6 Happiness Tips From the Founder of Positive Psychology

 (Highlighting photos again today from Russ Moorehead on Instagram)

I recently read a wonderful book by Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology. The discipline studies HAPPINESS. (Can we get an amen?)

There is a part I think you will like.

25 years of research says there’s a way to kiss good-bye to some types of doldrums and most depressions. (Yes, depression!)

Martin says: Moral exercise is one antidepressant tactic we need

I like it. 

Traditionally, many people have relied on families, churches, and nations to provide them with these opportunities for moral exercise. But as people shift or move or find themselves for whatever reason without a community, these are golden ideas you can do on your own. It would also be incredible to join with some families in the neighborhood and work on carrying some of these ideas out.

A personal note: That bit about relying on a church environment for many of these opportunities? Yes, that was me. And it really is brilliant if you have that. Though right now I feel less connected to that church community here. And so…I’m thankful for some new ideas.

So have at it. Here are 6 moral exercises you can do to cultivate more happiness and prevent more depression. Martin suggests adopting at least one.

1. Put aside 5 percent of last year’s taxable income to give away, not to charities like United Way, which do the work for you; you must give the money away yourself, personally. Among potential recipients in the charitable field you are interested in, you must advertise that you are giving away $3,000 (or whatever) and for what general purposes. You must interview prospective grantees and decide among requests. You give out the money and follow its use to a successful conclusion.

BAM. Isn’t this idea fantastic?! I love, love this idea. Too often donating money means handing it over to an organization. But this! Advertising? Interviewing? This is would be a game changer. This would be an intimate experience with a cause that you care about. 

2. Give up some activity which you do regularly for your own pleasure— eating out once a week, watching a rented movie on Tuesday night, playing video games when you come home from work, shopping for new shoes. Spend this time (the equivalent of an evening a week) in an activity devoted to the well-being of others or of the community at large: helping in a soup kitchen or a school- board campaign, visiting AIDS patients, cleaning the public park, fund-raising for your alma mater. Use the money you saved by canceling the pleasurable activity to further that cause.

Have you done anything like this? I grew up giving up 2 meals on the first Sunday of the month, and then the money was donated to someone in need (via our church). I still think it’s a beautiful practice! Though I like the idea of rotating it around and giving up other things, too. Also, sometimes this practice feels routine as it’s just something I’ve always done. I definitely need to put some more intention into it. I think it would help to find a person on my own that I could help. 

3. When asked by a homeless person for money, talk to him. Judge as well as you can if he will use the money for nondestructive purposes. If you think he will, give it to him (give no less than five dollars).

We’ve gotten into the mode where we don’t care how someone will use the money. That moment of judgement is not needed and does not leave you feeling good. We try to look past any destructive behavior and focus more on what we can do to show them some humanity. 

4. Frequent areas where you will find beggars, talking to the homeless and giving money to the ones in true need. Spend three hours per week doing this.

I don’t have very much experience with this. But it happened once recently – in San Francisco. We did this very thing. And I wonder now why we don’t do it more often. 

5. When you read of particularly heroic or despicable acts, write letters: fan letters to people who could use your praise and mend-your-ways letters to people and organizations you detest. Follow up with letters to politicians and others who can act directly. Spend three hours per week at this. Do it slowly. Compose the letters every bit as carefully as you would a crucial report for your company.

Love this. I could be better about writing letters. Though I have tried to use social media to support and praise people who are doing something I believe in. 

6. Teach your children how to give things away. Have them set aside one-fourth of their allowance to give away. They should discover a needy person or project to give this money to, personally.

Love all you parents who try to teach your kids to be giving!


I’d love to know: Do you do anything of these things? Do you have a community where you do them or is that lacking for you? If you could start up one of these between now and Thanksgiving, which one would you do? Writing it down here or elsewhere will make it more likely to happen.  🙂 

With all my love,


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  1. DanandEmily September 15, 2015 at 2:14 am - Reply

    My 4 year old daughter and I love to go downtown in our city and visit the homeless…she uses the money she earns selling lemonade to buy candy and water bottles to hand out….every time we do this we are both beaming with happiness! She always says "I love letting my light shine when I give people candy!"

    • mara September 15, 2015 at 2:31 am - Reply

      ADORABLE! You are such a sweet mama. Thanks for teaching your daughter how to be generous. So, so beautiful.

  2. Anonymous September 15, 2015 at 4:10 am - Reply

    Thanks for the article and comments! The loving kindness and generosity here are palpable! Just to balance the points about giving to people who are homeless:


    The case study linked at the bottom of the article is also interesting. Not trying to discredit goodwill toward those who are homeless. Just a note that what makes one feel good may not be best for those receiving the help.

    • Anonymous September 15, 2015 at 1:47 pm - Reply

      That's interesting… but the thing is they need to spend it quickly for generally they get stolen in the streets, they can't put food in the fridge or clothes in a closet, they can't pay rent…so it's kind of obvious they need to spend it quickly. Even for those who create a tent to store their things, they generally get stolen. They are doing the most reasonable thing they can with their extreme situation. We cannot demand from them to have the same kind of "rational" actions that we can as we have a place to live, means to store things, a bank to keep our money, we can predict our near future, we feel safe generally, they can't and they don't . I guess the easiest thing is to ask them what do they need to feel better at this moment, or something they need to be more comfortable. I tend to buy stuff from the supermarket. I am going to the market, do you need something? Sometimes they need a new underwear, toothbrush, condoms, they are hungry or thirsty….Sometimes they need money to pay a place to stay at night…or they want to offer their kid a gift for their birthday… There are so many ways to help…

  3. Laura September 15, 2015 at 4:20 am - Reply

    Such a great article! I graduated from college in April and subsequently entered the corporate world. I definitely think that my school (which has a long history of students doing community service) helped me think about the needs of others quite often. Now, I don't get quite as many reminders. This was a great wake-up call.

    Also, if you two are ever in Denver, be sure to check out http://www.soallmayeat.org/. I volunteered there every week during my senior year of high school. Working alongside wealthy businessmen and homeless women to prepare healthy, delicious, locally-sourced food was so incredibly rewarding. Everyone is equal at SAME Cafe and I felt a whole lot of love every time I was there. I miss it!

  4. jana chambers September 15, 2015 at 2:22 pm - Reply

    l love this! Just recently I read the book "A million miles in a thousand years" which I highly recommend. In it he speaks of how to create a meaningful life and become the hero of your own story! It basically boiled down to service and love. It really made me think how I can also help my boys become the heroes of their own great story and I came up with giving them real opportunities to serve so they can feel like they are really doing something worthwhile and something that makes a difference. How awesome to gain that kind of confidence at such a young age… I would imagine it would influence how they make choices as the get older. Anyway…I just love this idea of truly making time to serve! THanks for sharing this post!

  5. Kevin Rhodes September 18, 2015 at 6:11 am - Reply

    Happiness and sorrow both the words are looks simple but sounds more; these are nothing but just two words which we found in our feelings and emotions. Therefore we used to do work to develop our happiness and subtract our sorrow; normally people are involving in different issues in order to get happiness and therefore from here we should learn some good instructions on how to stay happy in every situation. I would like to pick some of the instructions from here to develop my knowledge.

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