Happiness, Happiness
The greatest gift that I possess.
I thank the Lord that I’ve been blessed
With more than my share of happiness.

Attributed to Ken Dodd

A follow up to last week’s post Will this make me happy?.

Zech and Rime (Belgium) 2005 carried out research to find out whether talking about a particularly significant event would help someone feel emotionally stronger and generally more able to cope. Our immediate response would be surely yes. After all, 90% of the population, when questioned, believe that talking about an event would help the person to cope more effectively. (Zech, 1999. Is It Really Helpful to Verbalize One’s Emotions?)

The group was split into two group: one half shared a particularly emotional experience such as the death of a loved one, serious illness or abuse, with a trusted professional (it was also something that they wanted to share: not something they were forced to disclose) whereas the other group were asked to chat about mundane things in their lives such as their typical day. Afterwards both groups completed questionnaires to identify their level of emotional wellbeing. The startling thing was this: while the group who shared the emotional experiences perceived that this had helped them reach a stronger emotional state the results from the questionnaires did not confirm this. In fact the study found no difference in happiness levels between the two sample groups. Contrary to popular opinion may be talking about emotional concerns might not help.

So, what can you do? Writing might hold the answer. Writing helps your mind to create a ‘story’ (which has a more natural beginning, middle and end helping to create a greater sense of order rather than conversations that can lack chronology and are generally less structured) and helps you work towards a solution (greater happiness). There are three ways: 

  1. Gratitude Attitude
  2. Inner Perfect
  3. Affectionate Writing
Gratitude Attitude (Emmons, McCullough; 2003) Record five things that you’re grateful for each day (the weather, people in your life, your possessions such as your car, your house, your family or whatever else you’re grateful for. It doesn’t matter if some or indeed all repeat each day that you do the activity. Counting your blessings really does work in helping you to feel more optimistic and physically healthier. Emmons and McCullough also found that levels of physical activity increased in the sample too.
Inner Perfect (King; 2001) King asked the sample to realistically imagine the future that they wanted and to record it in writing. They asked the sample to consider how they would get towards their desired future and what it was like having reached it (Powerchange has something like this called Creating an Attractive Future. If you want to know more please ask me). Again the sample who created the realistic future and worked towards it as well as imagining having reached it showed significantly higher levels of happiness.
Affectionate Writing (Floyd, Arizona State University; 2007) A sample was asked to spend twenty minutes writing down about why someone meant so much to them. A control sample merely recorded something that had occurred to them during the week. Those that recorded affectionate thoughts showed greater happiness, reduced cholesterol levels and less stress.

In summary if you want to feel happier: write down each day what you’re grateful for, what you’re aiming for (and what it’s like having reached it) and who you love and why.

See what happens…