
The Psychology of Optimism and Pessimism: Theories and Research Findings
Optimism: Clinical Psychology Review
Optimism and Its Impact on Mental and Physical Well-Being
The Neural Basis of Optimism and Pessimism
Came across this great bit of wisdom and wanted to share:
Spot on, lazy is a dangerous label indeed.
December is always a bad month for the blog but good for me. I’m a parent and so December is a magical time of year but it’s also a very busy time of year so posting new material is very hard to do on a regular basis and so my apologies to regular readers. The blog has plenty of ground to cover for the new year but first a holiday post and thoughts and reflections on the past year.
What a powerful time of year for millions. A lot of religious holidays and for the non-religious winter solstice is here. A surprising many people simply celebrate a time to share and be together with friends and family. Whatever your reason for celebrating if you live in the western world you very likely are celebrating something in December. We all know the dangers of the commercialization of the holidays but it is a great time to remember things everyone, not matter what religion or belief can and should be reflecting on:
- The spirit of giving: Celebrating generosity and charity.
- Family and relationships: Being grateful for having our loved ones.
- Lessons from the past year, the good and bad.
Reflections From 2017
This past year year has been one of quite a bit of positive change to the blog.
- Not anti-religion but pro-happiness: This blog used to be quite anti-religion but it’s now our firm belief that the dangers of religion are already known to majority of the readers this blog reaches. Even if this is not the case taking a more positive approach will have a better long term effect on helping people leave religion behind. Helping people be happy free of religion is just a better way in all aspects.
- Embrace the humanities: Psychology and philosophy already have more relevant facts and reflections on living a happy life than this blog could ever hope to share and so that is now our primary content.
- Journal: A more personal addition to the blog. This helps everyone see it’s a real person (I even added my picture) behind the words.
Going into 2018
A surprising fact: I don’t believe in new year’s resolutions. We should all be resolving to make things better far more often than once a year. If you’ve ever worked in the fitness industry you will know how bad new year’s resolutions are: a sudden influx of fitness club members from Jan-to March. In March or April it’s right back down to normal again, a sad reflection on unrealistic goals and the fragility of new year’s resolutions. However, we do have a few goals for 2018:
- To break even: Right now this blog is paid out of my own pocket. It would be great to even make enough in a year to pay for the blog itself. Should we even get to the point of profit then we can start donating to charities. At that point we are not only able to donate to charity we are also reaching enough people with our message of hope to make the blog make money, very positive indeed.
- Reach more people: Hopefully social networking works for us this year. A happy life is possible free of religions and superstitions and it is our hope a lot more people see that this year.
- Publish the Hope page: Create enough content that the Hope page becomes a place people can go and at least get started on a more psychologically healthy life.
Whatever you are doing through the holidays and whatever your goals keep them positive and you can’t go wrong. Thank you to everyone who reads this blog, we appreciate your support and most of all:
This blog has plenty of ideas, tools and so on on living happy but a person can’t really live a happy life without identifying their values.
What are Values:
Values are the things important to you in your life. There are two categories:
Physical: Anything that exists outside of your mind such as friends, family , your job, your sport or hobby.
Psychological/Philosophical: These values are your emotions and principles. For example: Kindness and sharing, happiness, contentment, compassion, charity and generosity. These can also be political such as democracy or liberalism or a political/social belief such human rights or being pro-choice.
Identifying Your Values
There is a surprisingly simple way to identify your values. Just ask yourself three questions:
- When were you the happiest?
- When were you filled with the most pride?
- When were you the most fulfilled?
Answering these questions can and should take time, be absolutely sure you were truly happy, prideful…etc. Once you have a list prioritize them and reexamine regularly. Mindtools has some excellent suggestions as well:
- Be Willing to Be Surprised
- Test Your Values. Just having your list of values from the top of your mind, might not be enough. To get more clarity, you can test your values:
- Is it truly YOUR value? (i.e. is it internally motivated or is it external … a “should”)
- Is it a means or an end? If one value is simply to accomplish another, then look to the value you want to accomplish. If you want economic security because you think it leads to freedom, then freedom is the one you value most. This is important because there’s multiple ways to accomplish a goal and flexibility is key. Know what you want, but be flexible in your approach.
- Do your actions show your values? Actions speak louder than words.
- When were you happiest or most excited? What was your proudest moment? These highlights are a potential showcase of your values.
- What do you regret the most? Again, this is a way to figure out what’s most important to you. (source)
Your values should determine your priorities and how you live your life. It is also important to keep your priorities ethical, this won’t be difficult as no one values the guilt or other bad feeling that go with being leading an unethical life.
Here are some examples of values:
Once you have determined your values you can focus on goals, achievements and a lifestyle that suits them and end up a much happier person.
I’m back after a bit of a setback. I had some minor surgery and it took a bit longer to recover than normal. The positive side is some downtime allowed time for coming up with great ideas for content and some research to support it. More positive psychology, science and philosophy that helps guide people to living a happy, full life free of dogma and superstition. So even though I haven’t blogged as much as a should for medical reasons these last few days and sp readership dropped off I have had time to come up with some great ideas for posts. So as Dan Millman said:
The stealing of Nietzsche’s concept Ubermench (the overman, the superman) by the Nazi’s is one history’s great philosophical tragedies. The concept itself is more positive than most people realize. Nietzsche had a vision of a person who had achieved a superior version of himself, a person who has organized the chaos within and created his own values.
Pushing ourselves to be better is valued far too little because of the negative view that this motivation devalues our current self. We should instead be motivated by an inspiring self image of ourselves. We are very lucky because positive psychology has created a tool for doing exactly that:
The Best Possible Self Exercise
The BPS has three stages:
- Set a timer for ten minutes
- For ten minutes write down what your best possible self could be. Ignore grammar and punctuation and brainstorm to your heart’s content.
- After the ten minutes are up reflect on what you wrote down means. Ask yourself some questions like:
- What of part of what I wrote down do I like best?
- Can I achieve this?
- How does this make me feel?
- Does it motivate or inspire me?
With this tool everyone wins because on a personal level overtime we begin see our personal ubermench as achievable and are motivated to push ourselves towards it everyday. Personally I have added small personal vision’s of my own superior self at the end of my gratitude journal. On an ethical level we also begin to see this in others and are our kindness and compassion is additionally motivated by knowing that other person is also working everyday toward a better version of themselves and we would never want to stand in their way of doing that.
Success, unless you’re very lucky, is a lot of hard work. People only see the success and the successful make it look easy. We usually don’t see their long journey or the work they do behind closed doors in order to stay successful. Success is indeed a great liar. So don’t be discouraged because like Ayn Rand said:
‘The world you desire can be won. It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it’s yours.‘ -Ayn Rand