Monday, September 26, 2022

Signature Strengths - Building on Strengths to Increase Happiness

by Lindsay Roznowski

The final happiness practice I will share is called Signature Strengths. No two people are the same, and their strengths differ. Whereas sometimes we may be focused on areas where we feel we need to improve, Positive Psychology experts encourage us to lean in more fully to the areas where we are already strong — and build upon it, perhaps infusing some play, creativity, and innovation. New habits can be difficult to start, but simply choosing one of these practices to try on a consistent basis could be a profound investment in one’s own happiness and peace. Difficult life events like the pandemic can put things in perspective for all of us, and my hope is that we are all learning, one practice at a time, how to finally put our oxygen masks on first.

Instructions: Identify your top 3-5 signature strengths from the below list. For a week, choose one of your signature strengths daily and try to use it in a new way.

24 Signature Strengths Examples (Peterson & Seligman)

Appreciation of Beauty – Appreciating beauty or excellence in various domains of life 

Spirituality – Drawing strength from a higher purpose, or greater meaning in life

Gratitude – Being aware of, and thankful for, the good things that happen around us

Hope—Expecting the best to happen in the future, and working to attain it

Humor—finding joy in laughter, and bringing such joy to others 

Forgiveness – being able to forgive others, and grant second chances 

Humility and Modesty – allowing one’s accomplishments to speak for themselves

Prudence – not taking unnecessary risks; not doing things that might later be regretted 

Self-Regulation – regulating what one feels and does; being able to manage and control one’s emotions 

Citizenship – working well as a member of a group or team 

Fairness – treating others equally well 

Leadership – helping others reach greater heights 

Love – valuing close relationships with others  

Kindness – doing good deeds and favors for others 

Social Intelligence – having awareness of others’ feelings and internal processes 

Bravery – not shrinking from threat or challenges 

Persistence – finishing what one starts; not giving up easily 

Integrity – valuing genuineness; taking responsibility for one’s feelings and actions 

Vitality – approaching life with excitement and energy 

Creativity – thinking of novel ways to do things

Curiosity – being interested in experience for its own sake

Open-Mindedness – examining things from all sides

Love of Learning – mastering new skills, topics, bodies of knowledge 

Perspective – providing wise counsel to others


Optimism Practice to Increase Happiness

Positive Psychology encourages us to engage in optimism practices in order to increase our happiness in everyday life. It is natural, even hard-wired for our survival, to focus on the negative — either forecasting something negative in the future to try to prevent it or engaging in a detailed review of something that went poorly in the past in order to make sure it never happens again. When our goal is increased happiness (rather than survival from current day “lions and tigers and bears”, then we will want to practice being optimistic about the future and past instead. Two practices are explained below: A Positive Future and Reflecting on Success.

Optimism Practice #1: A Positive Future 

For the next week, set aside twenty minutes per day to journal about your positive future. Picture yourself five or ten years from now, and imagine that things in your life have gone as well as you could have hoped for. Your dreams have been realized, and you have achieved your deepest and most meaningful goals. Close your eyes, and spend a few moments conjuring this image. Consider different domains of your life, including your relationships, career, family, and hobbies. Allow yourself to bask in this vivid image, and to savor the feelings that come up as you do. When you are ready, begin writing about what you imagined.

Optimism Practice #2: Reflecting on Success

One of the best ways to remind ourselves that things will turn out OK in life is to reflect on times when we’ve already overcome hardship or adversity.

Instructions: Think back on a time from the past in which you’ve been successful at achieving an important goal. Take a moment and think back on various accomplishments you have reached in various domains in your life. Consider successes at school, at work, and in your relationships. Choose one of these triumphs and write about the success in greater detail. If you find it helpful, feel free to repeat this with various other successes you’ve had in your life. To help you get started, consider the following questions:

What was the nature of your success?
How hard did you work to attain it?
Were there times when you thought of giving up? If so, what kept you going?
Who did you receive support from during the process?
What did you learn from reaching this goal?
How does it feel to reflect on this success?

Connection Practices to Create Happiness

Positive Psychology researchers found that our happiness is increased when we engage in intentional activities to increase our positive connection with others. Two connection practices are shared: Gratitude Report Card and Loving-Kindness Meditation.

