Prioritizing happiness is a worldwide phenomenon. Given reports like The World Happiness Index (Helliwell, 2012) and the emergence of the new field of Positive Psychology, the emphasis on personal well-being is broadening. When you ask any parent what they want for their child, happiness ranks near the top. Research has proven that practices focused on increased gratitude (Sheldon, 2004) and social connection (Cacioppo, 2008) positively impact self-reported life satisfaction. Effectively using these practices correlates to your ability to successfully form a habit. (Rubin, 2015) Pairing scientific happiness boosting practices with habit formation style will increase their efficacy and improve subjective well-being.
Gretchen Rubin has studied habit formation and discovered four distinct tendencies. To better understand her framework she explains that people have two types of expectations, inner and outer. Outer expectations include deadlines at work, assignments at school and showing up for your running group; they involve others. Inner expectations are keeping New Year’s resolutions, practicing meditation every morning or giving up carbs; these are personal choices. (Rubin, 2015) Research done by Sheldon & Lyubomirsky shows that having a gratitude practice decreases depression and anxiety and boosts an individual’s experiences of subjective well-being.(Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2004) Similarly, research done by Cacioppo concluded that strong social connection was an indicator or self-reported well-being.(Cacioppo,2008)
Rubin found the majority of people were able to form habits well when they were outwardly accountable but were less effective at forming habits around inner expectations. She called this group Obligers.(Rubin, 2015) Since obligers need external accountability to form the habits of social connection and gratitude, the practice that would be most effective for their increased happiness would be a gratitude group. This would be a weekly meeting where a group of friends gathers and share their daily moment or gratitude from a journal. Having the accountability to show up at a social meeting and to publicly reflect on their week of journaling would meet the requirements of habit formation to effectively boost happiness.
A smaller group are those who are equally good at forming habits around both inner and outer expectations. This group is called Upholders. (Rubin, 2015) Upholders don’t need external accountability. Once they have a plan to increase social interaction and to practice gratitude, they will act. For this personality sector deciding to have lunch with a good friend every week or putting a daily gratitude thought in a jar in their office will be enough of a prompt to get the habits of gratitude and social connection formed.
A third group Rubin identified will only form habits or meet the external expectation if they understand why. This group she calls Questioners. They like to research more than the average person and quite often their need for more and more information can lead to analysis paralysis; the inability move from research to action. (Rubin, 2015) For a questioner to start a gratitude or social connection practice they might prefer to read about successful ones on the website of a scientist who studies gratitude rather than taking the word of their yoga teacher. If they write out a few questions they want to be answered and make a plan to act once they have found the answers, it keeps them from getting stuck in the research phase.
Finally, there is a group that resists both inner and outer expectations Rubin refers to as Rebels. The rebels are the smallest category (Rubin, 2015). “Mastering habits is a particular challenge for Rebels, because of their general opposition to anything that feels like a chain or a pre-commitment.”(Rubin, 2017 How Does A Rebel Change pg 1) The most effective way for rebels to create change is by using the strategy of identity. This strategy works for rebels as they place value greater than normal on being themselves. They need to define themselves by their new habit and then they are more likely to uphold it. To prioritize gratitude or social connection a rebel needs to define themselves as a grateful person or a very social person. This will encourage their continued action. Rebels also do best when they change their gratitude or social practice regularly so that it feels like a choice.
To summarize, gratitude practices and social connection are paths to increased happiness. Knowing how individuals can best form these habits will help ensure success in implementing a strategy for increased gratitude or social connection, ultimately allowing individuals to flourish. Getting happier becomes easier when successful habits are paired with personalized action plans. By taking this simple online test to identify tendency then making an action plan that includes measurable metrics like frequency and duration happiness will increase.
References: Cacioppo, J. T., Hawkley, L. C., Kalil, A., Hughes, M. E., Waite, L., & Thisted, R. A. (2008). Happiness and the invisible threads of social connection. The science of subjective well-being, 195-219.
Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2012). World happiness report.
Rubin, G. (2015). Better than before: Mastering the habits of our everyday lives. Hachette UK.
Rubin, G (2017). How Does a Rebel Change. pg 1 https://gretchenrubin.com/2015/04/how-does-a-rebel-change-habits-one-rebels-clever-solutions
Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2004). Achieving sustainable new happiness: Prospects, practices, and prescriptions. Positive psychology in practice, 127-145.