I know many people who would say they are happy and highly satisfied with their life. I also know many people who are dissatisfied and discontent with their life situation.
What is the difference between those who have positive well-being and those who are suffering?
There are many personal and social factors that play a role in our level of happiness, though they may not be what you would expect. For instance, it’s not money or intelligence that makes the difference in these individuals’ lives.
Fortunately psychological research has explored this concept and provided us with valuable insight into how we can be happier and more satisfied.
Various reviews of literature reveal that there are 6 primary variables that relate to subjective well-being.
Mental health has long been defined as the absence of psychopathologies, such as depression and anxiety. However, the absence of mental illness is only a minimal outcome from the perspective of positive psychology.
The absence of mental illness does not necessarily constitute complete mental health. Someone may not have a mental illness but they may not be satisfied with their life or striving to reach their potential. They may be surviving, but not thriving.
According to the World Health Organization, mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
Within this definition there is an emphasis on the idea of living optimally and gainfully, which relates to a term applied to complete mental health called flourishing.
As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches we are reminded of what we have to be grateful for, and how we celebrate this holiday and focus on what we’re grateful for differs culture to culture and person to person.
For many, the tradition is focused on a smorgasbord of food, celebrating with family, and relaxing and watching football.
Despite how we rejoice, the important thing is that we are able to direct our attention to what we are thankful for and appreciate.
When we are grateful it is related to positive affect, optimism, happiness and life satisfaction. Further, it tends to buffer negative affect, anxiety and depressive symptoms.
For some people gratitdue comes easier and they are simply more grateful. However, even momentary episodes of gratitude can be beneficial and show physiological changes.
All day long we are confronted with situations where we must manage our emotions. We might run into some unexpected setback and need to manage stress, we may need to spark our motivation by dealing with a negative attitude, or we may need to manage anger when someone cuts us off in traffic.
Much of psychology and counseling focuses on how to regulate these negative emotions, such as anxiety, depression, anger and stress.
Fortunately, there are many strategies which allow us to use these emotions most adaptively.
On a similar note, much of our life includes the experience of positive emotions as well, and learning to regulate emotions such as joy, gratitude, optimism, and hope has significant benefits.
Regulating positive emotional experiences can offer the specific benefit of greater resilience and the ability to cope with stress.
Has there ever been a time when you experienced something so marvelous and grand that your hair stood on end and you got goose bumps?
You may not have had a name for this feeling, but it’s likely you were experiencing what psychologists call “awe.” Awe comes when we feel overwhelmed by greatness, and when we see something powerful and unbelievable we have never seen before.
According to an article by Keltner and Haidt (2003), “…theorists agree that awe involves being in the presence of something powerful, along with associated feelings of submission…a difficulty in comprehension, along with associated feelings of confusion, surprise, and wonder.”
This may comes from a magnificent scene in nature like the Grand Canyon, a spiritual experience of synchronicity, encountering a truly charismatic leader such as Nelson Mandela, or a wondrous or historic work of architecture.
There are many organizations and small businesses out there that recognize the value of multiple bottom lines beyond simply profit. Building an inspiring work culture and investing in the health and development of their people is an additional priority for long-term business success.
Research supports that certain positive psychological outcomes relate to greater organizational outcomes. Positive emotions and related processes can lead to greater motivation, fulfillment with work, and the ability to cope with stress and uncertainty.
Whether you are experiencing particularly rough times economically and professionally, or if you just seem to be coasting by without much satisfaction or joy with the work you do, here are a few ways to advance your performance and work experience.
1. Strengths, virtues, and self-determination
Research has shown that employees who are fully engaged in the work they do, and who have a sense of intrinsic motivation, are likely to perform better and a have better work outcomes.
Exercise and physical activity has been shown to have great psychological benefits, and most likely this is nothing new to you.
However, due to a busy life and natural changes in our physical ability we may not find time or feel too exhausted to engage in a strenuous workout.
A simple solution is to go for a brisk walk. Walking is pleasurable for most people, it isn’t excessively demanding, and it’s a form of exercise that can be engaged in often and without guidance.
Walking won’t necessarily offer the same extent of physical benefits related to strength, but nonetheless, be open to the psychological benefits of walking.
I have incorporated this valuable activity into my life ever since getting a dog. When the weather permits, I enjoy waking up to the sun rising and going for a walk. I really try to admire the smell of morning dew, the sound of trees rustling and birds chirping, and watching for wildlife along the way.
Research reveals positive emotions and psychological well-being play a role in our physical and mental health.
Positive emotions help us to be more resilient and mediate our ability to cope with stress and manage mental health concerns.
Simply put, being happy can actually lead us to be healthier and live longer.
(he majority of these studies are based on Western (middle-class European American) samples, however, and haven’t revealed clear insight about how culture plays a role in this process.
I wrote a previous article exploring how important the context and situation is to the value of positive emotions, and it’s not necessarily one size fits all.
A further research study I came across applies this same notion to the construct of culture, and asks if positive emotions are just as positive culture to culture?
This is inspiration at its finest, and can be some of the most uplifting emotional experiences.
Inspiration comes during those moments when we see true human excellence. It’s an emotional experience that comes when we encounter extraordinary ability or competence in some activity, which motivates us to be better ourselves.
For me, I love to watch and listen to talented live musicians because I write and play music myself. I am focused in the moment and fully engaged in the performance, and in the end it makes me want to grow and develop as a musician.
Inspiration comes in many different forms and fashions of course. You may be more inclined to take part in athletics, art, writing, public speaking, or even everyday acts of inspiring kindness and strength.