Is it better to give or to receive?
Before you answer, let’s look at some of the science behind giving. Then let’s look a little deeper.
Dr. Barbara Fredrickson studies the psychology of happiness. About a decade ago, Dr. Fredrickson announced a formula for creating an “upward spiral” of happiness. In other words, she identified what it takes to have happiness breed happiness. The formula applies to individuals, families, groups, and even companies.
The baseline formula requires three good experiences to every bad experience. If three-fourths of your interactions with a spouse are positive, your marriage will last. If less, it will fail. If your best employees have more than three positive experiences at work for every bad experience, they will stay. Otherwise, they will leave. Same for your customers.
Once you’ve established that baseline, there are things you can do start the upward spiral. Yes, you can intentionally drive up the happiness index in your life. First, though, let’s look at a simple way to get to that 3 to 1 baseline.
Writing down three things you’re grateful for every day, and an account for who or what is responsible, will elevate your happiness, according to several studies. I heard about these studies from Dr. Shawn Achor who led positive psychology studies at Harvard until very recently. If you’d like to use a convenient online journal for this, try www.thankfulfor.com. It even lets you share your gratitude with the world on facebook or twitter if you choose.
The reason writing down gratitudes works to elevate your happiness is because it forces you to be on the lookout for positive experiences. In other words, there are good things happening to you or around you all the time, but culture and work and school have trained us to ignore good things and look for problems to fix or complain about.
Write down three things you’re grateful for five days a week for three weeks. See if you don’t start noticing more and more positive things in your life.
This practice alone, though, probably won’t kick off the upward spiral. That’s because being kind to others is far more powerful than having kindness done to us. What’s more important than doing good works, though, is acknowledging them.
The next step in the upward spiral, then, is to add two acts of kindness to your gratitude journal. These are two acts of kindness you did for others that day.
You can see what’s happening here, can’t you? The gratitude exercises forces you to stop and take note of the good things in your life without ignoring the problems. The kindness journaling requires that you actually perform two acts of kindness at least five days a week. (If you want to be a self-serving jerk on weekends, go right ahead.)
The whole exercise takes about three minutes a day. If you start today and continue these exercises through Christmas, the positive effects will last to Independence Day 2011. That’s according to research that has been replicated by Dr. Martin Seligman of Pennsylvania University’s Positive Psychology department.
Finally, one of my gratitudes today: I am thankful that you read my blog and will try this fun and happy exercise.