Connection Practice #1: Gratitude Report Card

Instructions: Over the next week, choose one person in your life with whom you have a close relationship, preferably someone whom you see regularly. This may be a romantic partner, a close friend, a child, or a colleague at work. Each day, write down at least one thing that you appreciate about the person, or something they did for which you are thankful. These appreciations can range in size or scope, but the important thing is that you identify at least one thing each day to write down. At the end of the week, have a face-to-face conversation with this person expressing your thanks to them. Share your list with them, and express how much they mean to you and how appreciative you are to have them in your life.

Connection Practice #2: Loving-Kindness Meditation 

Instructions: Begin by sitting in a comfortable position. Sit upright and relaxed, with your hands resting on your lap. Take three steady and even breaths, and when you are ready, close your eyes.

Continue to breathe, slowly in and slowly out. Notice the feeling of the air entering through your nose, and observe how it’s slightly warmer on the way out.

Become aware of your body as you sit. Feel your body as it makes contact with the support beneath you. Feel your body resting comfortably, and notice any sensations within your body. 

When you are ready, form an image of yourself in your mind’s eye. Picture yourself as you currently sit, and feel your heart open up. Remind yourself that like anyone else, you wish to live happily and in peace. Connect fully with that intention, and feel a sense of warmth pour over you. 

Continue to picture yourself as you sit in this moment. Gently and in silence, repeat the following phrases to yourself: 
May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I be peaceful and at ease. 

Take your time, all the while maintaining the image of yourself in your mind’s eye. Allow the feelings of peace and tranquility to sink in, and savor the meaning of the words. 

When you notice your mind wander or your thoughts drift, simply notice this, and return to the present moment. 

When you are ready, form an image now of someone whom it is easy to feel loving kindness towards. It could be someone from the past or the present, and could be a friend, family member, or even a pet. A simple, positive relationship can work best to start with. Picture that person, and feel your heart open up to them. Remind yourself that like anyone else, you wish for them to live happily and in peace. Connect fully with that intention, and feel a sense of warmth and compassion pour over you. 

Continue to picture this loved one as you sit in this moment. Gently and in silence, repeat the following phrases to yourself: 
May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be peaceful and at ease. 

Once more, fully allow the words to sink in, and feel your heart open up with love and compassion towards yourself and towards this other person. Take a moment to savor this moment. 

When you are ready, gently open your eyes and return to the room.

Mindfulness Practices to Increase Happiness

To understand a little more about mindfulness — and why cultivating mindfulness is a mega trend for good reason, watch this video on why mindfulness is a superpower. Next, you may want to experiment with trying one or both of the exercises below: Mindfulness of the Breath and Raisin Meditation. Both are practices taught by the experts in Positive Psychology who discovered that happiness is state of being we can nurture through active practice.

Mindfulness Practice #1: Mindfulness of the Breath

Instructions: Begin by finding a comfortable, peaceful place to sit. Set aside around ten minutes to start with, though you can extend this as you wish in the days to come. Sit down in a manner that’s comfortable, either in a chair or on the ground. Keep your back straight, allowing your shoulders to relax. Close your eyes, or choose a spot on the floor in front of you to focus your gaze.

Begin by taking three easy and gentle breaths in through your nose, followed by slow and steady exhales. With each breath, feel yourself slowing down and becoming more immersed in the moment.

If you notice your mind wandering or your thoughts drifting, simply notice this and return your attention and awareness to your breath. You may notice your mind wandering at many points during this meditation; it’s simply what our mind does. Merely observe this tendency, and without judgment, return your awareness to your breathing.

Bring full attention now to your breathing. As you inhale and exhale, observe where in your body you notice your breath the most. Perhaps it’s in your chest, as you feel it rise and fall with each breath. Others notice their breath most strongly in their nostrils, as the air passes coolly on the way in, and slightly warmer on the way out. Still others notice the breath most clearly in their stomach and abdomen, as it rises and falls with each passing breath. Wherever it is, take a moment to simply notice where the breath is most clearly felt in your body.

Notice how it feels to fully focus on your inhale. As you inhale, notice any particular feelings of tension or strain, and notice the sensation of your lungs and abdomen filling up as you inhale. 

Now gently shift your awareness to focus more on your exhale. With each exhale, notice what it’s like to feel your breath passing out through your nostrils. And observe, without judgment, anything that you feel in your body. 

For the next few minutes, continue to breathe gently and evenly. Feel the breath as it comes through your nose, followed by a steady exhale. 

Notice what’s happening in your mind. If you notice your mind wandering or your thoughts drifting, don’t judge yourself or react self-critically. Simply notice this, and gently redirect your attention and awareness back to your breathing. 

