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Letting Go Might Be the Best Superpower in Your Happiness Toolkit

Letting Go Might Be the Best Superpower in Your Happiness Toolkit

I use seven science-backed happiness hacks to change mindsets and encourage a resilience tipping toward joy. I’ll let you in on a secret- one of the seven seems to have more power than all the others. It’s forgiveness.

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. Mark Twain

When we hold on we impact our own health at a cellular level. The production of hormones is thrown off and the ability to fight infection drops. People with higher self-esteem find it easier to forgive. And this isn’t just about anger. Many people choose sadness over anger but guess what- sadness is just anger with less intensity.

Have you ever had a relationship where the break up lasted longer than the time you spent together? Do you still have a nemesis from your childhood? Do you stop trusting people easily? If you answer yes to any of these, you may need to strengthen your forgiveness muscle!

Take the forgiveness quiz.


A few things to remember that can help you as you get better at forgiving.

  1. Forgiving does not mean you condone the action
  2. You don’t have to forget when you forgive.
  3. You don’t need to relate to the person you forgive.
  4. When you forgive you give up all hope of a better past.
  5. When you let go of the past you are free to open up to a new future.

Deep healing occurs with time. Or it can happen overnight. There isn’t a way that is better. Whatever works for you works for you!



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 of 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 gather 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 needs 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 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 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 ovalue 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 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 measureable 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.

Happiness at School

You walk your five-year old through the courtyard, down the halls to their first day at school. They have a new backpack (usually almost as big as they are) filled with indoor shoes, outdoor shoes, rain gear, pencils, markers. They have a level of enthusiasm (or occasionally trepidation) that is off the charts. Many moms are crying. Some are cheering, either silently or not so silently. We place the trust in educators to care for and educate our most precious things but is today’s education really supportive of what parents want for their children?
In a brief survey conducted in 2017 parents were asked what they wanted for their children at school. The answers included success, socialization, opportunities, and achievement. It also included happiness almost 100% of the time yet most school curricula don’t have happiness in the timetable. The best schools are touching on wellness, resilience, and mindfulness but very few have taken the leap and added lessons about how to take care of personal well-being, positive mental health, or happiness.
Positive Psychology is the science of flourishing. Most mental health practitioners are there to provide interventions and medications when mental health is absent; when flourishing isn’t happening. The problem is an absence of mental illness does not mean happiness (known in the science world as subjective well-being).
The question I have been pondering is this; if parents want their children to be happy and science has proven simple strategies that increase happiness, isn’t school (the place where children spend the bulk of their time between age 5 and 17) the perfect place to get happier?
What can positive education do?The statistics are staggering. Positive education increases creativity, engagement, learning outcomes and happiness while simultaneously combating depression, anxiety, and low self-worth.
How?By focusing on a child’s character strengths (these are scientific and testable) you actually boost their ability to get and stay happy, resilient, creative and focused.
If you are a teacher, administrator, or a parent you are going to want to know about Positive Education and specifically hear about a unique relationship I am forming with the Institute of Positive Education. Big change is coming to the way we learn happiness!