Focus on what’s strong instead of what’s wrong

Which comes first, health or happiness?

While some cannot imagine being happy without good health, many people with disability demonstrate that they can be equally happy as “healthy” people.

Dan Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist and professor, quoted the well-known research “Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative?” in his talk of 2004 entitled “The surprising science of happiness”:

The research found that paraplegics were only slightly less happy than lottery winners instead of what most people would expect, i.e., paraplegics are wildly less happy due to their highly negative experiences.

Professor Gilbert then explained how happiness can be synthesized with his research. One way to achieve happiness could be asking someone who has already been through the situation. In other words, learn to be happy through others’ experiences.

Positivity brings happiness

Now what can experiences tell us about happiness, especially those from people with disability? You probably have noticed the key to happiness from all those “inspiring” stories about people with disability: positivity. You may be interested to know how these people can still be so positive despite their unfortunate experiences. Psychologists share the same interest and therefore positive psychology, a new domain of psychology, was established in the late 1990s.

In contrast to the traditional psychology with the approach of “fixing what’s wrong”, positive psychology focuses more on the understanding and application of psychological strengths and resources, such as gratitude, optimism, social relations, kindness, and savoring, in order to experience a happy, engaging and meaningful life.

Psychologists at Swiss Paraplegic Research have been conducting research studies in the area of positive psychology. In 2016, they published a scientific article about the effects of positive psychology intervention on individuals with chronic pain and physical disabilities. These individuals received computer-based positive psychology exercises. In consequence, they reported significant improvements on well-being and pain-related outcomes such as pain intensity and pain control.

Positive psychology: focus on your strengths and happiness

The positive psychology exercises featured in the scientific article were developed based on a review of the literature, including the book “The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want”. It was written by Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a Professor of Psychology specializing in the science of human happiness at the University of California, Riverside. In her blog on Psychology Today and her article on CNBC website, you will find clarifications on myths of happiness as well as strategies to enhance happiness.

If you are worried about your general level of happiness interfering with your goal of being happier, no worries! Although some people are born to be less happy, there is still much we can do to reach the same high level of happiness. These two articles include detailed instructions and examples to guide you through the journey to more happiness by putting positive psychology into practice:

What do you think about the approach of positive psychology? How do you maintain happiness? We’ll be happy to hear that 😊

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