Because It Makes You Happy

Why Strengths-focused Identity (SfI)?

Because it Makes You Happy

by Jennifer Rose 


How you feel matters.

There are consequences to the feelings you have, and which ones you focus on. Science has shown that people who learn to give more attention to peaceful and positive feelings have better outcomes in their physical and mental health, longevity, relationships, and overall satisfaction.

At the same time, it is perfectly natural for life’s simple pleasures to become obscured by negative reactions and habits of mind. There is even a name for this: negativity bias. This bias means it is necessary to intentionally bring regular and repeated attention to moments and feelings that are positive, and things about yourself that you like. For most people, positive thinking does not come naturally. To reap the benefits of a positive mental outlook, therefore, most people need to make a commitment to a practice such as the SfI process.


Over time, the SfI process leads to reliable happiness.

By being mindful of all of your feelings you can choose to focus on what is positive. A focus on positive feelings is not asking that negative emotions be ignored. Many feelings arise as you interact with the world “out there,” the world you perceive to be separate from yourself. There are feelings that arise from the world “in here,” the world of your own thoughts and your relationship with yourself. Thirdly, there are feelings that arise from deeper levels within you. The SfI practice can introduce you to deeper and more reliable sources of positivity.


Focusing on positive feelings helps you feel better more of the time.

Like the waves on the surface of the ocean, you may be tossed dramatically by feelings arising from reactions to what happens around you.  These feelings are both negative and positive. In most instances, they depend on whether you are getting what you want (positive) or not getting what you want (negative). If you are a sports fan you will know the difference between how you feel when your team wins, and how you feel when your team loses.

Being mindful of your feelings, you notice the ups and downs of these waves of happiness and disappointment. As we mature, we learn to enjoy the “wins” and council ourselves during losses: “Well, perhaps next time they will win. I can look forward to that.” The SfI process can help you gain or reinforce this kind of resiliency and emotional good health.

People with the normal negativity bias, have long given more attention to and assigned more significance to negative feelings, thoughts, and outcomes. This negativity bias can lead to a negative identity. Noticing that there are also positive feelings, which can only mean negative feelings are not in a steady state, is an eye-opening experience, one which can transform your sense of who you really are. People who identify themselves as angry, jealous, or sad are giving feelings that come and go a more permanent attribution. Are you beholden to such an identity? No. You are not. There may be feelings of anger, jealousy or sadness, but those exist with positive feelings, and when you give the positive feelings more attention, and assign them more significance your sense of yourself will begin to shift.

By being mindful of all of your feelings, you give yourself more choices. Suppose you are a person who is easily hurt by things others say, and you notice that you are also easily moved by the beauty of sunsets. For a long time, you might have identified yourself with your hurt. You might have told yourself that you need to grow a thicker skin. You might have wondered what it was in your childhood that brought about this flaw of being easily hurt. In addition to our negativity bias we are socialized to give more attention to negativity, and make it seem very serious and important.

By shifting your emphasis, you can change your idea of who you are. For example, your idea of your nature might shift from being “the kind of person who is hurt easily” to being “the kind of person who is moved by the beauty of sunsets”. The way you react or respond to external events may not change, but the reactions you choose to articulate internally can become more positive by your own choice.


Positive Feelings Come in Many Flavors.

Like Baskin and Robbins 31 flavors of ice cream, positive feelings come in many colors and flavors. As you practice Step 1 over time, you will start to notice the subtle differences. You will differentiate moments that make you feel empowered from moments that make you feel competent, or enthusiastic. 

Have you ever noticed that someone can ask you how you are feeling on a good day, and your answer is often vague, such as: “doing good!” Whereas if someone asks how you are doing on a bad day, you might choose a specific and descriptive word and provide an example, such as “kind of bummed because my car wouldn’t start and I was late getting into work.” Most of us are inarticulate about our positive feelings. 


Circumstances Which Bring About Positive Feelings Have Differing Aftereffects.

Giving attention to your mood’s natural tendency to fluctuate can make you more emotionally nimble and stable: more ready to give yourself fully to the happy moments, and console yourself in the unhappy moments. When a negative emotion arises, you can assure yourself that a happy moment is sure to come in the not too distant future. Understanding that our strengths are related to our happiness makes it possible to begin to make our own happy moments rather than passively waiting for them. These are means of leveling out the highs and lows of the emotional rollercoaster. Our team does not always win, and that is okay.

