In our rigorous pursuit of happiness, we often forget that inspiration—along with its cousins elevation and awe—are positive emotions that make us feel more content, joyful, and satisfied with our lives. YouTube and Facebook are nearly endless sources of videos that have the potential to move and inspire us (and, I know, also ones that don’t). For example, I made this video to inspire people to pursue the things that really make us happy. Similarly, the walls in my office, bedroom, and kitchen are covered in quotations and poems that inspire me. (Called “Thursday Thoughts;” they, too, are posted on my blog.)
Awe comes with a wonderful bonus: It can make you feel less pressed for time and less impatient. Since time pressure and impatience can make your ratio of positive to negative emotions go in the wrong direction, it seems that there is always a two-for-one special running in the awe department.
You can awe yourself with a grand landscape or by reading about a mind-expanding theory or by contemplating something that changes the way you think about the world. Researchers induce awe in volunteers fairly simply by showing them video clips of people facing awesome things like waterfalls and whales or by having them write about something that was vast and altered their perception of the world.
Once you find sources of inspiration and awe, connect to them regularly. Again, one size doesn’t fit all. If it is your church, make sure you show up on Sunday. If it is your study group, stay involved. If it is nature, schedule regular hikes. If it is a guided meditation, listen daily. You get the point.
Along the same lines, optimism, hope, faith, excitement, and confidence are also all positive emotions that can dramatically improve our ratios of positive to negative emotions. Happy anticipation, or excitement, is a particularly easy-to-access positive emotion: Plan something fun for next week or later this season, and then do something to build excitement. For example, if you are going to a sporting event or play with a friend, send your friend an “I’m so excited!” email, or let yourself read a review or article about the team or event. Studies show that positive anticipation can bring us as much or more pleasure than the actual event itself!
This post is from a series about flourishing from the “Science of Finding Flow,” an online course I created as a companion to my book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less. Want to go on to the next class or start the course from the beginning? It’s free! Just go to The Science of Finding Flow course page. Enjoy!