I’ve been reading and following the research about happiness for over twenty years. Over this time, I have seen the effects we can have by making simple changes in what we allow to influence our thoughts. We all have ups and downs, which is natural, but it is generally agreed, that most of us want to be happy. I’ve put together a list of strategies that can change our outlook…to increase the positive influences in our lives while limiting things that bring us down. Many of these have been proven through research to help, and some, which are based on our current understanding of how the brain works, I’ve just found to be helpful on my own. All are designed to increase or highlight our happiness and sense of well-being.
It looks like some of our ability to be happy is genetically coded. In fact, genetics is thought to account for 50% of how happy we normally feel. We can’t control this portion, but it does means we have 50% which we can play with, and influence. Our brains are massive consumers of energy, but at the same time, they try to be as efficient as possible. Without our awareness, our brains are looking for patterns…categories to slot new information into for easy recall. I’m sure most have experienced this. When you are reading a particular style of magazine, home and garden for example, you start to see all the things you’d like to improve around your house and yard. If we immerse ourselves in anything, we start to see more of it. Ever buy a new-to-you car and suddenly start to notice all the other people who drive the same car?
Because of the patterning of memory and thought processing, our brains have uncontrollable biases based on the kind of information it has recently been analyzing and storing. At the beginning of most abnormal psychology text books, there is a disclaimer which states, do not be alarmed if when reading this, you feel you have many of these disorders. As we read, watch, or listen to something it creates fresh patterns of thinking. Our brain then wants to use these fresh patterns to view and categorize new information. Commercials use this principle as well. Marketing companies plant images and emotions into our brain so when we are hungry, we envision their burgers, or when our car needs replacing, we want their product. We see things based on how the brain has recently being patterned. Fortunately, with this knowledge, we can actually re-train our brains to see, notice, and feel more reasons to be happy.
Knowing how the brain works gives us tremendous power to influence how we think, feel, and react to situations…how we perceive what goes on around us. A number of the suggestions I pose here work on this powerful principle. Try some. Try them all. Every one might not be a match for you, but I have no doubt that by implementing some of these strategies, you can increase your happiness, and the happiness of those around you.
Train your brain to find events that make you happy.
Get yourself a journal, or set up a document on a tablet. Dedicate a few minutes a day, to increase your happiness. Every night, write down three things that made you happy that day. Write three sentences about each one. This can be something you did, an accomplishment, something that happened to you by chance…it doesn’t matter. Don’t cut corners here…our brains need to focus and think about what it was that made us happy, and why. Doing this regularly will subconsciously train our brains to look closer for events and encounters in our day that make us happy.
Sometimes we have crappy days…days when we’d be hard-pressed to think of anything that made us happy. At the end of each day, give some thought to what you can be grateful about. A friend, a relationship, something that happened in your past. It doesn’t matter what it is or was. If you can’t think of anything that made you happy on a given day, think of something you feel grateful about and make a note of it in your journal.
Remember and celebrate your successes.
Success is very personal thing. We all define it differently, but if you feel good about something you’ve achieved it is a success. Maybe you received a complement, achieved something you were working towards, got a good mark on a quiz. If you feel good about an accomplishment, write it down in your journal. It is important to celebrate and remember our successes. It doesn’t need to be a big celebration, but there should be a mental recognition or a personal pat on the back.
Help people with acts of kindness.
This is absolutely my favourite. Help as many people as you can, making sure you help at least one person each and every day. And, of those people, try and make one of them someone you don’t know. It can be anything you think will make a difference for someone. Hold a door open, wish someone a nice day, or lend a hand. You can even re-post a blog article, buy an author’s book…anything counts. Studies have shown that when we are kind to someone else, not only do they feel good, but we also feel good. As an added benefit, acts of kindness increase the likelihood that both parties will go on and do further acts of kindness for someone else. It creates a spreading positive feedback loop. Record any acts of kindness in your journal at the end of the day.
Like I mentioned above, our brains group certain reactions, feelings, and behaviours together. We generally smile when we are happy, or laughing. Our brains have these linked together in a pattern and we can use this to our advantage. Even if we don’t feel happy, if we smile, it tricks our brain into thinking we are happy. If our brain thinks we’re happy, we start to see things that make us happier. Also, when we smile, it makes people around us smile and feel happier.
Tune in next week for part 2 of the Ultimate Quick Guide to Increased Happiness. Until then, try these consistently and let me know how they work for you.
You can now link to Part 2 here.
Wishing you well,
You can find more articles on writing, happiness, and other areas of thought stimulation on the Silas Payton Blog.
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Image by Kevin Stanchfield on Flickr