Meet Ted - this morning he woke up late because his alarm was incorrectly set to “pm”, on the way to work he was cut off in traffic and couldn’t find a park. At work he had too many interruptions to get his work done, then when he got home kids wouldn’t stop arguing. After dinner he tried to get online but it kept buffering. He went to bed feeling defeated and depressed.
Ted’s experience is a common one. The day starts off on the wrong foot and everything seems to snow-ball from there into the recognisable “bad day story”.
But with practice even a dedicated pessimist like Ted can learn how to identify and strengthen the *positive emotions* which spontaneously occur each day. And if Ted can do it so can you. The truth is that some of us are born naturally more depressive and pessimistic than others. If you tend to think this way then you will find it easier to recall depressive and negative aspects of your day rather than the optimistic and happy parts. This is not so bad in itself but it can undermine your emotional wellbeing and this has been shown to have a direct impact on your relationships, physical health, and even life expectancy.
But real improvements in these areas can be made if you accept that recognising positive emotions is a skill you can learn. And skills are improved with practice and repetition.
For example, Psychologist Martin Seligman has shown that people can make measurable improvements in mood, happiness, and life satisfaction by making a new nightly habit. To do this you spend a couple of minutes revising the day and identifying three things that ** went well** and also **why it went well** and then write these three things down.
I have tried this exercise myself and often recommended it to clients. It’s sometimes hard to get started but it is always a surprise to people to recognise how much of life they let go by unnoticed, preferring instead to focus on “what went wrong and why”.
So with practice, Ted might learn see new elements in the “bad day story” we heard about earlier. Over time his state of mind will shift towards a more open and balanced interpretation of life.
In addition to all the things that Ted noticed in his “bad day story”, he could also learn to see that his shirts were ironed and his coffee was hot; he felt the Spring sun on his forehead in the morning; he heard his favourite song on the radio on the way to work; he received some positive feedback on a project he’d been working on at work; and he watched TV with his wife because the internet was broken.
This year Psychology Week (6th -12th November) will be focusing on improving wellbeing through the promotion of exercises like this from Martin Seligman’s *Flourish* theory of happiness which is described in five steps Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement. Over the next few weeks I will be writing about these aspects of happiness with suggestions for ways that you can make these changes in your own life.