I thought the following article was really good, and it is already helping me cope with not being smiley enough lately. In fact, I made up a little Excel chart at the following link that you can download and maybe put a shortcut to it on your desktop. I'm going to try to add to mine every day!
Right click on this link and download it to your computer's desktop or wherever, then copy one for a template in another location. In Windows, you can right-click the link and Save Target As... then to Desktop.
MyLife.xls (right-click, then Save Target As... Desktop)
Is your happiness thermostat stuck? (11/27/06) The Daily Breeze
Studies of simple, long-term strategies to raise people's spirits suggest it doesn't have to be.By Malcolm Ritter
The Associated Press
NEW YORK -- As a motivational speaker and executive coach, Caroline Adams Miller knows a few things about using mental exercises to achieve goals. But last year, one exercise she was asked to try took her by surprise.
Every night, she was to think of three good things that happened that day and analyze why they occurred. That was supposed to increase her overall happiness.
"I thought it was too simple to be effective," said Miller, 44, of Bethesda, Md. "I went to Harvard. I'm used to things being complicated."
Miller was assigned the task as homework in a master's degree program. As a chronic worrier, she knew she could use the kind of boost the exercise was supposed to deliver.
She got it.
"The quality of my dreams has changed, I never have trouble falling asleep and I do feel happier," she said.
Results may vary, as they say in the weight-loss ads. But that exercise is one of several that have shown preliminary promise in recent research into how people can make themselves happier -- not just for a day or two, but long-term. It's part of a larger body of work that challenges a long-standing skepticism about whether that's even possible.
There's no shortage of advice on how to become a happier person, as a visit to any bookstore will demonstrate. In fact, Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues have collected more than 100 specific recommendations, ranging from those of the Buddha through the self-improvement industry of the 1990s.
The problem is, most of the books on store shelves aren't backed up by rigorous research, says Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, who's conducting such studies now.
In fact, she says, there has been very little research into how people become happier.
For decades, a widely accepted view has been that people are stuck with a basic setting on their happiness thermostat. It says the effects of good or bad life events like marriage, a raise, divorce or disability will simply fade with time.
We adapt to them just like we stop noticing a bad odor from behind the living room couch after awhile, this theory says.
But recent long-term studies have revealed that the happiness thermostat is more malleable than the popular theory maintained.
One new study showing changes in happiness levels followed thousands of Germans for 17 years. It found that about a quarter changed significantly over that time in their basic level of satisfaction with life. Nearly a tenth of the German participants changed by three points or more on a 10-point scale.
Other studies show an effect of specific life events, with long-lasting shadows associated with events like serious disability, divorce, widowhood and getting laid off.
The boost from getting married, on the other hand, seems to dissipate after about two years, says psychologist Richard E. Lucas of Michigan State University.
What about the joys of having children? Parents recall those years with fondness, but studies show child-rearing takes a toll on marital satisfaction, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert notes in his recent book, Stumbling on Happiness. Parents gain in satisfaction as their kids leave home, he said.
The think-of-three-good-things exercise that Miller, the motivational speaker, found so simplistic at first is among those being tested by Seligman's group at the University of Pennsylvania.
People keep doing it on their own because it's immediately rewarding, said Seligman colleague Acacia Parks. It makes people focus more on good things that happen, which might otherwise be forgotten because of daily disappointments, she said.
A second approach that has shown promise in Seligman's group has people discover their personal strengths through a questionnaire and choose the five most prominent ones. Then, every day for a week, they are to apply one or more of their strengths in a new way.
Strengths include things like the ability to find humor, appreciation of beauty, curiosity and love of learning. The idea of the exercise is that using one's major "signature" strengths may be a good way to get engaged in satisfying activities.
Another approach under study now is having people work on savoring pleasing things, like a warm shower or a good breakfast, Parks said. Yet another promising approach is having people write down what they want to be remembered for, to help them bring their daily activities in line with what's really important to them, she said.
Lyubomirsky, meanwhile, is testing some other simple strategies.
In one experiment, participants were asked to regularly practice random acts of kindness, things like holding a door open for a stranger or doing a roommate's dishes, for 10 weeks. The idea was to improve a person's self-image and promote good interactions with other people.
Participants who performed a variety of acts, rather than repeating the same ones, showed an increase in happiness even a month after the experiment was concluded.
Some strategies appear to work better for some people than others, so it's important to get the right fit, she said.
But it'll take more work to see just how long the happiness boost from all these interventions actually lasts, with studies tracking people for many months or years, Lyubomirsky said.
Any long-term effect will probably depend on people continuing to work at it, just as folks who move to Southern California can lose their appreciation of the ocean and weather unless they pursue activities that highlight those natural benefits, she said.