How do you describe happiness? Is it being bubbly all the time or having a constant smile on your face? When researchers look at happiness they look at two different things: a person’s emotional state – do they feel like they are experiencing more positive emotions than negative emotions? – and how they look at their life. So, addressing happiness, or coming up with ways to be happier, means addressing and changing your mindset.
Happiness is a lot like weight, according to Acacia Parks, Ph.D., chief scientist at Happify and associate professor of psychology at Hiram College. Just like some people can eat whatever they want without gaining weight, some people are just naturally happy, while others have to work at it. “If a person is naturally overweight and they exercise on a regular basis, and they eat a reasonable diet – they’re going to offset that weight set point and they’re going to weigh less than that as long as they continue those behaviors,” Parks told The Mighty. “It’s the same with happiness… There is always work that can be done to improve where you are in terms of happiness, but like exercise and diet you can’t just do it for a week and be like ‘OK, I’m done with that.’ As soon as you stop, you go back to where you were.”
One way to build happiness, and the key part of February’s My Mighty Month challenge, is to practice gratitude. A simple way to do this is by keeping a happiness jar. Every night, right before bed, look back on your day and think of three good things that happened that day, write them down and put them in your jar. “At first people will find this to be very hard because people, in general, have this bias towards remembering negative things that happen,” Parks said. “But the more they do it, the more they get in the habit of noticing good things that happen to them and the more they are able to start to correct that bias. So at the end of the day your memory isn’t spoiled by one or two bad things that happened.”
Part of feeling happy has to do with memory, Parks said. “If my memory is bias and all I remember are bad things, I’m more likely to say ‘Wow, my life sucks, my life is stressful, my life is terrible.’ But, if I can remember the good things, I don’t even need to create any more good things, I just need to actually give them credit.” You can also turn this into a social exercise by picking a partner and spending time at the end of every day to each share your three good things.
For those prone to negative thinking, H’Sien Hayward, Ph.D., a San Francisco-based psychologist, recommends being mindful of your thoughts. If you catch yourself thinking negatively, catch that thought and pay attention to it. Do an evidence-gathering exercise and look for all the reasons why your negative thought is true, as well as evidence that it’s false. Then come up with a new statement that is more accurate. “What we find with most negative thoughts is that they aren’t 100 percent true, even though they feel like it,” Hayward said. “So the trick is to take that thought, like ‘I can’t be happy,’ and make it more true… like ‘I can be happy if I do certain things,’ or ‘I can be happy in different ways.’ And what it does is take the punch or the sting out of negative thinking.”
– Jordan Davidson
Read more: Can You Really Be Happier in 30 Days?
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