What’s the Big Idea?
Classical psychology, which is largely driven by the study of pathologies, has a new counterpoint which attempts to recontextualize the study of the human psyche: positive psychology. Practitioners of positive psychology believe that focusing on the experienced pain of a mental state is counter-productive, and instead turn their attention to the strengths of their subjects.
New research in positive psychology supports the idea that the pursuit of happiness isn’t just an abstract endeavor, but has actual quantifiable goal posts. And yet the secret to happiness might not be so simple as having the courage to follow your bliss. It turns out, according to the research, that mixing diet and exercise with positive psychology has significant measurable benefits.
Why is it Groundbreaking?
Exercise and diet are often motivated from a negative impulse such as “I look fat” or “I’m too slow.” Shawn Achor, founder of Good Think, Inc. says that beginning with such negative self-talk measurably decreases the success rate of those trying to form new habits. Viewing your diet or your exercise as a negative task, as a chore or a punishment, decreases your chance for success. He says that by framing the endeavor with positive language your likelihood of success increases, though by such widely varying percentages that he did not at this point want to offer any particular numbers.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Zelana Montminy agrees. She says there is a “significant correlation” between healthiness and happiness. A soon to be published study found a clear correlation between happiness and the intake of vegetables, fish, fatty acid supplements, and mineral supplements. Her research also shows a correlation between optimism and the consumption of fish and vegetables.
Zelana says there are many different ways to proactively bring positivity to your daily life. The single most important activity though is exercise, which she calls the “best and quickest way” to execute your own personal psychological therapy. Exercise decreases the stress hormone cortisol and increases “happy hormones” like endorphins, serotonin and dopamine.
Montminy is quick to point out that her research does not address the question of what comes first, the optimism and happiness or the diet and exercise. The exciting part for her is that, “We have control over our destiny – what we put in our body has a direct relationship to what we express. It is further evidence that we are holistic beings – that everything we do effects everything.”
What Should You Do?
Achor and Montminy agree that there’s no getting on with negative language floating around in your head.
“Change the language in your head to change your perception of the world. Negative language in your head becomes negative articulation,” says Montminy. After doing it for a while it becomes who you are.
Positivity is not just something you do that influences the way you think. It actually is the change – it is the goal. Smiling actually makes you feel better, “laughter is an exchange of happiness without language,” says Montminy.
In other words, the act of smiling makes you happy.