Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions. Dalai Lama
We all want to be happy, but it doesn’t just happen. In fact, there is a whole science now devoted to discovering what actions lead to happiness. The tricky part is that our brains have a negativity bias. Left on its own, the mind will look for problems to solve. This is not a bad thing, it is just what the brain does, tries to keep us safe.
The science of happiness has a lot to share about how to overcome this automatic tendency and create more happiness. This summer I have decided to take a deeper dive into this science to create a true happy summer from the inside out! Would you like to join me?
Lets be clear though, this is not Pollyanna! Positive psychology is not about ignoring the negative and only seeing the positive. This science teaches us to practice seeing the positive, savor it, and learn from it like we do with the negative. The difference is that when we are in a positive state of mind we are calmer and the brain can work on problems in a more creative, healthy way. The bonus is that in turn the body is calmer and better able to heal, fight disease and grow stronger.
You might notice especially in activities where the brain is not very active, like doing dishes, it wanders to problems. This is why meditation and yoga can be challenging, we realize how much our mind wanders. Funny, when we are trying to relax is the exact time our body and mind are susceptible to tension from worry or anxiety.
This is why mindfulness is called a practice. Learning to recognize when the mind has wandered and bring it back to the present is what mindfulness is all about. THAT is the practice, coming back to the present over and over again.
Here is the good news…. as humans we can choose where we put our attention. Better yet, we can train our brain to look for the good, to seek happiness. So in our Happy Summer adventure, our goal is to simply play around with this practice. If you want to join us this summer, you might dedicate a journal just to your happy summer project. This week, the goal is to simply write down three things that make us happy each day – beauty in nature, connecting with someone, accomplishing a task.
For more information about the science behind this, Dr. Rick Hanson has a helpful TED talk. In it he describes the process of HEAL. It stands for:
Have – a positive experience. We have them every day yet they can pass by unnoticed.
Enrich it. – bring it from the brain to the body. Feel it in the body instead of simply thinking about it.
Absorb it. Let is sink in for a few seconds. Really stay with the positive thoughts and feelings.
Link positive and negative material (optional). If you are struggling with a negative situation – you can then call it to mind and link it with the positive feeling. This is optional – simply the first three steps are so very powerful.
If you saw the documentary The Connection, you know this is powerful medicine for healing and well-being. Plus, it is just nice to spend a few extra minute in happiness each day. I look forward to sharing this Happy Summer adventure. Please comment on your thoughts and experiences.
May You Be Well,
Janet Huehls, MA, RCEP, CHWC