After ten minutes, gently open your eyes and bring your awareness back to your surroundings. Allow yourself to bask in the comfort and tranquility of the present moment.

Mindfulness Practice #2: Raisin Meditation

To begin, set aside five to ten minutes in a quiet place. Ensure that you’ll have no distractions; be sure to turn off your phone, shut off the television, and put aside anything else that might take away your attention. For the next few minutes, you’ll be doing something that you do every day (eating), but in a different way than usual. Your intention will be to eat a raisin in a mindful manner, fully immersed in the experience.

Begin by taking the raisin and placing it in the palm of your hand.

Glance down at it, pretending for a moment that you’ve never seen anything like it before. Alternate between holding the raisin in your hand, and placing it between your forefinger and thumb to more fully feel its texture. Notice the weight of the raisin as it rests in your hand.

Now take a moment to really see the raisin, paying particular attention to its subtle details. With full attention and awareness, notice the texture of the raisin, and the shadow it casts on your palm. Notice its ridges, and the particular colors it contains.

Placing the raisin between your fingers now, observe all of its texture with even more awareness. How does it feel to brush your fingers over the raisin? Feel the ridges on its surface. 

Now bring the raisin up towards your nose. As you inhale, simply notice any smells or scents that you detect. Or if you cannot detect a scent, simply notice that as well, without judgment. 

Slowly take the raisin and place it gently in your mouth. Observe what happens within your mouth when you do; perhaps you’ll find yourself salivating, or notice your tongue “reaching out” towards the raisin as you place it in your mouth. Before chewing, simply notice whatever sensations come up in your mouth now that you’ve placed the raisin on your tongue. 

Take a single bite into the raisin, and notice how doing so affects your mouth and tongue. Notice the different textures that you can now pick up on. When you’re ready, continue to slowly chew the raisin. But before swallowing, again simply notice all that’s occurring right now in your mouth, mind, and body. 

When you’re ready, swallow the raisin, and continue to observe any feelings, reactions, thoughts, and emotions that come up for you as you do. Without judgment, bring full awareness to whatever is happening inside of you, and take a minute to merely sit with those reactions with your eyes closed.

Self Compassion Practices for Happiness

According to Positive Psychology Research and Trainer Dr. Jonah Raqette, practices that focus on deepening our compassion for ourselves also contribute to our overall happiness. Experiment with writing the letter below, one of many effective Self-Compassion exercises, and notice the possibility of softening to yourself, relaxing, and inviting more compassion, ease, and happiness.

Self Compassion Practice #1: Letter of Self-Compassion
In this exercise, you’ll begin exploring how to build self-compassion when it comes to areas of your life you normally criticize.

Instructions: We all have things about ourselves that we don’t like, or that we tend to criticize. These might include something about the way we look, how we perform at work, or how we behave or don’t behave around others. These feelings of inadequacy are painful indeed, but are an inevitable part of life for all of us. Take a moment and reflect on one of these aspects of yourself that you often focus on in a negative way. Feel whatever emotions come up for you and notice the sorts of judgments that arise in your mind when you reflect on this issue.

Next, think about someone in your life who is kind, caring, loving, and compassionate towards you. It can either be a real person with whom you feel closeness and trust, or if you prefer, someone you imagine. This person can see your best qualities, as well as your areas of weakness. They understand and care for you, in good times and in bad. They understand that you are a human being, with strengths as well as flaws. Above all, they accept you and love you unconditionally, imperfections and all.
For the next few minutes, write a letter to yourself from the point of view of this friend. Focus in particular on the issue you came up with earlier, whether it was something to do with appearance, career success, behavior, or how you are in a particular relationship. What might this friend say to you regarding your perceived flaw or failure? How might they offer you comfort and demonstrate caring towards you? What might they do to show you kindness and compassion? How might their voice sound? What feelings would they want to convey towards you? Imagine this scenario, and allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up.

When you are ready, fill your letter with the sense of compassion and love that this friend has for you. Once you have finished writing it, re-read the letter to yourself, letting the words sink in. Close your eyes, and feel the warmth and compassion flowing over you. Feel it growing and welling up inside of you. It is yours now, an infinite and renewable source of love and support, here for you whenever you need it.

Kindness and Compassion Practices for Greater Happiness

Positive Psychology Trainer Dr. Jonah Paquette teaches us that practices to show kindness and compassion to others have the additional benefit of contributing to our own happiness. Two kindness and compassion practices are described below: Acts of Kindness and Volunteering. When we are kind to others, it generates a positive feeling for them but also for us and contributes to our overall sense of well-being.

