Have you seen it yet? “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2” is in theaters and smashing box office records. J. K. Rowling, the creator of the “Harry Potter” series, is one of the world’s most successful novelists, with an estimated net worth of approximately 1 billion dollars!Would you believe that just 15 years ago, this same woman was a struggling single mother, living on welfare? And her first “Harry Potter” manuscript was rejected by publishers a dozen times! Rowling’s life story is an extraordinary example of how hard work and perseverance pay off.But what about this woman has made her so successful? Does she have natural strengths that helped her overcome such overwhelming adversity and find happiness?Research suggests that certain positive characteristics, known as our character strengths, can play an important role in happiness. Three strengths that predict life satisfaction (an overall assessment of how good one’s life is) are hope, gratitude and love.QUIZ: What’s Your Level of Life Satisfaction? You may be inclined to one of these strengths more than the others, but bear in mind that you can develop (and improve) all of them. Read on to learn how.HOPEMany people believe that hard work will bring about a brighter future. This isn’t surprising; successful people like J. K. Rowling often attribute positive thinking to overcoming unfavorable odds and seeing their dreams come true. Researchers have investigated such claims by studying hope (also known as optimism) as a way to improve happiness.How to use this strength: An 8-week experiment revealed that participants who practiced an optimism exercise reported increases in happiness when compared to a control group. These participants were instructed to write about their ideal future self. For example, one week they wrote about their best possible future romantic life, imagining everything to be perfect. Your assignment: Once a week, try writing about your ideal future 5 years from now. Write about several different topics: your best possible family life, romantic life, career situation, social life, community involvement and physical/mental health. Give yourself the chance to imagine things just the way you would like them to be.GRATITUDEIt’s easy to focus on the negative things. Our view of the good that happens each day can be obscured when we want something that we don’t have. Gratitude is recognizing and appreciating the positives things in life, even if some of our desires remain unfulfilled. It’s important to express thanks for our good fortune, no matter how small it may seem. This serves as a satisfying and crucial reminder of what is going well in our lives.MORE: Ways to Express GratitudeHow to use this strength: The same 8-week study I mentioned previously also found that writing letters of gratitude once a week caused increases in happiness, relative to a control writing activity. Participants were instructed to address the letter to someone such as a parent, friend, teacher, or close relative. Next, they wrote about why they were grateful to this individual, how the individual affected their life, what they were doing now and how often they remember the efforts of this person. Try writing these letters of gratitude once a week and remember that sending them is optional!LOVEAs I discussed in a previous Cloud Nine article, love is a powerful way to experience joy and emotional healing. The ability to express love toward others depends on feeling unconditional love toward yourself. If you develop this strength, you may find that unfortunate circumstances and negative emotions have far less of a painful impact.MORE: How Love is a Beauty TreatmentHow to use this strength: Loving kindness meditation is a technique that will help you practice loving yourself and others. One 9-week experiment found that, relative to a wait-list control group, practicing loving kindness meditation caused experiences of positive emotions, which in turn produced greater happiness. To try this meditation, find a quiet place, sit comfortably and silently repeat the following phrases to yourself for about 5 minutes:
- May I be happy and peaceful.
- May I be free from fear or pain.
- May I live with love and compassion.
- May I fully awaken and be free.
Next, direct these same phrases toward a loved one for an additional 5 minutes. Finally, try addressing an acquaintance that you don’t know very well. If you are willing, you can also use these phrases to cultivate love for strangers and even all living beings! The power of the love you experience during this practice may surprise you.STRENGTHS AND HAPPINESSSome of these strengths may seem natural and easy to do. If this is the case, choose the strengths that work best for you and use them to pursue happiness. You may also find it worthwhile to practice using strengths that don’t come to you as naturally. Either way, using these strengths will help bridge the gap between your daily habits and happiness.If you diligently practice these scientifically tested techniques, you may discover other abilities that will serve you well on your life journey.Enjoy uncovering them!