happy friendsPsychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky is the only researcher I know who has written a rap – The How of Happiness Song – about her research findings.

It must make her happy because happiness is what her work is all about.

It’s not only happiness that she dissects, it’s how we become happy.

She has found that there are three basic intentional activities that promote long-term happiness and thus bolster resilience. (I say long-term because it turns out that happiness around things like our life circumstances being improved by material items only lasts for a short period of time.)

Intentional activities to make you happy

1. Committing acts of kindness.
Doing nice things for others tends to up your happiness quotient. Lyubomirsky asked subjects in a study to perform five acts of kindness per week. One group spread the kindness acts out over a week while the other group did all five acts in one day.

Curiously, Lyubomirsky found that doing several acts of kindness on the same day – rather than spreading them out through the week – generated the greatest jump in well-being.

She speculated that doing all of the acts on one day may have made them stand out more to the subjects and thus increased their happiness even more than the other group (although their happiness increased as well.)

2. Expressing gratitude and optimism.
Keeping a list of things you are grateful for really does help make you happier.

Again, an interesting finding arose: Making a list one time per week created a greater boost in happiness than making lists three or more times per week. It’s possible that making the list several times per week reduces the novelty and freshness of the activity.

3. Processing happy and unhappy life experiences.
This is where it really gets interesting. It turns out that talking or writing about your life experiences is helpful in only one of these conditions: the negative experiences.

Why? Apparently, talking to a friend or writing about difficult times in your life helps you to create a story and structure around the event, an act which helps you make sense of it and adjust to the experience more easily.

Positive experiences, however, generate more happiness if they are thought about privately. This allows you to savor and re-experience them without having to analyze them. It’s perfectly fine to talk with others about great things that happen to you; this will brighten your friend’s day, too! But be sure to remember and relish those good events in your life in your private time, too.

How being happy increases resilience

In looking at other research as well as her own, Lyubomirsky believes that positive emotions bolster resilience in these ways:

  • Positive emotions provide a “psychological time-out” during stressful times that allows you to step back and get the big picture of your situation. This can help you regain perspective to better bounce back from tough times.
  • Participating in activities that make you happy promote positive thinking as opposed to negative thoughts and rumination. And positive thoughts help expand your ability to be creative and problem-solve.
  • Happiness activities often bring about positive experiences that help you feel a sense of accomplishment and self-efficacy. They also set you up to be appreciated by others. Again, positive emotions and thoughts lead to greater abilities to recover from life’s difficult moments.

Want to be happier and bounce back more easily? Take action!