January 20, 2020

10 Keys to Happier Living

Vanessa King is an expert in applied positive psychology working with organizations and communities. She is also a board member for ‘Action for Happiness’ in the UK.

Action for Happiness’ is a not-for-profit organization; a social movement. It’s about taking ideas from positive psychology, making them practical and inspirational for people to apply in their own lives and communities. Interestingly enough, ‘Action for Happiness’ was founded by one of the leading economists in the UK; Professor Lord Richard Layard.

Professor Lord Richard Layard has long argued that the way we focus on progress as a society, which is around finances and economic success, doesn’t take into account other forms of success. There is a gap between a focus on increasing economic wealth and how happy people are in their lives. So how do we close that gap?

If people get richer, what’s the point if they aren’t getting happier?

There are whole arguments about the distribution of wealth. How do you know what creates a happier, more fulfilling life or a happier, more fulfilling community? How do we get that out there so that people can be inspired to make a difference where they are?

‘Action for Happiness’ was founded 10 years ago. It’s about taking action. But what actions do we share with people? There’s a growing body of scientific literature, thousands of scientific papers, but they’re not much use to the everyday person. Vanessa King wanted to find a way of simplifying these studies, so she created this framework called the ‘10 Keys to Happier Living’. These 10 simple areas are the key factors that the research shows can really make a difference in our own lives.

The acronym for these 10 key areas is called the Great Dream’. Most people want to live their dream to have a happier life and it’s her dream to have a happier society. Some aspects are things that we do in the outside world, external activities that affect how we feel on the inside, and some of the things that are more internal habits that affect how we feel and how we show up in the world.

The first five, or the ‘Great’, is Giving, Relating, Exercising, Awareness (living life mindfully) and Trying out new things (experimenting and keep learning – we know that keeps our brain active and can be a source of fulfillment). ‘Dream’ is about Direction. Having things to look forward to. A sense of optimism, having some goals, having a sense of hope and how to cultivate that. Then comes Resilience, Emotions (focusing on what’s wrong/right), Acceptance (self-acceptance) and of course Meaning (what are the things that the way in which we feel we matter). This acronym is easy to remember but it can also be used as a checklist.

What am I already doing in my life that is important to maintain for my wellbeing?

Vanessa also sees the 10 key areas as a source of inspiration. Always ask yourself, ‘What am I not doing that I could try?’ The checklist can be used to maintain and sustain your wellbeing or for when you need a boost. It’s important to recognize your strengths and weaknesses. We all need different things. Different people need different things at different times.

Often, when we think about happiness, we think about ‘what am I going to do for me?’ and yet the 10 keys start off with ‘what am I going to do for others?’. That’s because Giving is very important. It’s central to the mission of ‘Action for Happiness’. If you take a look at the research, we see that when we do kind things for others, it activates the reward centers in our own brain. Human beings evolved to live in social groups. If we’re entirely selfish and only focused on our own happiness, and sometimes we need to be, it makes it very hard to live in a social group. When people feel happier, they’re more likely to do things for others. Our own happiness is an important ingredient in helping others.

Why is it important for our happiness to keep learning new things?

There has been research done on older generations and brain health. They have found that people who have actively kept learning throughout their life, their brains are healthier, they’re less likely to experience Alzheimer’s and they also have a higher sense of meaning. Learning gives us a sense of fulfillment.

Happiness is about daily practice. How can we look for the good every day?

Our brains have evolved to keep us physically safe and alive. It’s the purpose of our brain. But in today’s world, for most of us, our life is not like that. We have to train our brains to overlook what’s going on in our environment.

One of the classic ‘positive psychology experiments’ asked people to simply write down three good things and why you think those three good things happened to you, each night for one week. How happy they were, was measured for a period of six months. They found that not only were they happier after these six months but they also noticed a decrease in depressive symptoms.

When we focus on what’s good, we are training our brain to automatically pick out the positives in our lives. When you wake up in the morning, ask yourself: How am I going to intentionally think about the ‘Great Dream’?

For more information about the 10 keys visit: https://www.actionforhappiness.org/10-keys-to-happier-living and you can get Vanessa’s book here

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