A few weeks ago during family dinner I announced that due to the increasing number of complaints about my cooking, the family could only say what they liked about the meal and keep their dislikes to themselves.
I was really hoping this would be a great family lesson in happiness and gratitude. But, then my daughter Charlotte piped up, “Oh, I get it. You will know what I don’t like by me telling you what I do like about dinner.”
Negativity is catching.
Often, I catch myself pushing aside the positive and focusing on the negative. But there is good news! You can change your brain’s “negative habits” because of neuroplasticity. By simply practicing certain behaviors you can re-sculpt your brain.
So, if you want a little more happiness in your life, you just have to think happy.
To get an understanding of your negative thinking try this exercise.
- Get two pieces of paper.
- Write “Things I am good at” on one sheet and on the second sheet write, “Things I am bad at.”
- Set a timer for one minute and write out as many things you can think of that you are good at.
- Set the timer again for one minute and write out as many things as you can thing of that you are bad at.
- Now compare the two lists. Which list is longer? How does your mood change after reading one list versus the other list?
- Destroy the “Things you are bad at list.” You are not bad at things, just inexperienced. Inexperienced people can choose to become experienced. Choice is a happy thought. (Just think of a dessert menu)
Thinking happy is not about making everything smell like roses.
Thinking happy is choosing to ruminate on what makes your heart smile. It is seeing what is good about a person, place, or situation as component of your mental evaluation. Instead of growing an attitude of wrong and right, good and bad, thinking happy cultivates a perspective of wellness.
The song “It Is Well with My Soul” by Horatio G. Spafford, 1873, sings about unearthing what is healthy and comforting in our souls in mist of great hardship. It teaches a person’s heart to sing confidently in the face of despair.
Try this out next week. Set your timer to go off every hour and for one minute think about something that makes your heart happy. See what happens to your perspective through out the day. If you want stronger muscles you have to make weight lighting a habit. The same rule applies to your brain.
If you want a happier neurological make-up, practicing happy is helpful.
So, keep trying and perhaps when the next unlikable situation happens in your life your mind will be up for the challenge. Perhaps my children will grasp this concept someday? In the mean time I will continue to make horribly tasting suppers.
NOTE: People who have depression cannot get better by just “thinking happy.” Thinking happy can be a useful tool in the treatment of depression but depressed people cannot just think happy and get better. Medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, and social supports are all part of a balanced approach in the treatment of depression.