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Want to be Happy? Get Off the Couch!

by Beth on May 11th, 2011

Positive psychology recognizes that it takes work to be happy.  Improvements in well-being often require efforts that are not immediately rewarding.  Doing something that gives you pleasure can increase the amount of positive emotions you experience in that moment, but simple pleasures like watching TV, eating a hot fudge sundae, or reading a magazine by the pool are not the key to real happiness.

Sustained happiness comes from the gratification you get from engaging in something challenging that results in accomplishment or personal growth.  When you think of the things in life that have brought you the greatest amount of happiness, I bet they involved some degree of effort, maybe even hard work and frustration.

I have friends who have run marathons and despite the grueling training that they endured, finishing a marathon gave them a huge sense of accomplishment and increased their positivity in the long run.  I can promise you that running a marathon would not make me happier, but getting my Ph.D. has contributed to my happiness over the years, as has learning Spanish.

Smaller accomplishments can also do the trick.  Cleaning out my garage, although it didn’t give me great pleasure, has made me happier each time I drive in and notice the lack of clutter.  Sometimes I think it would be fun to plan a dinner party, but wonder if I’d be happier spending my Saturday lounging on the couch.  Each time I have opted to cook for friends it has definitely been worth the effort.

This weekend you might need to spend a few hours on the sofa watching the NBA Playoffs or House Hunters International in order to recharge your batteries.  But don’t stay there all weekend!  Make the effort to do something that will give you a sense of satisfaction afterward.  Work in the yard, join a tennis round robin, take a cooking class, or start training for a local race.  Your level of positivity will be much greater come Sunday evening if you do!


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