Recently, I read Hardwired for Happiness by Rick Hanson, PhD. Since happiness is a key component to mental health, I think his tips can benefit us all.
He says when we feel included, appreciated, and cared about, we have a sense of ease, and feel cheerful and confidant. These feelings are attached to our three core needs for safety, satisfaction and connection. In order to meet those needs and attain peace, contentment, and love, we work to avoid harm, approach rewards, and attach to others.
Unfortunately, our brains are hardwired to go for the negative to help us survive. Focusing on the negative becomes a habit. So what do we do?
Our brain sometimes gets in the way. It’s hardwired to go negative to help us survive. This dates back to the Stone Age when people had to worry about the possibility of a tiger in the bush. Nine out of ten times, there wasn’t a tiger. But, if they let their guard down and didn’t prepare for the negative possibility, didn’t reinforce their fears, the consequences could be fatal.
That focus on the negative becomes a habit. When we have our yearly review, we focus on the one slightly negative comment from our boss and disregard the many accolades we received. We’ve worked hard to make a sale that falls apart at the last moment. We see it as a never-ending series of failures into the future. What we focus on grows. We must learn to catch ourselves and turn our mind to a positive experience.
It may sound a bit hokey at first because it’s a change in our normal survival behavior. But what we’re doing is practicing a new behavior. Instead of ramping ourselves up with one negative thought after another, increasing our anxiety and worry, we allow ourselves to notice, without judgment, the pleasant feelings in our body.
Dr. Rick Hanson in his book HARDWIRING HAPPINESS, (www.rickhanson.net/books/hardwiring–happiness) suggests focusing on a pleasant experience, enriching and absorbing it. Let’s try it by focusing on your breath as it easily moves in and out of your nose. Place your entire focus on your breath. Notice what it feels like to watch your breath. Move your body a little to allow yourself to breathe deeper. Add a half smile to your face. Allow the pleasure of the sensations to sink into your body, just like a drop of food coloring permeates the water in a glass, slowly and effectively changing the clear water to blue. You just had a pleasant experience that you enriched and absorbed. Try it later when you eat your lunch, allowing yourself to have another experience of mindfulness. Practice it with these tips for developing happiness in your life.
First, allowing yourself to be open to change is one way to increase happiness in your life. We oftentimes do the same thing over and over. We drive the same way to work, put on our right sock first, brush our teeth before washing our face at night. Life becomes routine. By changing simple activities, you open yourself to new experiences and build greater confidence. These little rewards encourage you to try other changes.
Another way to increase our happiness is to compare ourselves to others. If you’re like most people, you probably thought I meant comparing ourselves to someone who is better off than you are. NOT! Begin looking at all the many ways you are more fortunate than others. Maybe you stayed in a hotel last night, had someone prepare and serve your breakfast, put on a new outfit. Your car didn’t break down. You aren’t in the hospital. You’re getting a paycheck this week. By developing an attitude of gratitude you increase your sense of ease and contentment.
A third way to improve happiness learning to self-regulate and create balance in our lives. Few Americans get enough sleep. Many sit too long and don’t find time for any exercise. Others choose food and/or alcohol to help them relax and feel comfortable. Far too many of us work too many hours. All of these activities increase our stress and shorten our patience. Finding balance between activity and rest, between nourishment and satisfaction gives us a healthy sense of control and builds our self-esteem and self-confidence.
Attach to Others
Developing community helps us satisfy our core need for attachment and is a fifth tip for increasing happiness. Use your passion to start a bookclub, a parent happy hour at the local park while the kids play, a potluck supper club, a study group, a singles dance group, a walking group. Volunteer to help people in need. When you find something that you have in common with one other person, you’ve started a community. Through our communities, we can learn new things both about ourselves and others that can help us in our career, our home life, and our personal life. We feel supported, nurtured and appreciated, all components of happiness.
Finally, release your inner child. Do you remember laying in a field looking at the clouds, pointing out the giant, the bear, the duck? How about laying on the floor with a friend, their head on your tummy and you start to laugh. Find ways to play and laugh. Get out in nature. Practice being less judgmental and more curious. Having fun is crucial to being happy. Enjoy it!
I’ve given you five ideas for increasing your happiness by being open to change, having an attitude of gratitude, creating balance, developing community and having fun. I hope you’ll experiment with them to overcome your Stone Age brain that is filled with fear, frustration and heartache and find peace, contentment, and love.
If you’re having trouble practicing these skills, I’d be glad to help you . Give me a call at 404.518.0828 to set up an appointment. . . Dr. Sharman Colosetti