A Counselor’s Review On The Science of Happiness— 10 Tips from Positive Psychology’s Theory of Well Being

I was thrilled at the above topic of presentation by Sushama Kirtikar, a fellow counselor, at our monthly Suncoast Mental Health Counselors Association meeting.  Although we mostly are counselors in private practice, and are small business owners, we don’t sell anything.  Yet, as I’ve alluded to in other writings, if there is one thing I do try my best to sell people on, happiness is it! 

Most people that come into my office are anything but happy, but it is always something we are working towards.  There are different dimensions of happiness, but all of them lead towards one thing--leading a life of meaning.  That speaks to my existential self.  I care where you see yourself in the world.  I believe we all are searching for happiness, even if it may be difficult to see how to get there.  Maybe understanding what it means to your life to lead a happy life will be helpful.

To speak on the dimensions of happiness, there are three of them.

1.      The Pleasant Life:  The pleasant life includes pleasure and gratification.  We are able to deal with our past constructively and are able to find gratitude and forgiveness.

2.     The Good Life:  The good life includes our strengths and virtues.  It includes such things as mindfulness and character strength.  It is a path to self-actualization.

3.     The Meaningful Life:  The meaningful life in and of itself is just that. You are at service for something larger than you are.

The theory of well being, or the PERMA model involves five things.

1.     Positive emotion

2.     Engagement

3.     Relationships

4.     Meaning

5.     Achievement

The following tips that can lead you to a happy, fulfilled life fall under Positive emotion:

Smile more.  You can tell a lot by someone’s smile. In a study conducted, these smiles have names.  A pleasant smile with upturned lips, not showing any teeth, is called Non-Duchenne.  A smile that is again pleasant-looking, with upturned lips, but showing teeth is a Partial Duchenne.  A cheerful smile where you get those crinkles around your eyes from smiling so big is called Duchenne.

Open your mouth to open your mind.  People with a Duchenne smile are found to have a richer social life and a general sense of well-being.  They have a tendency to build on small moments of positivity.  Positive emotions then broaden your mind and make you more resilient to diversity, which leads to being the best version of you.

The positive emotions you feel broadens your mind.  Negative emotions constrict your mind.  When you feel positive emotions, the biology of your brain shifts, which increases your brain’s heart health.  The message is to open your mind.

Explore all your emotions.  The above is not to mean that we should not explore why we are experiencing negative emotions or sadness when we feel them.  If we don’t explore them, or open our mind, we can’t feel better when we have overcame them. We need all of our emotions, good and not-so-good.  When we then encounter a not favorable event, we are better able to brace ourselves to know what to do during new instances of fight or flight.  We are growing our resources.

Use your strengths.  My family’s strength is our sense of humor.  My father has that dry Seinfeld-like sense of humor where everything can be funny.  My mother is just a goofball! 

One thing I personally struggle with is anxiety.  Using my humor can help me get through those anxious moments.  When you build on your own strength to get through your moment of, “weakness”, it helps you build on how to cope, as opposed to using a defense mechanism and not addressing your feelings, so you are then able to overcome them.  A small change, consistently, can make a big difference. 

Are you paying attention?  When you pay attention to the gifts you receive in your life, or through life situations, this leads us to gratefulness.  One way to start becoming mindful of things to be grateful for is to keep a gratitude journal.   See if you can write down three things you are grateful for each day. 

I know I can tend to slack on this. I keep a gratitude jar. I cut up small pieces of paper after I have written something on them about good things that have happened to me.  I open this gratitude jar at the end of the year on New Year’s Day to see how many things I am grateful for.  I do have them waiting in the notes on my phone.  Get your thoughts out anywhere.  But, if you have them all together to read at once, one by one, you might not be able to help but to be grateful.

Now let’s talk a bit about Engagement. 

Can you go with the flow?  There are no shortcuts to engagement.  Just like everything is a process, we need to find our way to meet the world in, “flow”.  Meeting the world in flow leads us towards serenity, focus, ecstasy, clarity, doable activity, timelessness, and intrinsic motivation--because we let ourselves get lost in it.  The best moments are when you can let go and stretch your mind to its limits. 

Can you allow others to give you feedback in the moment it is given?  I know this can be a tough one.  At the first suggestion of doing something differently than I had been, I would shut down feedback that was given to me.  It does take practice to step back and welcome genuine feedback, and see if there is a different way to cultivate our creative efforts.

