As research within positive psychology has grown considerably over the last few years, so have the data confirming the substantial control that people have over their happiness, satisfaction, and well being, and that these are malleable and not inherent setpoints. Knowing that we can affect our own happiness, the next logical question is, how do we do so? Thus emerged the study of positive interventions, which are, simply put, conscious efforts, actions, and thoughts intended to enhance individual well being.
If you’ve been following this site, you’ve been exposed a variety of positive interventions, from visualization and gratitude interventions to exercises based on in-the-moment-savoring. I’ll assume that as a good positive psychology student, you have tried all of the interventions described. Statistically then, you are probably noticing positive results within yourself. How about if I offer you one better? Try doing any or all of these interventions with another person, and you might increase the positive emotions within your relationship, as well as within yourself.
Psychology research repeatedly highlights the importance of supportive romances and friendships. The foremost study on the very happiest people revealed the common quality between these individuals to be the existence of strong, supportive relationships in their lives. Or as Chris Peterson, one of the leaders in the field of positive psychology, has been known to say, “There are no happy hermits.”
A great thing about positive interventions is that they prove quite adaptable and open to interpretation. Take the empirically validated Three Blessings exercise (TBE), which asks an individual to list three things at the end of each day that went well and why they went well. Research has shown that doing this one-week exercise is strongly correlated with increased individual happiness and decreased depressive symptoms at one month, three months and six months following the intervention. Why not try to combine the effectiveness of this intervention with the satisfaction-boosting power of a good relationship and see what positive results might ensue?
If you are interested in increasing individual happiness while possibly improving your relationship satisfaction as well, try this adapted-for-two three blessings exercise. Instead of writing down the three good things each day, find someone to do the exercise with you in person. At the end of each day, sit down with a spouse, partner, relative, or friend, and take turns listing three good things from your days and why they happened. While this exercise-for-two has not yet been empirically tested, my personal experience can attest to a substantial increase in both individual happiness and relationship satisfaction.Other interventions prove equally adaptable for two. Already tried an in-the-moment-savoring exercise with a great glass of wine, a bite of tiramisu, or a stroll in the park, and felt buoyed by the resulting positive emotions? Try the intervention again, but instead of doing it alone, ask someone else to share it with you. When I tried savoring-for-two, I was floored by the positive emotions I felt, the amazing feedback I got from my savoring partner, and the closeness we felt both during and after the exercise.
While the feelings of contentment and happiness derived from a savor-the-martini intervention are amazing in themselves, we now know that positive emotions offer far more profound and long-lasting effects than just this immediate positive affectivity. Positive emotions have been shown to broaden and build, meaning that experiencing positive emotions is empirically correlated with improving thought-action repertoire, attention, creativity, and durable personal resources . Makes you want to try these interventions even more, doesn’t it?
You now know that positive interventions can increase your happiness, satisfaction, and positive affectivity, that positive emotions have a broadening-and-building effect, and that the happiest people have strong relationships in their lives. My personal suggestion is to combine these together and see what result may occur. At best, we’ll find that interventions-for-two can improve both individual happiness and satisfaction within a couple. Or if nothing else, you’ll have wisely used a few minutes of your day to share a few blessings or a bite of tiramisu with someone you love.
Diener, E., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2002). Very happy people. Psychological Science, 13, 81-84.
Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions?. Review of General Psychology, 2, 300-319.
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown. (Added later)
Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. Hudson Street Press. (Added later. Explores a similar concept, positivity resonance between two people)
Seligman, M.E.P. (1994). What You Can Change . . . and What You Can’t*: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement. New York: Knopf.
Seligman, Martin (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.
Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.
Two glasses of wine courtesy of Erik Anestad
That kind of creative thinking can turn a old-hat intervention into something exciting and fresh. I’ve often thought that Seligman’s reflectivehappiness.com exercises were outstanding entry points, empirically validated and all that, but even better could be the tailored creative approaches an individual can use to customize the exercises. Especially with signature strengths building, there must be a billion ways to approach signature strength activities. How many ways can you apply persistence? Ditto for the interventions, how many DIFFERENT ways can you apply gratitude or savoring? Extremely salient to me was your apt perception of the better with two principle. Very insightful!
Amy, I had forgotten that quote from Chris! I remember his statement the first day of our MAPP program that much of positive psychology can be summed up in the simple statement, “Other people matter.” I am continually finding more depth and meaning in that insight.
Thanks for the post!
Hi Amy! Thanks so much for your post. I really love that you are focusing on the intervention side….. it is so important and it is so true that life is just better with other people. I found an article that I wrote about in my post this month that you and Sarah might want to check out in terms of the theory behind relationships. It is in the Handbook of Positive Psychology and it is really thought-provoking! hugs, Aren
Thanks Amy for the great reminder to step back and reframe for a better mental experience. Like Jeff, I am intrigued by your deep insights for better with two principle. Reminds me of the value of drawing more on intra and inter personal intelligences in daily doses! Terrific post.