Coachology: Train yourself to be happier

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Advice for getting happier: Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with people, try focusing on what’s right with people -what makes people happy, successful and more productive. This is what the positive psychologists do.

Senia Maymin (pronounced Sen-ya) has a master’s degree in applied positive psychology. What this means is that she uses the science of happiness to help people make their lives better. She divides what we know about happiness into five categories, and she explains how we can make headway in each one of them in order to improve our lives.

1. Increase our positive thinking.
The key to thinking positively is being optimistic. The way you determine if you are optimistic or pessimistic is how you explain things. When the copy machine doesn’t work, is the world out to get you? Do all copy machines never work ever? Or is this something that sometimes happens and you can deal with it by calling a repair person?

You can teach yourself to be more optimistic by teaching yourself to reframe situations by telling different stories. The stories we tell shape how we see the world. If you tell stories about your ability to get what you want then you are more likely to believe you can do it. As super-optimist (and radio host) Karen Salmansohn says, “You can take your story of woe and turn it into a story of wow.”

2. Increase your positive emotions.
When you are feeling good, you can come up with more solutions to your problems. So the world looks more like something you can affect to get what you want. The less positive you are feeling, the fewer possibilities you see for creating success.

Also, if you have practice feeling positive, then when bad things happen you are accustomed to going to a wide solution space, so you will go there reflexively. This means you’ll get out of a bad spot faster and more effectively.

One way to increase positive feelings is to write a list of things you’re grateful for every night before you go to bed. Doing this actually changes how you think.

3. Increase your authenticity and your strength.
It’s very hard to figure out what you’re really good at. And by the time most of us figure out what we are good at we think it’s too late to change what we’re doing. So we just sort of pretend that we are doing what we are really good at.

Don’t do that. You’ll be happier if you are true to your strengths. To figure out what you are best at try taking the strengths assessment at the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center or try taking the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator.

And then believe the results. Act on them. Don’t make excuses for why you can continue doing something you’re not great at.

4. Increase your positive choices and decisions
First of all, having more choices does not make us happier. In fact it makes the decision making process less positive because we spend too much time obsessing over what we should do. An example of this is that you don’t need 15 Chinese restaurants to choose from in order to have a nice night out eating Chinese food.

Another way to think about choices is that if you train yourself how to be at decision points, then you can simplify your life in a way that makes you choose better. Take going to the gym. If you tell yourself there is no choice but go to the gym then there is not a huge process of deciding what is most important each evening after work.

Telling stories helps here, too. If you remind yourself of all the bad things that happened with a bad decision then you will less likely to feel that that is a decision point going forward. Example of what works: The French government puts gruesome photos of car accidents on billboards to get people to wear seatbelts.

5. Increase positive habits.
If you do one positive thing in your life, there is spillover into other aspects of your life. In the big picture, this can explain why if you are living in poverty and you enter into a loving relationship you are likely to get out of poverty.

In a study by Roy Baumeister, college students who were asked to take better care of their finances for a few weeks found that they unexpectedly also found themselves going to the gym more often, eating better, and getting better grades.

But you should remove temptation, because you can only withstand it so many times before it wears you down. This means you should get the m&m’s off your desk.

Creating one positive habit encourages you to live your life more consciously and more positively all around.

I loved talking with Senia about this. At the end of a half-hour conversation, I swear I am living my life more positively because of the tools she was able to give me in so short a time. Fortunately, Senia is doing Coachology this week, so someone is going to get to work with her for free, for 90 minutes.

Here is the best candidate to work with Senia; she focuses on entrepreneurs and career changers: You should be a high-achiever, because the person who is most successful in self-discipline and self-control is the person who is in the best position to apply positive psychology research on their life. You should also be ready to make a big change in your work life in order to increase your happiness. Senia can help you do this.

Send three sentences to me about why you want to work with Senia, and she’ll pick someone. Please send the email by Monday, May 28.

25 replies
  1. Working Girl
    Working Girl says:

    Wasn’t there a study a while back that “proved” you could become measurably happier simply by taking a few minutes every night to count up the things you have to be grateful for?

