You know why older people are happier?
Research shows as we age we remember the good and forget the bad:
…older people shown pictures of faces or situations tend to focus on and remember the happier ones more and the negative ones less. [Science Daily]
Yeah, that's all it takes. So if you could just regularly get reminders of the good things in your life, well, you'd be halfway there…
And it's not speculation — research shows thinking about the good things actually does make you happier. Reminders, something as simple as a post-it note, are very powerful — and for more than just remembering to buy milk. Studies show simple reminders help people act more ethically, quit smoking, and save more money. And a couple well placed post-it notes can have a major impact for you too.
A while back I posted about how just sending five simple emails a day can improve your life. Here are five little reminders that can help you create big changes:
Make note of three things you're thankful for.
We think of happiness as something deep and profound but it's often as simple as keeping the good things "top of mind."
This technique has been proven again and again and again. Here it is, explained by its originator, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman.
Write down three things that went well today and why they went well…Writing about why the positive events in your life happened may seem awkward at first, but please stick with it for one week. It will get easier. The odds are that you will be less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months from now. [Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being]
Here's what's really fascinating: The opposite works, too. Keep a record of bad things and you'll make yourself increasingly miserable.
Patients with chronic pain were told to keep track of all the awful symptoms they experienced. They did — and felt dramatically worse:
The use of a symptom diary for two weeks, even in generally healthy subjects, results in increased recall of daily symptoms and increased perception of symptom severity. ["Effect of a Symptom Diary on Symptom Frequency and Intensity in Healthy Subjects" from The Journal of Rheumatology]
Stop thinking you need more good stuff to happen to be happier — and just remind yourself of the good that's already here.
(More on how to be happy here.)
Make a note of a couple accomplishments you're most proud of.
What does University of Chicago psychology professor Sian Beilock recommend when you're not feeling so great about yourself?
Look at your resume. Reviewing your credentials can remind you how talented you are and boost confidence levels.
I immediately think about my research credentials, a trick I developed after discovering that getting people to think about aspects of themselves that are conducive to success can actually be enough to propel them to a top performance and prevent choking. [Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To]
Your resume is designed to make you sound impressive to others — and it can have the same effect on you.
(More ways to be more confident here.)
Scribble down something you're looking forward to.
Looking forward to something is powerful. It makes us hopeful, happier and optimistic.
Anticipation can actually be more pleasurable than getting the thing you're anticipating:
…Mitchell et al (1997) found that people viewed the vacation in a more positive light before the experience than during the experience, suggesting that anticipation may sometimes provide more pleasure than consumption simply because it is unsullied by reality. [Journal of Consumer Psychology]
Got nothing you're looking forward to? No problem. Make some fun plans — and then write those down.
(More on how to feel satisfied with life here.)
4) Meaning in life
Write down a favorite memory that makes you feel good.
Research shows we can add a feeling of meaning to our lives by being nostalgic:
The present research tested the proposition that nostalgia serves an existential function by bolstering a sense of meaning in life. Study 1 found that nostalgia was positively associated with a sense of meaning in life. Study 2 experimentally demonstrated that nostalgia increases a sense of meaning in life. ["The past makes the present meaningful: Nostalgia as an existential resource." from Journal of Personality and Social Psychology]
When life doesn't make sense, get lost in that memory for a little while. Nostalgia restores a sense of purpose when times are hard.
(More on how to add meaning to your life here.)
Write down the name of a hero you admire.
Dan Coyle, author of The Talent Code, says that one of the best things we can do is think more about the people we want to be like:
When we stare at someone we want to become and we have a really clear idea of where we want to be, it unlocks a tremendous amount of energy. We're social creatures, and when we get the idea that we want to join some enchanted circle up above us, that is what really lights up motivation. "Look, they did it. I can do it." It sounds very basic, but spending time staring at the best can be one of the most powerful things you do. [The Talent Code]
The hero doesn't even have to be a real person. Batman? Wolverine? They'll do just fine. Even fictional characters we admire motivate us to be like them:
…researchers found that people who strongly identified with a fictional character who overcame obstacles to vote were significantly more likely to vote in a real election several days later. [The Talent Code]
Did you have a superhero poster on your bedroom wall when you were a kid? You were on to something. ;)
(More things research says can make you successful here.)
Five post-it notes. Five reminders. That's all it takes to add a bit more happiness, confidence, optimism, meaning, and success to your life.
Sometimes you need something to make you feel lucky. Sometimes you just need to be reminded that you already are.
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