MY close friend and colleague Joal sent me a birthday greeting that simply said: “Happy birthday dear friend! Be happy!”
To most people, they might find such a greeting a bit absurd. But from Joal, who just happens to be a social psychologist and advocate of positive psychology, it was a greeting that was given sincerely and goodheartedly.
In recent decades worldwide, the positive psychology movement has been an antidote to the pervasive understanding of psychology as one that deals only with pathology and depression. Simply put, the shift in focus in psychology now includes finding out what makes people happy and optimistic, rather than from just figuring out what makes them depressed or maladjusted.
For years, Joal and I have had long conversations about the merits of being positive and staying optimistic in our personal and professional lives. Now in our midlife, we have resolved to practice what we preach—lessons on how to be positive and optimistic, lessons that we teach in our own classes.
Hence, for years, our friendship has served to strengthen our resolve to focus on what keeps us in high spirits—whether it’s art, travel, or the pursuit of a new hobby.
We realize though that an understanding of positive psychology need not be just academic or bookish. At best, being optimistic and finding ways to stay positive can be simple and uncomplicated.
For starters, you may just want to try the Positivity Challenge. In a challenge first written by Dr. Jamie Long in the journal Psychology Today, the challenge posed was to commit to five days of positivity. This challenge was then taken on online media where friends nominated each other to “dare to be happy.”
For five days, the challenge involves committing to a simple daily task. The daily task asks you to intentionally pay attention to something positive in the world. Dr. Long put forth the caveat that for some, these tasks will be easy, but for others—those who are experiencing extra stress or struggling in general—the task might prove more challenging. The trick though is to keep trying. You need not look at positivity in some profound way, but just focus on finding one thing no matter how trivial it might be.
So, are you up to the positivity challenge? You need not really post it online. Keeping a diary of everyday things that make you happy is good enough. Here’s the list of Dr. Jaime Long’s interesting simple daily tasks for the positivity challenge then.
On Day 1, before you get out of bed in the morning think about why you’re glad to be given the gift of another day. What is one thing you look forward to today? On Day 2, catch a stranger doing something right, kind, or lovely. Simply notice it. On Day 3, find something beautiful in one thing where it could be easily overlooked. By Day 4, identify one thing you appreciate in someone you know. As an extra credit, tell them. And on the last day, before you fall asleep at night, think of one thing you did to make this world a little better. How did you contribute today?
The goal of the five-day challenge is to see you grateful and simply happy with where you are in your life. Hopefully, you will find that the familial culture and strong peer support shared in your relationships will make it so much easier to see good in your everyday life. After all, no matter how clichéd it sounds, the choice to be happy and positive is really ours to make.