A few years back I reached a crossroads with my mind. I was sick and tired of being sad or pissed off. The anger didn't add any value to my life. It wasn't helpful; it wasn't inspiring. It wasn't motivating. The anger was a leech, and it made me feel mentally and physically exhausted.
It was when I decided that I wanted to be happy against all the odds that I realized happiness is a choice. When you make a decision not to let something bother you, you are choosing peace over anger, anxiety, sadness, etc. When you decide to focus on all the positives in a situation rather than the negatives, you are choosing happiness.
I don't want you to think what I'm about to cover with you is a bunch of hippy dippy pseudo-science that's more conceptual than actionable. Absolutely not. I recognize that retraining your brain to choose happiness is easier said than done, and here's why.
My brain doesn't help me. I deal with clinical depression and anxiety, so my brain doesn't exactly interpret life in the most blissful manner. I am not naturally wired to "go with the flow," relax or calmly assess situations. I am wired to expect the worst, prepare for the worst, and worry about things that I can't control. My brain is in a constant state of fight or flight, and I've had to learn over time through therapy and meditation how to recognize when my thoughts are drifting to a dark place, and correct them. It's through using these tools and processes that I have developed a happier mind
No. 1 Stop Finding the Negatives
I don't like the phrase "find the positive" because I believe it inaccurately describes how most people conceptualize situations. The phrase finding the positive implies that there's only a tiny positive aspect within a sea of negative. If you can find that spec and of positive and focus on it, eventually you won't notice all the negative happening around you. I disagree. I challenge that notion 100%. I think that we actually find the negative in a sea of positives and when we focus on that negative, we no longer appreciate all the positives around it or worse we no longer see the positives at all.
Here's a quick example:
Your husband is a kind, generous, and fun person. Essentially he's all the reasons why you chose to marry him, BUT he constantly leaves his dirty clothes on the floor. At first, you pick up after him, and then you start reminding him to do it himself, then you really start getting angry and annoyed about it because he just won't remember to do it. Eventually, you start coming home from a long sometimes stressful day of work, and you anticipate that ONCE AGAIN he's left his dirty clothes on the floor. Even before you walk in the door, you're already annoyed because you KNOW those clothes are going to be there. When you come home, you're subconsciously looking for those clothes.
What you're doing is looking for that negative in a sea of positive. Your sole focus becomes those clothes, and it extrapolates into something greater "he doesn't listen to me, he isn't thoughtful, he's selfish" and eventually all the great reasons why you chose to marry him get drowned out by what is upsetting you at that moment in time. Not only that, but the frustration hasn't brought you two any closer to resolving the issue. The only thing that's actually changed is you. You're less happy to go home, a place that could be your space to escape the world, relax, and find your peace.
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Here's a personal example:
Trust me, I know that this is such a petty frustration to have, but I think it's a good example because finding the negatives often leads us to dwelling on petty issues.
My dog Teddy is a sneak. For years, he and my cat Tobias get fed at the same time together every day, and they eat together every day. They've eaten this way since the day I brought Teddy home. Tobias is usually a bit slower about finishing his meal while Teddy inhales his food. Most of the time Tobias will leave a bit of food in his dish for later. Teddy recently picked up the habit of eating the rest of Tobias's food even licking the bowl clean. This is a brand new habit, and he knows he's not supposed to do it because he will wait until I leave the house.
It drives me nuts.
It's to the point where I come home and immediately look for Tobias's cat dish to see if Teddy ransacked it, and of course, he has. Every time, I get annoyed in anticipation and even more annoyed when I saw that of course he did and frustrated that he won't stop. Because I'm anticipating and looking for this negative, I am guaranteed to have an energy and mood shift, however slight, the minute I come home.
No.2 Become Mentally Agile
When I say become mentally agile, I'm referring to the ability to recognize a negative thought and make quick adjustments. When you're in tune with your thoughts, you start to realize how they make you feel. When those negative thoughts come in, and you feel them shift your mood take a moment to reconcile the thought rationally. When "I bet he left those clothes on the floor" pops into your head. Immediately shift that thought to "I can't wait to get home." "I'm excited to get into my comfy clothes." etc...
No. 3 Develop Tools & Processes
Daily gratitude reminders
Set an alarm during the day that reminds you to stop and think about things that made you happy today. It doesn't have to be a grand display. There is so much joy in appreciating the little things. Here's a real entry from my journal:
"I found the Earn Your Happy podcast and listened to Kate Mckibbin tell her story of blog success. It helped me put a lot of things into perspective and change my expectations."
As you can see it wasn't a huge grandiose event. It was one small part of my day that made me feel happy.
As I mentioned before, think about your happy moments, but go one step further and write them down. A couple of benefits of journaling is developing a greater understanding of yourself and seeing your progress as an individual. I remember looking at a journal entry from a year ago and thinking "Oooo weee I've made a lot of progress since then." That realization created yet another happy moment for me.
Make a game out of how many days in a row you can keep your mood elevated. The power of repetition is that your mental muscles strengthen over time. The stronger you become, the easier it is to choose happiness.
No. 4 You Won't Be Perfect
Don't be hard on yourself. Know that positive people aren't positive all the time, but they have tools and processes to help them recenter themselves whenever necessary. The worst thing you can do is beat yourself up because you had a bad day. Instead, recognize it, appreciate that your mental agility is such that you were able to recognize it at all and feel gratitude for that.
Happiness isn't a given; it's a choice. It takes work, but it's the most rewarding investment you'll ever make.
So what do you think? Was this post helpful or a bunch of hippy dippy fluff? Are you ready to try journaling and daily gratitude reminders? Talk to me in the comments below.