Which Path To Happiness Will You Choose Today?

New psychological research suggests three paths to happiness to turn around a bad day.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | April 2, 2022

A large part of the human experience is dealing with the ups and downs of everyday life. Some days things seem to work out perfectly; the sun shines brighter and we walk a little taller. There are other days when the opposite is true; we get stopped by every red light and anything that could go wrong, does.

Thankfully, new psychological research can help us implement strategies to turn a bad day into a good one. Here are three wisdoms that can help you flip the happiness switch when you need it most.

#1: Don't try to be perfect

It is sometimes said that 'the perfect is the enemy of the good.' Though there are benefits to having goals and setting high standards, the pressure of needing everything to go perfectly can leave us feeling unworthy, regretful, burnt-out, and unfulfilled.

New research identifies three forms of perfectionism to be on the lookout for:

  • Self-oriented perfectionism — the tendency to demand perfection of ourselves
  • Socially prescribed perfectionism — the tendency to believe that other people demand you to be perfect
  • Other-oriented perfectionism — the tendency to demand perfection from other people

There are better ways to keep yourself and the people around you motivated besides trying to be perfect. Letting go of perfectionistic ideals will lighten your mental load and will allow you to appreciate the pleasure of 'doing things' instead of feeling the pressure of needing to 'do things well.'

#2: Be as social as you can be

A bit of alone time and peace and quiet is always something to be cherished — but with the emphasis on a bit. Many studies have shown that socializing with peers is a surefire way to boost your mood. Increasing one's amount of social interaction can even benefit people who have high levels of social anxiety or are more introverted.

For instance, a new study found that people with social anxiety disorder derive as much pleasure from spending time with others as social butterflies and that treatments for social anxiety disorder should focus on methods to encourage social engagement among people who avoid it.

"Quality contact with other people serves as a reliable mood enhancement strategy," say the psychologists, led by Fallon Goodman of the University of South Florida.

Other research suggests that extroverts have the upper hand when it comes to self-care because of their tendency to spend time socializing.

"Someone with a high level of extraversion is likely to have a wide social network, is more prone to initiate contact with other people, spend leisure time socializing, and accept invitations to social events," say the researchers. "All of this can lead to situations that satisfy our need for relatedness."

#3: Forgive somebody (even yourself)

It's in our nature to want to hold people accountable for the things they've done. After all, it's one of the ways we, as a society, encourage cooperation and productive behavior.

However, the weight of holding onto all of the transgressions people have committed toward you in the past — or even guilt towards ourselves — can have major consequences. And, according to a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, one of those consequences is feeling dehumanized.

To arrive at this conclusion, researchers led by Karina Schumann of the University of Pittsburgh divided research participants into two groups. One group was asked to imagine being offended by a colleague and then forgiving them while the other group was asked to imagine being offended by a colleague and then taking revenge against them.

The scientists found that people who imagined taking revenge against the colleague remained in a dehumanized state (e.g., rating themselves as feeling less refined and intelligent and more superficial and animalistic) relative to those who forgave the other person.

"This pattern of results suggests that forgiveness can rehumanize victims after their sense of humanness has been damaged by an offense," says Schumann.

Some of the other scientifically-noted benefits of forgiveness include:

  • Being less hostile in everyday interactions
  • Decreased anxiety and stress
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Improved mental health

In sum, the ability to turn around a bad day is not a superpower; it's well within our reach. New science suggests letting go of perfectionistic standards, making a plan to be more social, and practicing forgiveness are three things we can do immediately to counteract a negative mood.