While we’d all love to be happy all the time, we know that we need the contrast of darker times to truly appreciate the light. Because think about it — would you even be able to label that you’re feeling ‘happy’ if you didn’t know what it felt like to be not that way — in other words, unhappy?
In saying that, however, new findings developed by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley has found that there is in fact a way to train the brain to increase your happiness levels — and it involves a four-step approach.
Called ‘HEAL’, the framework allows you to learn new ways of activating your feelings of engagement in a positive experience. Essentially, the research found that despite the belief that people are either born optimistic or not, it is possible to help strengthen people’s ability to get the most out of positive experiences through training.
“The idea behind the psychological resources model is that by learning to engage in a positive experience, you develop a greater sense of resilience and self-worth,” reads an article on the ‘HEAL’ framework on Psychology Today. “These feelings help to create an ‘upward spiral’ in which good times build on themselves, further enhancing your happiness.”
“Just an importantly, even when ‘external supports and familiar activities are less available’, such as those restrictions in effect during the COVID pandemic, you are left internally with whatever psychological resources you’ve managed to acquire.”
This means that even when you have less opportunities to do things that make you happy, the ‘HEAL’ framework will have prepared you internally for a greater sense of resilience and self-worth during this time.
So, how does ‘HEAL’, which stands for Have, Enrich, Absorb and Link, work?
#1 Have an Enjoyable Experience
“You can do this by actually going through the experience or by mentally conjuring it up such as thinking about someone who cares about you,” writes Psychology Today.
#2 Enrich the Experience
Then, to enrich the experience as much as possible, you’ll want to keep it active in your consciousness by staying with it and reliving the parts that feel good. It’ll help to close your eyes or sit in a relaxed posture while doing this.
Other ways to enrich the experience are to “increase the novelty of it so that it sticks out more in your mind – this might include having a ‘new’ thought, such as noticing that someone cares about you” and to “heighten the personal relevance of the experience by delving into your feelings about it.”
#3 Absorb the Experience
Next, you’ll want to do three things to help absorb the experience. “Make a deliberate effort to internalise it”, “turn attention inward to your emotional state” and “highlight the reward value of the experience”.
#4 Link Positive and Negative Material
And finally, you’ll want to focus on something positive even when you’re aware of negative material in the background, which should ultimately drown out the negative.
While the method isn’t a magical cure-all for getting us out of difficult times, if there’s one thing to take-away from it, it’s the importance of ‘savouring’ positive experiences. And, when you put the method to work, it’s understanding which steps along the way you stop at.
“Fulfillment may not come naturally to you, but by letting the enjoyable experiences change you at a deeper level, those good times can become both more frequent and more long-lasting,” the article reads.