It is also possible to notice that not all circumstances that lead to positive feelings lead to positive outcomes. For example, getting what you want, when it comes in chocolate flavor and you get a whole lot of it. You feel great eating that cake, or whatever it is. That is a positive moment for sure. If that leads to indigestion that keeps you awake at night, that is likely to be associated with negative feelings. As you cultivate mindfulness along with the belief that your feelings matter, you can become a connoisseur of positive feelings, putting a finer and finer point on the feelings you most prefer. You simultaneously become knowledgeable about how to evoke those feelings in yourself through making informed choices about what you do.

On the other hand, there are things that almost no one wants to do which have positive aftereffects. For example, going to the dentist rarely brings positive feelings in the moment. However, after going to the dentist one might feel relieved, confident, accomplished, or some other positive feeling related to self care. The insights that come from being mindful of positive moments and feelings can guide us to better investments that lead to longer lasting positive aftereffects. 


Feelings Are Responses to Thoughts as Well as Circumstances.

With mindfulness, you can notice that many of your feelings have nothing to do with what is happening in the world around you. Suppose that someone gives you a bouquet as a gift. It is possible that this objectively happy event will bring about happiness in you. But suppose that a thought such as, “That one rose is a little droopy; that’s too bad,” arises in your mind. A moment that had the possibility of being positive can become negative before you know what happened.

Feelings are fleeting, and arise from objective causes (those that others can see), as well as subjective causes (such as the thought about the droopy rose). So, paying attention to positive moments and feelings can give you insight into circumstances and thoughts that make you happy. You can exercise more intention, and give more of your attention to useful, positive thoughts. You can intentionally choose to think thoughts that make you happy. This is possible even when circumstances are very much not what we prefer. When you record or describe a positive moment, you have an opportunity to savor it. This is a practical method to begin making choices about your thoughts. Being mindful, you can observe the way your sense of well-being is impacted by your thinking.

Positive Feelings You Associate with Your Strengths Are More Reliable.

Your thoughts about who you are can impact your positive feelings. When you are acting in a way that is associated with the best you see in yourself, you will observe that you can count on those feelings to be positive in a unique way. You could call this following your own conscience. 

“When I do good I feel good; when I do bad I feel bad, and that’s my religion,” a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, sums it up nicely. 

When you are doing the best that you can with the best you have, you are almost certainly going to feel good. Remember to focus on what you are doing and not on how others are responding. This is how mindfulness in Step 2 of the SfI process can bring about a more reliable happiness. The subtle differences in positive feeling states may not be noticeable when you first begin practicing. But as you become attuned to different positive feeling states, you will notice that acting in alignment with your strengths is a feeling you like very much.


Positive Feelings Have a High Value When They Are Reliable and Non-harming.

Because this practice is subjective, there is no way to know which sources of positive feelings will be the best for you. You have to undertake the practice and find out. However, the development outlined here, from noticing positive feelings related to circumstances, to noticing positive feelings related to your strengths and your thoughts, and most importantly, the stability and empowerment that will be the rewards of the practice are predictable.

You will find that the SfI practice itself becomes a reliable source of positive feelings. You may even find yourself returning to Step 1 and observing that mindfulness in and of itself has its own positive feeling. The positive feeling that is associated with mindfulness is both reliable and non-harming. 

In the beginning it may seem daunting to trust your feelings. However, it is a wonderful opportunity. Positive feelings are useful guides. Being internally guided stabilizes you in your own values and interpretations.  You choose your actions and thoughts because they are right for you, not on the basis of what other people do or on the basis of unconscious habit.

While your surface emotions rise and fall, while the tides of emotion ebb and flow, underneath it all are steady and reliable, deeply positive feelings. Even when life is hard, aliveness, in its simplicity, has something positive at its core. As you pay more and more attention to your positive emotions you will notice some that are absolutely reliable. They won’t be the same for every person, but they are likely to be similar in their simplicity. The wonder of being is always with you.

To get started, Read the directions for Step 1, or read more about mindfulness.