Happiness, Part 2.

I recently read an article published in 2005 in the American Psychologist on Positive Psychology. The focus of this paper is to explore interventions that make people happier. The researchers that are cited in this article are interested in antidotes to depression and ways to help individuals have more satisfying lives. In the article, the researchers used two interventions with 577 adult participants to try to increase happiness in people’s lives. The two interventions are called “Three good things in life exercise” and “Using signature strengths exercise.” “ Three Good things in Life” participants were asked to 1) Think of three good things that happened that day, 2) Write them down, and 3) Reflect on why they happened, and do this each night for one week. The theory is that by focusing on the positive aspects of one’s life it increases happiness and decreases depression.

The second intervention was “Using signature strengths exercise.” Participants in this exercise were asked to take an inventory of character strengths on-line at www.authentichappiness.org, and to receive individualized feedback about their top five “signature” strengths. They were then asked to use one of the top strengths in a new and different way every day for one week. Some examples of signature strengths are creativity, ingenuity, resourcefulness, fairness or generosity. The theory behind this exercise is that when you use your inherent strengths in new ways it builds confidence which increases happiness. “These two measurements increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms for six months. Not surprisingly, the degree to which participants actively continued their assigned exercises on their own and beyond the prescribed one week period mediated long term benefits.” (Peterson et al., 2005)

At the Center, I often work with women who are unhappy or stuck with some aspect of their sexual lives. We offer many treatments both medical and behavioral and I think we have such high success rates because we deal with both. My arena is obviously the behavioral, which is why I think I found this article so interesting. Changing one’s behavior is not easy. If you have no sexual desire and are out of the habit of having sex, many women simply don’t want it. I heard one psychologist say that women’s sexuality can be like a switch and when it is not in use it just remains in the off position. I have certainly seen this to be true. I like the interventions mentioned above because they involve thoughtfulness, self reflection and agency on the part of the participant, which are all things that I think are important when changing a behavior or pattern. Whether you are treating depression or female sexual dysfunction, behavioral change can have profound lasting effects. We use many behavioral interventions, like learning to touch exercises or scheduling sex for couples that have become nonsexual. These exercises are often prescribed in combination with medications and therapy, and can set couples up in healthy sexual patterns that last a life time. How’s that for happiness?

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