10 Simple Ways to Improve Your Life
10 Things You Can do Daily to See Powerful Positive Change
I was fortunate enough to attend an amazing talk by Joan Shafer on the topic of The Power of Positivity a week ago. At the seminar she told us that Positive Psychology is not just an approach to life, it’s a science.
Joan explained that all emotions have a purpose.
Just as fear is a protection mechanism/an emotional response to survival, positive emotions have a purpose too (beyond just putting a smile on our face.)
An Exercise To Get You Going
Joan started out the session by telling us we had to write down 5 things that made us feel great about who we are.
I recommend you do this as well (if you’re stuck you can think about things like: what do people admire about you, what is your contribution to your community, etc.)
After a few minutes, Joan asked us this bone-chilling question:
“Do you think 5 is too many? What if I asked for 15 more right now?”
I started to sweat a little. 15 was a lot.
Then she went on,
“In a regular environment I would want 30. And actually 50 would be best.”
My jaw dropped.
But then Joan told us that choosing to be happy, to really seek it out, is one of the most profound things we can do in life. 50 should essentially be easy when we train ourselves properly.
Benefits of Positive Thinking
Joan told us, that as a golfer herself, she was always impressed by Tiger Woods and how he managed his bad shots. She said within 6 steps, Tiger Woods usually had let the bad go.
Joan also said that if you watched Tiger Woods closely, you could tell he was picking up and processing extra information around him quickly because he let the bad go and believed in himself so inherently.
Happiness can help us. We can use it to our advantage.
Where stress and negative thinking tends to cloud our brain, happiness opens our minds, allowing us to process more information.
Our brain is at least 1/3 more productive, creative, and imaginative when we’re in a happier state.
Inspired by Joan, I will now walk through her 10 suggestions that we can do every day to invite more happiness into our lives and tap into the amazing benefits of positivity…
10. Write Down 3 New Things You’re Grateful For
Joan told us that the single most popular course taught at Harvard University was from her teacher Tal Ben-Shahar On How to Be Happier.
He focuses entire lectures on gratitude.
These books tie science, advice, and enlightenment together to show the profound impact happiness can have on us.
To reinforce the philosophies of Tal Ben-Shahar and to piggyback off of the exercise previously mentioned, Joan told us that in order to be happier we should write down 3 new things we are grateful for every day (at least it’s not 50, right?!)
You may have heard others suggest this same method to you too but that’s because there’s real power in it.
Here’s what the exercise does:
- It forces us to look for new things to be grateful for.
- Increases our daily radar of grattitude.
- We reward our brain with positive chemicals like dopamine, which trains us to seek out similar things again and again.
Joan encouraged us to do this exercise right before going to sleep because our brains will subconsciously percolate on the good thoughts.
“You’ll wake up feeling great and start to notice a real shift in your being.” — Joan Shafer
9. Surround Yourself with Energy-Givers
Joan had another exercise for us. She told us to write down the names of 5 people that uplift and energize us when we see them (and we weren’t allowed to use little children or people we love like family/spouse.)
She asked us another gut-wrenching question:
“How many of you are struggling to think of your 5 positive people?”
She then told us to write down the names of 5 people we knew who always seem to have problems, who always seem to find the negative aspects in life. The energy-drainers…
She told us that writing the drainers down might be a little easier for us because negative people are powerful. We can easily get sucked into worlds of gossipers, complainers, drama creators, and “poor-me” people. We’re all human this way, and hardwired to draw our attention to that which is negative (years ago this meant our survival.)
But now we need to survive in a different way. We don’t need to look out for poisonous mushrooms and lions that might be lurking around the corner, ready to snack on us...
We just need to make an extra effort to seek out energy-givers in life as much as possible.
8. Do Something New Every Day
Joan said that there’s a chemical that gets released into our body when we do something new which she jokingly called The I-think-I’m-More-Interesting Chemical.
We create new pathways in the brain by doing new things, whether it be cooking a new recipe, walking down a road we haven’t ventured, or changing up our routine.
On a biological level, the more we stretch ourselves, the bigger high we get.
So be adventurous, do things you never thought you would try before.
Make a commitment to do something new every day.
7. Create Beautiful Spaces
Joan encouraged us to think of a space in our lives that we would love to up it’s game (be it our home, car, garden, office, garage, etc.)
