- According to research conducted in the realm of positive psychology, our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors account for a significant portion (40%) of our overall happiness.
- This, of course, means that we have some control over our happiness; in fact, our mere decision to focus on the good can have life-changing effects.
- Focusing on building our strengths versus ruminating over our weaknesses can help to bring all that is good to the forefront.
- You can adjust your perspective to focus on your strengths by engaging in several practices: gratitude, mindfulness, optimism, self-compassion, and grit.
- All of the aforementioned techniques will help you to put your inner critic in its rightful place and live an overall happier life.
Within the field of positive psychology, we have learned that our happiness is comprised of three main components: 1) our genetics, 2) our life situation, and 3) our thoughts and behaviors. Our genetics account for approximately half of our happiness, but I used to think our life situation (e.g., health, wealth, relationship status) accounted for a majority of that other half. In fact, it only accounts for approximately 10-15% while the positive thoughts, behaviors, and our internal state of mind or perception of external events account for approximately 40% of our overall happiness.
Capitalizing on the Good in Your Life
Moreover, our minds create patterns based on our thoughts and behaviors, which have the ability to rewire our brains. For example, researchers asked students to spend hours playing Tetris (a video game fitting varying shaped blocks together), and what they found was that soon, students started seeing these Tetris blocks in their world around them (e.g., buildings, trees, etc.).
They concluded that what we focus on increases our likelihood to find similar components in our world around us. Shawn Achor, who wrote The Happiness Advantage, called this the positive Tetris effect. Focusing on our strengths, rather than ruminating over our weaknesses brings more of our strengths and more of what is good in our lives to the forefront of our awareness.
5 Practices That Will Help You Adjust Your Focus
Below are a few practices that someone can implement into their life to focus on their strengths, and start to shift their perspective (both what they are, and how they can start using them today):
1) Gratitude: a recognition of the aspects in one’s life that they are thankful for.
Write 1-3 things that went well today, and why (i.e., what role did you play? What role did others play? What had to happen for this thing to go well?)
2) Mindfulness: a nonjudgmental present moment awareness.
Take a moment to practice mindfulness. Pause, with curiosity, and look around you. Notice your surroundings. Use your five senses to take in the sights, sounds, smells. Notice the taste in your mouth. Notice the feeling of your clothes; if you’re sitting, the support of your chair. Notice any tension in your body. Notice your breath. You might even send your breath to any tension in your body. Take a few moments here, and be with the experience, without judgment.
3) Optimism: the lens in which we view our world and a willingness to see a world that is constructive and positive.
We can train our minds to be more optimistic by not personalizing negative situations, remembering that negative situations are not permanent, change is inevitable. For positive events, we can recognize our role in it and acknowledge our strengths. We can see if there is a way to extend this positive aspect into other areas of our lives or make it last longer.
4) Self-compassion: the act of extending kindness, understanding, and compassion toward oneself, as we would to someone we truly care about.
Think of someone you truly care about, or someone who cares for you deeply (it can even be your pet). When you find yourself in a situation where you are being really critical of yourself, picture that person/animal, and ask yourself if you would say that to them. You might even try to ask if they would ever say that to you.
5) Grit: perseverance, sticking to one’s habits, and not giving up.
Sometimes, this is really tough in some situations and not as hard in others. The trick is to use your grit for times that it comes easily, and apply to it things that you find difficult. If you are able to persevere for a sport you love, but struggle with a specific project, reflect on how you motivate yourself for the sport. What keeps you going, even when you’re tired, when you might not have time, and what you tell yourself when it gets difficult. See if you can apply those same motivating mantras to your project.
*Diviya Lewis is a mental health therapist, speaker, and workshop facilitator. She started the organization Choose Gratitude to bring the power of our perception to the forefront of our awareness in workplaces and organizations.