Regular readers will already know that I’m a fan of Dr. Martin Seligman’s work. He’s the author of Learned Optimism and a number of other books I’ve found useful, especially for those of us who have been body-slammed by a life-altering medical diagnosis and are trying to somehow salvage some shred of sense-making out of the whole mess.
Oh, sure. You may already be thinking: it’s so easy for healthy people to feel positive. But what about when you’re a patient living with debilitating symptoms, hospital admissions, fistfuls of meds, scary side effects, diagnostic tests, medical appointments, hospital re-admissions, and distressing procedures? Don’t you need to be healthy to be truly happy?
Dr. Peter Ubel, a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, says NO. When he and a team of researchers at his university studied kidney dialysis patients, for example, they found surprising evidence (published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology) that, despite their chronic and considerable health problems, these patients were just as likely to be happy as those without major medical conditions. The patients studied had all been in dialysis for months, visiting a hemodialysis centre three or more times a week for hours at a time to have their blood cleaned because their kidneys had failed. Not what you’d imagine as a happy place to spend your days.
Meanwhile, because mastering anything (including happiness) takes work, Dr. Seligman launched Authentic Happiness to help people develop “the attitudes, skills and habits most likely to predispose them to a happier life.”
This site includes exercises drawn from undergraduate Positive Psychology classes he taught at the University of Pennsylvania. His students’ experiences gave him the data he needed to assert that happiness, like a muscle, can be increased by exercise.
His Beautiful Day exercise, for example, starts like this:
Pick a date within the next week or two to set aside at least a half day (or full day, if you can) in which you design your perfect day. Carry it out using “savoring” techniques, such as sharing it with another person, keeping souvenirs, or losing “killjoy thinking”. Dr. Seligman explains:
“Practicing the technique of savoring intensifies and lengthens positive emotion. That makes for wonderful days and afterglows.”
So just in case you need a good dose of pro-active uplifting, why not teach yourself this Beautiful Day exercise on how to design a beautiful day for yourself?
A Beautiful Day: Applying Principles of Positive Psychology
Author: Martin E. P. Seligman, University of Pennsylvania
Concept: Positive psychology seeks to understand the qualities of the good life, encompassing positive subjective experiences and the qualities that define them. This activity will challenge students to explore their own definitions of the good life as they apply the concepts studied throughout the unit.
Description: After discussing the qualities of positive subjective experience and what constitutes “the good life,” propose the following to the students:
Design a beautiful day (a 24-hour clock day) that is within the realm of possibility for you to live currently. Explain why you choose each element.
Have students bring in their designs for discussion. This discussion is to help the instructor be sure that the students understand what the research says about positive subjective experiences and “the good life.” Once discussion has come to a satisfactory conclusion, present the following assignment to the students:
Now try to live that day and report your feelings while including the following questions:
Part 1: Were you successful in living that day? Why or why not? Were all of the qualities of your beautiful day truly beautiful? Why or why not? What would you now change about your perception of a beautiful day?
Part 2: Is there any action you might take to move toward achieving a “beautiful day” on a more regular basis? How does your conception of a “beautiful day” fit in with your life’s goals?
© 2013 Dr. Martin Seligman
By the way, Dr. Seligman suggests we continue to practice “savoring” in other ways in life, like “letting an exquisite piece of chocolate melt slowly in your mouth, or taking time to close your eyes and listen to a beautiful piece of classical music.”
I’m going to go try that right now. In fact, I have the music set to go already: Albinoni’s achingly beautiful Adagio in G Minor.
Thanks to Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson at Seattle Children’s Hospital for her tip on Beautiful Day activities
Q: What would your own Beautiful Day look like?
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