Kindness and Compassion Practice #1: Five Acts of Kindness

Instructions: In our everyday lives, we all perform acts of kindness towards others, and receive similar kindness as well. Some of these acts may be small, while others may seem much larger in scope. Sometimes the person for whom the kind act is being performed may not even be aware of the act. Examples of kind acts include donating blood, volunteering, helping paint a friend’s house, feeding a stranger’s expired parking meter, or bringing coffee to work for a colleague. Over the next week, choose a single day of the week to serve as your “kindness day,” and perform five acts of kindness towards others on that day. Repeat this practice for at least four weeks.

Example: Kindness Day/Date: Tuesday, November 11 

Kind Act #1: This morning, I brought coffee for the support staff at work.
Kind Act #2: Today, I sent a small donation for disaster relief efforts in the Philippines following a recent devastating storm.
Kind Act #3: At noon, I smiled and asked the grocery store checkout clerk how her day was going.
Kind Act #4: This evening, I sent a message checking in on a friend I haven’t seen in a few years.
Kind Act #5: Today, I tracked down and personally thanked a co-worker for their excellent and hard work with a mutual patient.

Impressions: Performing a few of these small acts of kindness not only felt good, it turned out to be fun, too. I especially enjoyed doing things that brought me face-to-face with other people so that I could directly see the impact of my kindness on them. For example, when I brought coffee in for our support staff, I could really see how touched and appreciative they were. I think in the future I’d like to keep coming up with ways to directly interact with others during my kind acts, because that seems to feel especially meaningful to me.

Kindness and Compassion Practice #2: Volunteering and Community Service in your community is also an option for a happiness building practice in the area of kindness and compassion. VolunteerMatch is a great website to check out opportunities in your community to help out.

Gratitude Practices for Increased Happiness

Dr. Jonah Paquette is a Trainer in Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology research studied the beliefs and behaviors of happy, content people to figure out what practices they engage in -- so that we can learn from them in order to increase our own experiences of happiness everyday. Dr. Paquette encourages us to practice gratitude as a way to build more happiness in our lives. Here are a few practices you can try. 

Gratitude Practice #1: Three Good Things

Instructions: Each night for the next two weeks before you go to bed, write down three things that went well for you that day. These good things can be relatively small or minor occurrences, or they can be larger and of greater significance to you. Below each positive event that you list, please write down an answer to the question “Why did this good thing happen?” or “What was my contribution to this good thing?” After two weeks, write a brief reflection on how this practice impacted your mood.


Good Thing #1: I had a fulfilling day at work and my sessions with clients went well.
Why this happened/My contribution: I made sure I got plenty of sleep last night and tried to be very present and attuned in my sessions today.

Good Thing #2: My partner cooked my favorite dinner, spaghetti and meatballs.
Why this happened/My contribution: I expressed gratitude and thanked her the last time she cooked, and told her how much I appreciated it.

Good Thing #3: It was a beautiful and sunny day outside when I was driving to work.
Why this happened/My Contribution: I took the time to notice and appreciate the weather, instead of being on “autopilot” on my way to work.

Gratitude Practice #2: Gratitude Letter/Visit


We all have people in our lives – friends, parents, teachers, mentors, colleagues, coaches, bosses, and so forth – who have helped us throughout the years. Think about someone in your life who has helped you along the way, but whom you have never properly thanked. For the purpose of this exercise, think about an individual who lives near enough to you such that you can visit them in the next few weeks. Write a detailed and thorough letter of gratitude towards this person, expressing your feelings towards them. Thank them for all that they have done for you, and how their kindness impacted your life. Revise the letter as needed, and when you feel satisfied with it, set up a meeting with that individual but don’t yet tell them the true purpose of your visit. When you meet this person, please either read them the letter aloud or have them read it in your presence. Talk to them about what it was like for them, and share your feelings with them as well. After doing this exercise, write a brief reflection about what the experience was like for you, and how it felt.

How this exercise works: We’ve all heard about the power of gratitude and the interpersonal component of gratitude may be the most potent ingredient of this practice. This exercise is essentially interpersonal gratitude on turbo power. Not only are we reflecting on and identifying people to whom we feel grateful, we are expressing it directly to them in both written and verbal form. Thus, we are opening the gateway for increased closeness and connection with that individual.

