Misconceptions of Happiness–How to Rewire Your Smile

As we find ourselves adjusting to a new lifestyle everyday from the everchanging COVID-19 stipulations, it becomes harder to focus on the positives (not in reference to the test results) and the idea of keeping a positive mindset. You may find yourself saddened by not having access to a full college experience at Monmouth, but don’t fret, there are ways to make the best out of the situation.

In 2012, former President of the American Psychological Association, Martin Seligman, published the novel Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being to promote methods of becoming your best self. Seligman explains how many are prone to fall into a habit of negativity, claiming, “When you’re in a bad mood, you’re better at ‘what’s wrong here?” as opposed to making a conscious effort to highlight the good in life.

By concretely observing the small things to be gracious for, whether it be a favorite snack, a meaningful encounter with a friend, or the completion of an assignment, you will be amazed at the results.

That extra second of gratitude will make a remarkable difference for your overall mood. I know, it is easier said than done—I could testify to that statement, but it is worth the effort. Avoiding social media or limiting media consumption is also linked to an increase in positive emotion, according to Laurie Santos, Professor of Psychology and cognitive scientist at Yale.

Similar to Seligman, Santos found comfort in providing information on positivity, and she gained immense popularity for The Science of Well-Being course in 2018 on Coursera.com. The course amplifies the psychological principle of hedonic adaptation being a major limitation to our happiness.

Hedonic adaptation is the tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. Hedonic adaptation is prevalent within social media, through people constantly absorbing posts and comments, creating new reference points in which to compare themselves to, or even feed their ego with by thinking they’re somehow better.

Social media is also a threat to happiness because of its contribution to materialism. Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, Dan Gilbert, writes on materialism, “Part of us believes the new car is better because it lasts longer. But in fact, that’s the worst thing about the new car…It will stay around to disappoint you.” Distracting yourself from wanting the next best thing is another method of appreciating what you already have.

Realizing what is already positive in your environment and acknowledging existing character strengths are helpful in promoting a sense of happiness. Martin Seligman introduces the idea of determining your character strengths, which are empowering skills that a person exhibits, that are sometimes unfortunately either unused or unnoticed. For example, my character strengths are creativity, curiosity, and the ability to change perspective.

You can find your character strength through Seligman’s fascinating tests on ppc.sas.upenn.edu, where additional information regarding the Positive Psychology phenomenon is updated daily. The insight provided through the test is often surprising and helpful to take note of.

Humor, wisdom, leadership, kindness, and hope are also notable character strengths that might apply to you. If you find that one of your character strengths is creativity, have a paint night, sketch a bit, or remind yourself of a time when you made something amazing. Grasp onto your strengths and utilize them as often as possible.

By possessing a mindset of growth and by setting small achievable goals with your character strengths for a minimum of one week, as suggested by Seligman, you will feel an improvement. As someone who has done so since March, I can confidently tell you it makes an astounding difference in the way you perceive life. Striving for the best version of yourself is a necessary habit to integrate into your life.

Positive Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has supported this effort, remarking “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times.

The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” So, while you’re walking through the campus in this beautiful fall weather, or you’re at home drinking a coffee, take a moment to reassess what could be done to better yourself, as minor as the changes may be. We’ve made it this far during the volatility of COVID-19, so why not strive for a constantly improving mentality of positivity?


PHOTO COURTESY of Anthony DePrimo