10 Ways To Increase Your Psychological Flourishing
Weekly challenges aimed at improving your mood can have lasting benefits.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | August 3, 2021
A new study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology suggests that happiness comes with practice, and that the most effective practice may be found in combining the teachings of positive psychology and lifestyle medicine.
"Positive psychology and lifestyle medicine strategies have demonstrated efficacy in improving metrics of mental well-being, however, they are rarely used together," state the authors of the research, led by Geraldine Przybylko of Avondale University College in Cooranbong, Australia.
To assess the combined impact of these strategies, the researchers tested a 10-week intervention in which people were given daily and weekly challenges according to the schedule listed below:
- Week 1: "Speak positively." Daily challenge: offer a genuine compliment. Weekly challenge: memorize an inspirational text or saying.
- Week 2: "Move dynamically." Daily challenge: do 30 minutes of moderate exercise or 10,000 steps. Weekly challenge: 20 minutes of guided resistance exercises.
- Week 3: "Immerse in an uplifting natural environment." Daily challenge: spend 30 minutes in an uplifting natural environment. Weekly challenge: experience a sunrise.
- Week 4: "Immerse in a positive social environment." Daily challenge: do something intentional to show you care. Weekly challenge: forgive someone who has hurt you.
- Week 5: "Look to the positive." Daily challenge: spend 15 minutes reflecting on three things that went well. Weekly challenge: write a letter of gratitude to someone and share it with them.
- Week 6: "Eat nutritiously." Daily challenge: eat eight servings of plant-based food. Weekly challenge: prepare a high-fiber, plant-based meal with one or more friends.
- Week 7: "Rest – sleep." Daily challenge: spend eight hours in bed without a device. Weekly challenge: spend an evening by firelight.
- Week 8: "Rest – from stress." Daily challenge: spend 15 minutes in a quiet place, relaxing and being mindful of surroundings. Weekly challenge: take a day off work and a digital Sabbath (going "off-line" for 24 hours to recharge).
- Week 9: "Serving others." Daily challenge: perform a random act of kindness. Weekly challenge: use signature strength to perform an act of service.
- Week 10: "What does it take to flourish?" Daily challenge: continue challenges found to be helpful. Weekly challenge: continue challenges found to be helpful.
They found that people who engaged in the 10-week intervention showed a 17 percentage point increase in psychological flourishing from baseline to post-intervention, while participants in a control group showed no such difference. Moreover, the researchers found that the positive effects of the 10-week intervention were sustained when they re-tested participants 12 weeks after the intervention had ended.
"This is the first randomized control trial (RCT) to show that an interdisciplinary intervention, integrating strategies from both positive psychology and lifestyle medicine, can improve the prevalence of flourishing," state the authors.
To measure flourishing, the researchers used the 10-item Flourishing scale, shown below.
- Most days I feel a sense of accomplishment from what I do.
- In the past week, I felt calm and peaceful.
- I love learning new things.
- I generally feel that what I do in my life is valuable and worthwhile.
- I am always optimistic about my future.
- Taking all things together, how happy would you say you are?
- There are people in my life who really care about me.
- When things go wrong in my life it generally does not take me a long time to get back to normal.
- In general, I feel very positive about myself.
- In the past week, I had a lot of energy.
This research adds another data point to the growing set of studies that highlight the benefits of well-being interventions. For instance, a 2013 study found that a seven-week positive psychology intervention applied in an occupational health setting significantly improved flourishing scores on the Flourishing scale and another study on university students showed a significant increase in flourishing in response to an online positive psychology intervention.
But more work needs to be done.
"Healthy lifestyle behaviors are not commonly emphasized in the promotion of mental well-being," say the researchers. "Future studies could investigate the contribution that changes in physical health, mediated through lifestyle behavioral change, makes to the measurement of flourishing."