The next thing in our lives that plays a big part in our happiness are Relationships.

Others matter.  This is a big mission for my practice.  If you’d like to look at my  web page about this, click here. Having good relationships with others may be the single most component in the key to happiness. A study called the Nova Project showed that the top 10 percent of people that were happy were in romantic, marital relationships.  If you would like to get an idea where you are on the happiness scale, click here to take a short 5-question survey under “About SWLS” .  There you’ll find  link to the survey, and how to interpret it shortly underneath.

One very prominent thing that contributes to unhappiness is loneliness and isolation.  If you’d like to read more about this from a previous writing, please click here.  If you can take an interest in others, keep connections alive, and commit to meeting new people, you are on the right path. It’s about quality, not quantity.  It also isn’t falling in love, but staying in love.

Also, emotions are controllable.  We can steer ourselves towards happiness and  better physical health.  Feel good hormones are released when we incorporate things like exercise or sex into our lives.

The next area to look at is a life of Meaning. 

Every time I hear the word meaning, I think of the book that sits next to me on my desk as I write.  The book is called, Man’s Search for Meaning by a psychologist named Viktor E. Frankl.   You can look at the book here. There have been things in my life that have made it really apparent how important it is to have meaning to your life.  Reading this book was part of my path towards Existentialism. 

What gives you purpose?  One thing that personally put life into perspective, and gave me much meaning was doing substance abuse/addiction groups in the local jail.  Life became real, and there was real meaning in it.  All time stopped.  Every word mattered in those groups. 

As Dr. Frankl talks about, I learned a lot on how people cope, how I cope, found meaning in something, and then moved forward with it.  Living your calling is an ongoing process. The lessons I learned in there are with me for life.  We cannot have such an impactful experience, and have it not change us. We can all find meaning in the work we do.  If you are in the process of choosing a new career, find mentors and do informational interviews.  You can build your own board of directors.

It is the meaning we find IN life, not asking ourselves what is the meaning of life.  It is what we do on a daily basis that increases our well-being, and helps us to decrease feelings of depression and anxiety.  It is the fact that you feel that you matter, and that your life is worthwhile.

When we don’t find meaning in our lives, we can feel, “stuck”.  It is when we are truly ourselves, when our actions are congruent with our values, that our confidence is increased.  We then become more comfortable and happier with life in general. 

Lastly, the concept of Achievement contributes to our happiness as a whole.

What is your why?  Have you ever heard the phrase, “Eighty percent of success in life is showing up.”? Combine passion and purpose with effort, and your talent becomes a skill.  It, again, is a process to find your goal.  Try looking here into SMART goals to help make things more manageable.  When you have an interest, you practice it, and it gives you purpose, that gives you hope.  If you begin with what you’re surest of, that makes for an easier start.  I’m not sure where this following quote came from, but it makes sense. “Write things in pencil until you can write them in ink”.  Flow in lif”e is enjoyable, but sometimes it can be a painful process.

Besides Man’s Search for Meaning,  I have a card that was given to me years ago framed above my desk that is relevant to the upcoming point below.  Actually I have two cards framed above my desk.  The first states, “As you journey through your life, choose your destinations well, but do not hurry there.  You will arrive soon enough.  Wander the back roads and forgotten paths, keeping your destination in sight, like the fixed point of a compass”.  The second one is a note my parents wrote inside of a card that states, “Happiness always!!”.

Have a growth mindset.  When you have an internal focus to make things better you have a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset.  A growth mindset allows for continued improvement and optimistic self talk.  So, build your grit from the outside, in.  As Henry Ford stated, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.


If this resonated with you, always feel free to share it with someone else that could benefit, or reach out here if you feel you could benefit from working on living your best life possible.

You can also find daily inspirations, or thought-provoking posts by following me on Instagram under amyenklingcounseling, or on my Facebook page, Amy Enkling Counseling, LLC.

1.      Smile more.   

2.      Open your mouth to open your mind. 

3.      Explore all your emotions.  

4.      Use your strengths. 

5.      Are you paying attention? 

6.      Can you go with the flow? 

7.      Others matter. 

8.      What gives you purpose? 

9.      What is your why?  

10.     Have a growth mindset.