Hack Your Happiness: 3 Ways to Make Positive Psychology Work for You

We Can Actually Learn to Be Happy

The field of positive psychology is devoted specifically to studying what makes us happy. For those who struggle to maintain a stable level of happiness in their lives, this is great news. Positive psychology is not just theoretical — it offers some helpful practical tips. Here are 3 ways to make the findings of positive psychology work for you, now.

1. Use the “Tetris Effect.”

Have you ever played Tetris — or a similar video game involving shapes — for hours at a time, or on a daily basis? When you finally stopped playing, did you start seeing everything around you — from buildings to furniture to everyday objects — as the shapes in your game? If so, you’ve experienced a cognitive afterimage, or as Shawn Achor calls it in The Happiness Advantage, the “Tetris Effect.”[1] How does this apply to happiness? Make a game with yourself: try to find positive things all around you, all day long. Try to build up the same kind of enthusiasm and engagement you’d feel when playing a video game. You’d be surprised at the positive patterns you can find in your life, regardless of circumstances.

2. Master Small “Zorro Circles” First.

When we feel like we are in control of our lives (you know, to the degree humanly possible), we are generally happier. When we are stressed out and upset, we are less happy. Positive psychology teaches us to focus on our internal locus of control — the things we can directly influence, rather than our external locus of control — the things that surpass the limits of our power. Shawn Achor uses the metaphor of “Zorro Circles” for our internal locus of control: when Zorro was training to be a swordfighter, he had to master the immediate area around him before he could start swinging and jumping all over the place with his weapon.[2] If he overextended himself, he would fail. As a powerful success and happiness hack: master something small and focus on things within your control.

3. Adjust Your Explanatory Style.

Your explanatory style is the way you explain or describe the challenges and setbacks in your life.[3] Do you tend to blame others, or yourself? Do you feel like you will never be able to overcome obstacles, or like you can rise above any hardship in almost no time at all? Asking yourself these kinds of questions can help you identify your explanatory style is either optimistic or pessimistic. There are three aspects of explanatory styles: permanence (time), pervasiveness (space), and personalization (responsibility). To hack your happiness, try to see bad events as temporary, not applicable to all aspects of life, and not a reflection of your character. Similarly, try to see good events as more permanent or long-lasting, applicable to multiple areas of life, and due to your own efforts. As you might guess, intentionally adjusting your explanatory style to be more optimistic will also strengthen your internal locus of control (“Zorro Circle”) and your ability to recognize positive patterns in your life (“Tetris Effect”).

Hack Your Happiness!

Happiness does not have to be an elusive mystery. Thanks to positive psychologists like Shawn Achor, we are deepening our understanding of what it means to be happy, and learning practical tips to apply the research findings. These three happiness hacks — creating a positive “Tetris Effect,” mastering small goals before moving onto bigger ones, and adjusting your explanatory style — provide a great place to start.

[1] Achor, Shawn. The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. Random House, 2011.

[2] Achor, Shawn. The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. Random House, 2011.

[3] Buchanan, Gregory McClell, Martin EP Seligman, & Martin Seligman, eds. Explanatory Style. Routledge, 2013.

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