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Choosing To Be Happy

Strategies for Happiness: 7 Steps to Becoming a Happier Person
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Happiness Strategy # 1: Don't Worry, Choose Happy continued...

Jon Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, teaches positive psychology. He actually assigns his students to make themselves happier during the semester.

"They have to say exactly what technique they will use," says Haidt, a professor at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. "They may choose to be more forgiving or more grateful. They may learn to identify negative thoughts so they can challenge them. For example, when someone crosses you, in your mind you build a case against that person, but that's very damaging to relationships. So they may learn to shut up their inner lawyer and stop building these cases against people."

Once you've decided to be happier, you can choose strategies for achieving happiness. Psychologists who study happiness tend to agree on ones like these.

Happiness Strategy #2: Cultivate Gratitude

In his book, Authentic Happiness, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman encourages readers to perform a daily "gratitude exercise." It involves listing a few things that make them grateful. This shifts people away from bitterness and despair, he says, and promotes happiness.

Happiness Strategy #3: Foster Forgiveness

Holding a grudge and nursing grievances can affect physical as well as mental health, according to a rapidly growing body of research. One way to curtail these kinds of feelings is to foster forgiveness. This reduces the power of bad events to create bitterness and resentment, say Michael McCullough and Robert Emmons, happiness researchers who edited The Psychology of Happiness.

In his book, Five Steps to Forgiveness, clinical psychologist Everett Worthington Jr. offers a 5-step process he calls REACH. First, recall the hurt. Then empathize and try to understand the act from the perpetrator's point of view. Be altruistic by recalling a time in your life when you were forgiven. Commit to putting your forgiveness into words. You can do this either in a letter to the person you're forgiving or in your journal. Finally, try to hold on to the forgiveness. Don't dwell on your anger, hurt, and desire for vengeance.

The alternative to forgiveness is mulling over a transgression. This is a form of chronic stress, says Worthington.

"Rumination is the mental health bad boy," Worthington tells WebMD. "It's associated with almost everything bad in the mental health field -- obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety -- probably hives, too."

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