Unhappiness and negative thinking, work, family obligations, and the daily grind can drag us down into a pattern of negative thinking that becomes a vicious circle creating more stress, unhappiness and negative thinking. This negative thinking can so easily lead to further problems, such as anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue and insomnia, sending you spiralling further down that negative pathway. Brain research shows us that there are a variety of quite simple, inexpensive things we can do to increase our happiness and stop any potential downward spiral.
For a quick fix:
- Ask, “What am I grateful for?” No answers? Doesn’t matter, just searching helps.
- Label those negative emotions. Give it a name and your brain isn’t so bothered by it.
- Go for “good enough” instead of “best ever”
- Smile and Laugh – research has shown there are positive biological effects of smiling and laughing. When we smile, even a forced smile, the brain releases Dopamine, a chemical that actually produces feelings of happiness. Laughing places you in a relaxed state that can lower your blood pressure and heart rate and stimulate endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and improves your overall mood.
- Hug, hug, hug. Don’t text –touch. Hugging releases a chemical called Oxytocin that has many positive effects such as making us feel comforted and loved and increases our social bonds.
This really can start an upward spiral of happiness in your life. During a happiness course, or within a series of therapy/coaching sessions a variety of tools will be introduced that you may decide you wish to try, these although incredibly useful, are totally optional. some of these tools are described below.
Giving thanks - gratitude diary/journal
Tools that assist you to think differently and place your focus on the positive in your life break those negative vicious circles, particularly those found so frequently in depression, anxiety and stress, and assist you towards happiness. A great deal of research in recent decades has shown that one of these highly beneficial tools is the simple, and previously taken for granted, gratitude. Giving thanks for things in our lives that, when we actually think about it, we realise we are grateful are there.
Boosting gratitude does not cost any money, takes only a small amount of your time and yet holds enormous rewards. It really could have tremendous benefits for your quality of life.
Just look at a few of the proven benefits:
Improvement in physical health. For example according to a 2012 study in Personality and individual differences, grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people, researchers at the university of Connecticut found that gratitude can have a protective effect against heart attacks.
Positive emotions such as gratitude, act as a protective factor that reduces stress and increases our ability to handle unfavourable life events and assists people to sleep better, as shown in a 2011 study published in applied psychology: health and wellbeing.
It promotes relationships and attracts people to us (Bartlet, et al 2011) and according to a 2014 study published in Emotion, thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to pursue an on-going relationship.
These benefits are not only shown in adults, children who practice grateful ways of thinking have been shown to have more positive attitudes towards their families, towards school and to be more optimistic, report fewer negative thoughts and feelings and to feel overall more satisfied with their lives (Froh, Selfick & Emmons, 2008)
Keeping a weekly journal has also been shown to lead people to report fewer physical symptoms, better able to achieve their goals, exercise more, feel overall much happier, improve our health and to improve our lifespan.
Keeping a gratitude journal/diary has been shown to be the most effective strategy for increasing your level of gratitude. Here are some guidelines to assist you if you decide to keep your own gratitude journal:
1. Choose your diary/journal method – written or typed
Keep the diary daily preferably at the same time each day. To start the day in a positive way write it in the morning or for a positive start to a good nights sleep write it in the evening.
2. Write three things each day you are grateful for
Don’t worry if you find it hard to think of three things at first or at any time, just thinking about it has benefits and in time it will become easier and easier.
In a 2005 study by Martin Seligman, commonly known as the father of Positive Psychology, showed that writing three good things every day for one week led to increases in happiness that continued for six months.
However if time is short a variation on this is to write 5 things in your journal once a week, on the same day at roughly the same times.
3. Good descriptions are key
You don’t have to write an essay, a short paragraph for each is great, describing what it is about them and why you are grateful for these things, being as vivid as possible.
If you really are not a fan of writing, then rather than not doing it at all, why not try doodles, drawings or photos.
The things you choose for your gratitude diary can be from the things that have happened that day or positive events from your past and even those coming up in the future.
The gratitude diary has been shown to be especially effective when you focus on particular people you are grateful for to have (or have had) in your life.
4. Stay positive when writing
Remember it is highly beneficial to see the positive side of negative events and unhelpful to use negative terns such as, “don’t like” “don’t want”
Don’t worry if you find it difficult at first, you will be getting the benefits from simply trying to do it, just praise yourself and be grateful for what you can do, knowing it will get easier.
Don’t think, “I have had a bad day I am not doing it today”. Some days it can feel as if everything has gone wrong. But so often, even on those bad days, good things do happen as well, we are just less likely to notice them, and these are the days we can gain an extra benefit from remembering the good.
Always remember this is a tool to help you through the darkest of times and help you feel even better in the best of times, tuning your brain into a positive frequency and really helping you towards greater happiness.
Savouring Your Positive Experiences
Negative experiences are registered by the brain immediately because this is vital for survival. Negative experiences triumph over positive ones, which is why one bad experience with an animal, for example, is more memorable than100 good ones. Positive experiences, however, normally have to be held in awareness for 5 to 20 seconds if they are to register in emotional memory. Therefore positive experiences alone are not enough to promote lasting wellbeing, it is extremely important to knowingly and thoughtfully assist the brain to register positive experiences so they sink into the deepest part of your mind.
Often as we go through our day we are in automatic pilot, not paying full attention, something good happens, a small thing like we completed a section of our work, we had a great meal, we noticed the vibrant colours of painted buildings or the autumn leaves as we walked by etc., and in a few seconds we just let the positive occurrences that just pass us by.
STOP, pay attention, remind yourself they are good, acknowledge them, let yourself really savour these positive experiences, make it as intense as you can, recognise that this is an opportunity to think about then and register then and let yourself feel really good, practice this until it becomes a daily event and it will produce a lasting effect shown to increase your happiness.
A Little 'We Time'
Most of us recognise the importance of “me time” try a little “WE TIME”
In October 2015 I spent a wonderful week in Denmark, which has repeatedly been voted as one of the happiest countries in the world. It has been suggested that one of the reasons for this is the idea of “hygge.”
Hygge is a fundamentally drama free time of togetherness, a sort of cosy time for family and close friends. This is a time that is sacred and a central aspect of good living, where they all work together to make it happen.
In this special time of Hygge there are no disruptive discussions about family disputes, politics or cousin Rachel’s naughty children. No grumpiness, snide remarks, or excessive negativity. No one person is left to do the bulk of the work, everyone helps out. There is no competitiveness or one-upmanship. The outside world is just left outside to enjoy a time of light-heartedness where everyone is focussed on enjoying the moment, the food, and the company.
We can take a lesson from this as well as from the mountain of research that shows us how important social ties are for our well being, encourage and nurture your social ties, they can increase longevity, reduce stress and even boost your immune system. This can involve something as simple as ringing a friend you have not spoken to for a long time. Feeling connected to others gives meaning and purpose in our lives, which in turn increases your happiness. Why not arrange to see that person you have been meaning to catch up with for ages, don't put it off again, do it now.
Dedicating a specific time to follow the principles of Hygge can create a safe space for close freinds and families to be together without stress. However it does need everyone to want this and to work together to achieve it.
These are some examples of strategies you can use for yourself. If you feel you would like some help or more guidance in feeling happier then contact me for more information or to arrange a, no obligation, free initial consultation where we can meet each other and discuss how I can help you achieve your goals. The about me page explains more about me, my qualifications and my life. If you would like to discuss working together, I very much look forward to hearing from you.