Here come 12 ways to improve your life satisfaction. One of the headlines to the story I’m passing on to you reads, “Your assessment of yourself and your life circumstances may vary at different stages. Here’s how to increase your feeling of accomplishment.”
And the explanation of why that is so important: “A key aspect of psychological well-being is a high level of life satisfaction, a subjective summing up of personal circumstances and life events that results in overall feelings of achievement, happiness, pride and purpose. People who score high in measures of life satisfaction are much more likely to believe that they have gotten the important things they want in life.”
According to the article in question, from the newsletter of the Massachusetts General Hospital, Mind, Mood and Memory (December 2007), recent research suggests that if you try to change your goals and activities in an effort to find greater happiness you can improve your satisfaction with life. In other words, “there are things we can do to increase our sense that we’re worthwhile people living good lives.”
Although the article doesn’t specifically say so, based on what we know about the relationship between optimism and health, happiness and health, and stress and health, it would seem obvious that increasing the sense of life satisfaction is not only sensible for its own sake but also sensible as it probably contributes to better health.
Here are the dozen ways to “build feelings of life satisfaction”:
1. Change Your Perspective On Success. Don’t judge yourself too harshly. For example, if you are not rolling in money and are not as financially successful as you would like to be, don’t use that to mark yourself a failure. There are many other important markers of success, such as having many good friends and having a rich intellectual life. In other words, take pride in some of your achievements rather than just obsessing on what you haven’t achieved. Understand that success comes in many forms.
2. Think Positively. This is good advice for multiple reasons, including improving life satisfaction: “Look at your accomplishments and count your successes rather than dwelling on missed opportunities and failures.” I’d add that it is easier to be positive if you hang out with positive people and, to the extent possible, avoid chronic complainers and unbearable pessimists.
3. Focus On Your Strengths. If you understand your strengths and set out to use them in your endeavors, you are bound to enhance your feelings of competency and strength. For example, if you have a special talent or skill, you may want to see if you can use that in tutoring, mentoring or even less formal activities.
4. Try Something New. Something as simple as learning and exploring can increase your feeling of achievement. As that’s what life’s all about; it is something you should be doing almost automatically. You should also be going for activities that involve challenge and skill, which are found to “make people feel happier and more satisfied.”
5. Invest In The Future. You can invest in the future by engaging in activities that build “a positive future for yourself and your society.” The article gives an example of volunteering to work with young people. Right now, I think the most important investment would be to help get a Congress and president elected that want to win the war against Islamo-fascism rather than merely surrendering and retreating. The upcoming presidential election is one of the greatest investments in America’s future ever to be made.
6. Strengthen Your Bonds With Others. This is a key ingredient in almost every formula for staying active and healthy. Keep your friends and build relationships. Listen to others, talk to others, and confide in others when appropriate. Virtually every expert now agrees that friends, relationships, and networking is important for health and survival.
7. Take Care Of Your Health. It’s obvious that illness and physical disability diminish the chances of life satisfaction and happiness. So invest in your health, as it is your most important asset. That means exercise, the right diet, adequate sleep, stress control and all the other essentials of a healthy lifestyle. This also means you should have medical checkups that are appropriate and should stop smoking and using alcohol to excess.
8. Strive For Psychological Resiliency. Try to keep your perspective when confronted by setbacks. What can get to you is not what happens but your perspective on it, how you react to it, and the like. A key to being psychologically resilient is to do the things that control stress, such as exercise, meditation, breathing exercises, yoga and all the other relaxation techniques.
9. Savor Everyday Pleasures. Learn to appreciate the small things and learn to enjoy them. In other words, stop and admire the roses and smell them. One of the greatest of pleasures is that obtained by humor and by cultivating a sense of humor. I’m not sure that you can laugh your way out of a disease a la Norman Cousins, but a little laughter can help a lot. One walk down the lane can also work miracles in your outlook on things.
10. Practice Gratitude. This is almost a corollary to accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative. Spend some time cataloging what you are grateful for and what went well that day and why.
11. Forgive Yourself And Others. Look forward, not backward. In other words, don’t dwell on past mistakes and past lost opportunities. Forgive yourself and move onward. If you concentrate on the here and now and living well in the present, you will enhance your life satisfaction.
12. Seek Help For Depression. If you are in the midst of real sadness and depression that lasts more than two weeks, you might want to consider a mental health assessment: “You may be suffering from a major depression that can be successfully treated with medication and/or therapy.”
I’d add one more to this list: Do what’s right; follow a moral code. One of the most interesting but neglected studies I’ve ever seen found that those who tended to do the right thing and displayed integrity during their life had the most happiness and success. In other words, nice guys tend to finish first, not last, despite Leo Durocher’s famous claim.
Why do I say this is the most neglected of key elements needed for health, happiness and success? I’ve seen dozens of lists identifying the master keys to health, longevity, happiness, protecting memory, controlling stress and the like. I’ve noticed they all go down similar paths, stressing such things as staying active, meditating and networking with others. But I’ve also noticed that without exception they all overlook one master key: virtue.
The importance of virtue in this scheme of things has been documented in an important but largely overlooked book by Douglas and Harriet Heath entitled Fulfilling Lives: Paths to Maturity and Success. The Heaths, then of Haverford College, found that virtue is indeed a master key paying off not only with success but also with health and happiness.
The Heaths conclude: “Virtuous men and women succeed in all of their principal adult roles. … No wonder they are happy and fulfilled and seen by their peers to be living a full and satisfying life.” The Heaths have connected virtue with success, health and happiness, about the best package that can be imagined.
And the Heaths did not pull this conclusion out of thin air. It is based on a lifetime study of a large group of people over time pointing to the Heaths’ bottom line: “Regardless of how we measured ‘virtue,’ it is clear that it does not bring higher incomes – just good health, happiness, and self-fulfillment in the long run.”
Herb Denenberg, a former Pennsylvania insurance commissioner and professor at the Wharton School, is a longtime Philadelphia journalist and consumer advocate. He is also a member of the National?Academy of Arts and Sciences. His column appears daily in The Bulletin.
By: Herb Denenberg, The Bulletin