We are hardwired to pay more attention to bad things and undervalue good things (1). This is probably due to evolution, as it was important for our ancestors to be aware of the constant threats they faced. Hence, we give more psychological weight to negative experiences than positive ones. Most of us don’t realize that relatively small, simple actions can have a significant impact on our happiness. Now that you know about it, let’s try to reduce this negativity bias as we choose happiness during our 7-day challenge.
Day One: Send a Card to a Sick Child
We all have day-to-day problems, but some kids have life-threatening issues. Did you know that several organizations will forward your letter to kids in the hospital? Children undergoing treatment for cancer and other life-threatening diseases enjoy reading encouraging letters. Get involved and help brighten the day of one of the hospitalized kids.
Two well-established organizations you can send cards through are:
Cards for Hospitalized Kids (CFHK)
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Day Two: Practice Gratitude
Today, after you wake up, write three things you are grateful for. It could be something in yourself or others or in your life. Show someone you are thankful for them being in your life. You could send them or drop off a handmade card with kind words or make a short video saying how grateful you are to have them in your life. Gratitude is a major motivator of positive change (2).
Day Three: Do Relaxing Exercise
Exercise is positively correlated with better overall health. However, an essential benefit of proper exercise is that it decreases the levels of anxiety and depression. In your room or anywhere you feel comfortable, play your favorite music, and dance like no one is watching for at least 20 minutes. Exercise, including dancing, induces the release of endorphins in our bodies and is associated with increased happiness (3,4).
Day Four: Super Positivity Day
No complaining today. Try to be optimistic about everything, including when interacting with anyone. Today, you act as if you have the perfect life you dreamt about. Walk, talk, and act like you are awesome, because you are! Smile at everyone you meet. If you want to dress up, do it. Today you can live like the happiest person on earth. Being more positive is associated with increased happiness (5).
Day Five: Give More
Give food, money, or donations to those in need. If you prefer and have the time, give your knowledge to help others. If you like animals, volunteer at an animal shelter. If you can’t afford to give anything at the moment, then spend more time with your family and friends. Several studies have found that generous behavior increases happiness. The mechanism for this may be due to specific changes in brain activity when we give. Neuronal activity in the brain occurs when we make generous decisions, and this neural link was found to be directly related to changes in happiness (6).
Day Six: Forgive Someone and Yourself
Today, forgive someone that wronged you, and, as necessary, forgive yourself for your mistakes. It can be difficult to forgive others, but forgiving others will help you let go of your resentment and create a positive impact on your life. You don’t have to forget to forgive. Forgiving others lowers anxiety and improves satisfaction with life and psychological well-being, leading to a happier and more productive person (7).
Day Seven: Invest in Yourself by Learning Something New
Today you will learn something new. Some people are surprised at what they can learn in one day. Consider gardening, origami, photography, drawing, painting, whistling with your fingers, playing Sudoku, or speed reading. Try to learn something new that you are interested in, as we are better at retaining information that we are curious about (8). Studies suggest that if you learn new skills by participating in classes outside of work, you will experience greater mental and physical health (9). Who knows, the new skill you learn may develop into a hobby.
Although it may seem that these activities are unrelated, they were chosen to help with the four core areas that are important for Happiness: Mind, Body, Connections, and Purpose.
Day One: Send a Card to a Sick Child Connection
Day Two: Practice Gratitude Mind
Day Three: Do Relaxing Exercise Mind/Body
Day Four: Super Positivity Day Mind
Day Five: Give More Purpose/Connection
Day Six: Forgive Someone and Yourself Mind
Day Seven: Invest in Yourself by Learning Something New Purpose
Do you want to develop these habits? Repeat this for at least six weeks.
Written by Aldrin V. Gomes, PhD, FCVS, FAHA
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(2) Armenta, C. N., Fritz, M. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2017) Functions of Positive Emotions: Gratitude as a Motivator of Self-Improvement and Positive Change. Emotion Review. 9(3): 183–190.
(3) Iwon K, Skibinska J, Jasielska D, Kalwarczyk S. (2021) Elevating Subjective Well-Being Through Physical Exercises: An Intervention Study. Frontiers in Psychology. 12:702678.
(4) Kim, MJ, Lee CW. (2016) Health benefits of dancing activity among Korean middle-aged women. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being. 11(1):31215.
(5) Hansenne M. (2021) Valuing Happiness is Not a Good Way of Pursuing happiness, but Prioritizing Positivity is: A Replication Study. Psychologica Belgica. 61(1):306-314.
(6) Park SQ, Kahnt T, Dogan A, Strang S, Fehr E, Tobler PN. (2017) A neural link between generosity and happiness. Nature Communications. 8:15964.
(7) López, J, Serrano, MI, Giménez, I, Noriega, C. (2021) Forgiveness Interventions for Older Adults: A Review. Journal of Clinical Medicine. 10(9):1866.
(8) Gruber, MJ, Gelman, BD, Ranganath, C. (2014) States of Curiosity Modulate Hippocampus-Dependent Learning via the Dopaminergic Circuit. Neuron. 84(2): 486-496.
(9) Pearce, E. (2017) Participants’ perspectives on the social bonding and well-being effects of creative arts adult education classes. Arts and Health. 9(1):42-59.