    Mom always said, “Count your blessings.”

    Mom also always said, “You’re as happy as you make up your mind to be.”

    Mom is right on the money again! Why does this keep happening?

  2. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    why is it that even though I know these things, it is challenging to implement!!

    You may be interested also in the work of
    Dr. Robert Maurer, his book “One small step can change your life” applies the Japanese kaizen management style to making changes in your life. I recently attended a conference where he was a speaker. Very interesting stuff.

  3. Dwight Hurych
    Dwight Hurych says:

    Excellent post, Penelope!

    Additionally, I have long admired Barbara Sher’s work, including her book ‘Wishcraft’ in which she says, “Your capacity to ‘do’ will depend on your capacity to ‘dream’…”

    I think doing the things we know are best is challenging except where there is a clear dream – something we jump at the chance to do, where energy and resources seem boundless, and where we are filled to overflowing with wonderment and gratitude.

  4. Sherri Fisher
    Sherri Fisher says:

    Great article, Penelope!

    In addition to the things above, Senia is also a big fan of intuition and has written about this as well. (…And ask her about Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman’s System I and System II thinking.)

    Senia is the soul of social intelligence and positive energy. During breaks between our classes at MAPP last year, she engaged the class in fun energy and positive emotion building exercises. Good times, happy feelings!

    Why work with Senia? She lives and breathes Positive Psychology so you can, too.

    :-) Sherri

  5. elona
    elona says:

    I was absolutely delighted to read your post on Senia. I’m a big fan of hers and delight clicking on her “I’m a Big Fan of Senia” button on her site to tell her so. I’m going to share this post with my students because they need to be more positive about their lives, and I’m going to explore the links that you have included. Thank you for doing that.

  6. David J. Pollay
    David J. Pollay says:

    Hi Penelope,

    Great article! Senia does a great job of presenting some very practical, science-based suggestions for anyone trying to improve the quality of their life. Senia’s very talented; thanks for inviting her to participate in your blog.

    And congrats Penelope on your new book!



  7. Valerie Parker
    Valerie Parker says:

    Thanks for sharing Senia Maymin with us!! I in turned shared Ms. Maymin’s background and the 5 keys to Training Yourself to be Happier with my Toastmasters Club this afternoon…and the club voted my presentation of Ms. Maymin’s keys the best speech! Totally unexpected….I’m appreciative her keys points were appreciated by the club members and guests in attendance.

  8. Alan
    Alan says:

    I agree with the list. Having a positive look at things is the key to our happiness. We may not have the time to think about it, especially if we are already happy with what we do, but it’s still a factor in staying happy.

  9. Nina
    Nina says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I just finished your book and have to begin by saying bravo!

    Regarding the happiness topic: Jean Chatzky at Money Magazine recently wrote, "The pursuit of money and the pursuit of happiness often get equated, especially in our success-addled culture."

    "But over the past decade or so, science has set us straight on two points: First, once you have escaped poverty, more money won't buy you more happiness. There's little difference in the overall happiness of millionaires and the middle class. And second, if you are going to spend your money in search of greater happiness, you're better off buying experiences rather than things."

    Consumerism ties happiness to buying more things while "being" happy is more about the power of now and managing what you have.

    Great post!

  10. Fran
    Fran says:

    True. Our life needs us to have a positive outlook at things. Living a happy life means that we are contented of what we have and we must not be too ambitious.

  11. Irene
    Irene says:

    Great post. I like the way you encourage positive thinking in our everyday decisions. It’s a nice way of viewing things, especially during hard times.

  12. Dana
    Dana says:

    Great article!! Senia has done a great job of distilling positive psychology into those 5 areas – thanks for such helpful info!

  13. Martin Redford
    Martin Redford says:

    My favourite quote for happiness comes from british philosopher Bertrand Russell, “The secret of happiness is this: let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile.” I think that as long as you have more things in your life which are capable of making you happier the better your chances at this pursuit. Visit my Blog! The Perfect Male Blog

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