Getting started: I recommend using a fresh sheet of paper to write your letter (or better yet, using a computer so that you can edit as needed). To get started, I invite you to reflect on a few people whom you might have interest in writing your letter to. Think about someone who has helped you along the way, but whom you wish to thank in an in-depth and heartfelt way. Consider the following questions to generate ideas and start formulating the basis of your gratitude letter:

Whom do I feel gratitude towards?
What does this person mean to me?
What did he/she do to help me?
What would I like to say to this person?
What emotions come up as I reflect on this person?
How is my life different because of this person?

Practicing Happiness in Unprecedented Times

by Lindsay Roznowski

These days, I have a special resentment in my heart for the phrase “unprecedented times.” The past few years have been unpredictable, confusing, and anxiety-provoking as we learn how to do pretty much everything differently. The need to constantly adapt and engage in novel problem-solving for situations that our life experiences have not prepared us for has us all feeling frayed and exhausted. As we emerge from the turmoil of the last two years, many of us have reflected on how we want to show up in the world moving forward. An unpredictable life event that undermines your feeling of security in the world has a way of urging us toward that kind of self-reflection. Personally, this time has motivated me to ask myself: “How do I want to live? How do I want to thrive in ways that I was not pre-pandemic?” Much of what came up for me was that I needed to find ways to prioritize myself in proactive and consistent ways. Everyone talks about self-care, but how often do we prioritize self-care like we would a work appointment or our child’s soccer game? How many of us fully grasp the “putting the oxygen mask on yourself first” metaphor, but still wake up every day and somehow put ourselves last?

The need for proactive and consistent self-care brought to mind a terrific training I attended a few years ago on Positive Psychology with Dr. Jonah Paquette. Positive Psychology is defined as “the scientific study of strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” Positive Psychology is founded on the belief that people desire meaningful and fulfilling lives and wish “to cultivate what is best within themselves to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.” (Positive Psychology Center, University of Pennsylvania). I came away from the training understanding that happiness can and should be invested in and built on a regular basis and that constructing positivity in our lives takes practice just as other life skills do. During the training we worked with this specific definition of happiness: “The experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” (Sonja Lyuborminsky, Ph.D.) Research shows that happier people are healthier people and that happiness has several significant causal effects including psychological (increased life satisfaction, lower rates of depression and anxiety, increased resiliency), physical (increased longevity, improved health, stronger immune system, coping with chronic illness), and life (stronger marriages, closer relationships, improved job performance). Happiness means different things to different people, especially generationally, but Dr. Paquette highlighted this important fact—no matter who you are, happiness comes with practice.  

Dr. Paquette discussed several notable barriers to our happiness including happiness forecasting, hedonic adaptation, and a negative brain. He explained that as humans, we are the only species that engages in happiness forecasting, a practice in which we predict that we will be happy when something specific happens or when we achieve a specific goal (like our sports team winning the championship or getting that promotion at work). One of the biggest problems with happiness forecasting is that we are very bad at it; we habitually hang our hat of happiness on the hook of external events out of our control. And further, we often associate the achievement of happiness with something external, instead of investing in the work internally. In addition, research has found that even when we do externalize our happiness and focus on achieving something we think will make us happier, once we do, hedonic adaptation quickly sets in and we return to our relatively stable baseline level of happiness. On the neuroscience side, it is clear that our brains are like Velcro for negative thoughts and Teflon for positive thoughts, so we must practice positivity more often and more consistently in order for it to finally stick.

Dr. Paquette introduced us to happiness-building practices in numerous areas including: gratitude, kindness and compassion, self-compassion, mindfulness, connection, optimism, and signature strengths. A series of exercises on each of these practices are included below. Have fun experimenting with one or more of these powerful practices to strengthen your happiness!

Lindsay Roznowski is a Licensed Professional Counselor providing individual and family therapy to children, adolescents, and adults. Specialties include trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy; yoga and mindfulness; therapeutic work with children and adolescents; and family therapy. Lindsay teaches her clients happiness practices and skills derived from positive psychology as a way to invest in themselves and their self-care, especially during these complicated times. She is a certified yoga teacher and uses her background dialectical behavior therapy, mindfulness-based approaches, and trauma-focused therapy to offer her clients informed, holistic care. She works collaboratively with each client to create a therapy plan that acknowledges the whole person and supports the fullness of each client’s personal goals. In addition to counseling, Lindsay also offers therapeutic groups and workshops. For questions or to schedule a session, contact Lindsay at 215-326-9665 or at