Being More than Just Satisfied
Even if you are presently satisfied with your life, and most people say they are, you probably would like to be more than just satisfied. One of the things we know about positive emotions is that they produce as well as reflect desirable outcomes. According to Barbara Fredrickson’s broaden and build theory, positive emotions affect both personal and interpersonal domains. Positive emotions:
- broaden attention and thinking
- encourage higher-level and creative thinking
- build cognitive, social, and physical resources
- are key components of resilience
People who experience more positive emotion also experience more optimism and calmness, and they tend to increase mental health and close relationships.
One of the challenges of both staying happy and becoming happier, though, is the hedonic treadmill, the tendency for people to adapt to experiences and return to their happiness set points. This appears to be most true of pleasure-seeking, which thus by itself is not a viable approach to either maintaining or increasing happiness.
Can You Be Too Happy?
Oishi, Diener and Lucas have found that it is possible to be too happy, depending on what you are trying to achieve. For instance, if your goal is close relationships, then being very happy is optimal. If instead you want success in income or education, being moderately happy is probably just right. Just a slight amount of dissatisfaction can lead to achievement motivation, which might mean learning, achieving, and earning more. Note that you will still want to be happier than average, and that means you will be subject to the hedonic treadmill and happiness adaptation. Wouldn’t you like to be in more control of this?
Broadening and Building Life Satisfaction
Michael Cohn, Barbara Fredrickson, and colleagues found that loving kindness meditation can undo hedonic adaptation. In the original study published in 2008, they conducted a seven-week intervention with adults in a workplace setting.
People who meditated increased positive emotion and built personal resources including mindfulness, pathways thinking, savoring of the future, environmental mastery, and self-acceptance. They also increased their purpose in life, enhanced social support received, improved positive relationships with others, and decreased illness and depression symptoms.
The Exciting Follow-up: People Stay Happier
In a follow-up study by Cohn and Fredrickson conducted 15 months later and published just recently, people who had continued to meditate also continued to increase their positive emotions and personal resources. Interestingly though, regardless of whether participants continued to meditate (or what kind of meditation they practiced), all participants maintained gains in positive emotion found when they were interviewed at the end of the intervention, even when assessed more than a year later.
Cohn and Fredrickson suggest that because of the focus on mindful attention, the active, personalized, and adjustable elements, and the broad application of these skills and insights to many life domains, meditation practices have many benefits. Among these are
- Increases in positive emotion and approach behavior
- More robust and effective immune responses
- Increases in inter-personal emotions such as empathy and compassion
Benefits from meditation accumulate and persist. They can go on even through days without meditation practice.
You Can Learn to Meditate
Initially many participants in the original study were less happy, but after they got past the first challenging days of restlessness, boredom, or doubt, the upward trajectory from meditating was clear. Loving kindness meditation had substantial and lasting good effects on health and life satisfaction.
There are many kinds of meditation to try. PositivePsychologyNews.com articles on Mindfulness, Loving Kindness, and Meditative Exercise can give you ideas about ones that may work for you.
Meditate for Success
It’s not too early to begin thinking about your New Year’s Resolutions! Meditation can help you reach your goals since it outpaces the hedonic treadmill.
Here are just a few of the possible outcomes of being happier identified by Sonja Lyubomirsky and others:
- higher job performance assessments
- higher incomes even years after measuring a person’s happiness
- higher satisfaction with close relationships
- better physical health
- longer life
I have practiced meditation regularly for over ten years. I meditate in the morning to start my day relaxed and clear-headed, especially before a challenging meeting where I will need to be proactive rather than reactive. I meditate before a business trip and find I am both more relaxed and more energized when I get off the plane. In the evening I meditate to let the stress of the day blow past like so many clouds. It is challenging to learn to meditate but the mindfulness that you develop is worth the first few weeks of wondering when it is ever going to work. Try it! -SF
Cohn, M.A. & Fredrickson, B.L. (2010). In search of durable positive psychology interventions: Predictors and consequences of long-term positive behavior change. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5, 5: 355 – 366.
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: Penguin Books.
Fredrickson, B.L., Cohn, M.A., Coffey, K.A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S.M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95: 5, 1045–1062.
Oishi, S., Diener, E., & Lucas, R.E. (2009). The optimum level of well-being: Can people be too happy? In E.Diener, (ed), The science of well-being: The collected works of Ed Diener. New York: Springer.
Waugh, C.E., Fredrickson, B.L., Taylor, S.F. (2008). Adapting to life’s sling’s and arrows: Individual differences in resilience when recovering from an anticipated threat. Journal of Research in Personality.
New Year’s Resolution (Treadmill) courtesy of Sasha Wolff
Tranquility courtesy of Hugh Bell
Meditating Face courtesy of eljoja
Prayer (Points of Light) courtesy of Guilio Bernardi
The benefits alone argue for a regular practice of meditation. Yet we too easily dismiss it as “too much.” How about we swap out 1 hour of TV for 1 hour of meditation. It sure is worth it!
I note that you work with clients who have Aspergers Syndrome. I do not know of any studies that have used specifically Aspergers populations to test potential effects of meditation but think it would be interesting to do! I also work with Aspergers students and their families, particularly around academic self-regulation and self-advocacy issues.
Re: an hour of TV swapped with an hour of meditation? You don’t even need an hour to get started. Try the 11-minute meditation following strenuous exercise. You are in a good mental place to want to calm down, so it can be a good way to start. Sit cross legged in a quiet and comfortable place and just practice breathing and saying two words together, one on the inhale, one on the exhale. Even In….out will do. Or Uh…huh…Just two words, though. Stick with it and then build up your time!!
Sherri – some shameless self promotion.
HRV software makes meditation easy. Have you seen BF’s latest article where she talks about the benefit of autonomic flexibility?
margaret – nothing wrong with placebo – but lets be up front and call it for what it is. The program highlights the strength of spin – not Pp. Unless the two are the same.
Thanks for your article. As a meditator since ’76 you may imagine I’m a bit prejudiced.
What we don’t yet know is whether positive effects stem from meditation per se, positive affect in general, loving-kindness meditation (LKM or “metta”) in particular, or state-type (dispositional) mindful awareness (mindfulness).
John in Cincinnati
The “why does it work” question so intrigues researchers. On the other hand, “why” often does not matter to those who want to know “what works”. Applied positive psychology bridges that gap and PPND points out to our readers interventions shown to work while research continues to identify mechanisms.
I’m glad that you meditate and find it works!
Sherri and John,
You might be interested in this video
It explains why LKM works