Joan told us that people who create beautiful spaces for themselves are much happier than people who have what she called disaster spaces. (Oh goodness my mother’s voice is echoing my head right now, reminding me of the disaster space I had as a room while growing up…)
Joan suggested we beautify our spaces more by surrounding ourselves with things that stimulate the brain or “just make us feel good” (be it listening to great music, putting fresh flowers out, or giving love and attention to little details.)
6. Venture Out Into Nature
One of the most profound discoveries that has been made has to do with the importance of us being in nature.
Joan told us that the book Solving Tough Problems by Adam Kahane followed people who solved issues on both a small and global scale (like economic meltdown and apartheid.)
She said that no one ever came up with solutions while sitting at their desks.
Every single person seemed to find their answers when they were in nature, when they took a walk and an answer just suddenly came to them…
Have you been there before? I know I have…
Joan said there’s something about the power of flora and fauna. Solutions occur. We enjoy the moment more. We are supposed to be outside.
5. Do Kind Things for Others
Doing kind things is essential to our happiness.
“They can be little things or big things, but they need to be daily things.” — Joan Shafer
We can volunteer our time, let someone go ahead of us in traffic, provide some sort of service or just do something unexpectedly kind for someone else. (It even counts if we give our pets something special.)
Joan told us if we haven’t done our daily act of kindness, we can also think about what act of kindness we would like to do by the end of the day.
“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” — Henry James
4. Send Your Thanks
Go ahead and bring to mind someone who has made a profound difference in your life. Now think about that person not being here any more. What words would you have wanted to tell them before they died?
Joan suggested to write and send words of thanks to those that have had an impact on our world.
Doing this on a regular basis can have a dramatic difference in our lives.
She has seen it with depressed patients, who’s lives progressively got better with this daily act.
But she said we don’t need to be depressed to do it…
Write a letter to those you love. Send your thanks.
Don’t let a person die without them knowing they made your life better.
3. Live Mindfully
Awareness is essential to our well-being. To be happy, we need to be in tune with our bodies, mind, and environment.
Where mindfulness is the goal, meditation can be a powerful method to get there.
Being mindful is about learning to be in the moment, in the now. It’s all about savoring, experiencing, and connecting with one’s self.
We can achieve this by peacefully breathing and reflecting, softening our gaze, and not being too hard on ourselves about our wandering thoughts.
2. Don’t Deny Compliments
When Joan asked us to turn to our neighbor and tell them a compliment based on our first initial impressions of them, the energy in the room was astounding.
Laughter, giggles, and deep conversation started to ensue.
Joan then asked one of her famous questions:
“How many of you thought what the person said about you was right?”
Very few hands went up.
Then she told us the importance of paying attention to the compliments we receive. Not only does accepting praise allow us to understand our strengths, but getting feedback from other people is critical for our personal growth and self-awareness.
We should never deny a compliment. If we feel we don’t know how to respond we can always say something like,
“Thank you very much.”
Usually what we are good at will be told to us by others if we have the attitude to accept it.
Joan asked her question one more time,
“How many of you thought what the person said about you was right?”
Everyone’s hand went up.
1. Emotionalize Good, Objectify Bad
Joan told us that when something bad happens in our life, our natural tendency is to tell others about it. But when we do this, we intensify and draw out the negative feelings themselves. The whole situation becomes a replay.
In contrast, when something good happens in our lives we never tend to ruminate on it as long as we should.
Joan suggested that when a bad situation next occurs, we should write down what we are feeling instead of spreading it. This gives us an opportunity to get the negative emotions out of us in some form, while also giving us a frame to look at the bigger picture though.
Write down the negative, objectify it, and try not to think/talk about it again.
As well, Joan advised that when something goes well in our lives, we should let it occupy our brains as much as possible so we can really identify what worked. We should be savoring the moment, asking questions like,
-Why did this go well?
-How can I repeat an instance like this again?
And so on…
Call To Action
Joan told us that some of these methods might feel a bit straight forward, but happiness is simple and it needs to be reinforced and understood from these core angles repeatedly (so that getting up to the ideal 50 things we like about ourselves feels incredibly natural.)
If you have any stories or insights on this topic, I would also love to hear about them in the comments below!
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