The first time I saw the “100 Happy Days” challenge on Facebook, I thought: “Surely, I have time for happiness. I mean, what better thing is there to have time for in life than happiness?” Before three months were up, I lost track of completing this challenge .
Why was this challenge so hard to complete? According to scientific research, human beings are innately predisposed to remember the negative events in life more than they remember the positive. This is just how our brains are hardwired: there may have been some evolutionary advantages to remembering the bad.
So, how do we outsmart our biology? Use the following suggestions to help replace negativity and begin sowing the seeds of happiness in your life.
Find one thing each day that you are happy about.
I know I just told you about how I failed at this challenge three months in. However, research suggests that in order to change some of the negative biases our brains experience, we must practice retraining our brains to focus on the positive. While it is initially a challenge for most of us to find things to be happy about in our lives, we can begin to see subtle changes in our thinking with enough practice. It actually becomes easier to find things that we are genuinely excited about on a daily basis.
Take time to express gratitude towards others.
This may sound corny and rote, but it is so important. Research studies on gratitude all suggest there are physical, psychological, and emotional benefits associated with expressing gratitude. Then, there’s the added benefit of increasing happiness in the lives of our loved ones as well, as we thank them for doing the things that matter most to us.
Be kind to yourself.
So many of us practice negative self-talk on a continual basis. This often occurs so quickly, that we lack awareness that we are even doing this. Why does this matter? By practicing loving kindness in our self-statements, we are also practicing self-acceptance. It simply does us no good to be harsh in our self-appraisals. Self-criticism can, however, lead to more negative things like anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression.
Practice positive affirmations.
This may sound cliché, but positive affirmations really do work to increase our happiness. They do this by assisting us in rewiring the neural pathways in our brains. This, in turn, can lead to increased immune system functioning as well as increased endorphins, which are our bodies’ natural “feel good” drugs. Simply repeat statements such as: “I am happy about my life, and my happiness is a daily choice that I make.”
Embrace empathy and work towards forgiveness in your life.
There is a quote that is widely circulated in 12 step programs which suggests that hatred is like a poison, which we inject into ourselves but all the while expect that it will kill our enemy. A growing body of research suggests that by holding grudges against others we may be unknowingly contributing to potentially negative and adverse effects on our health! What do they recommend to limit the harmful effects of anger, negativity, and resentment in your life? Happiness researchers suggest finding room for forgiveness of past hurts and working to increase our empathy towards others.
Although, statistically speaking, the majority of us simply do not believe we have time to observe 100 moments of happiness in our lives, this does not mean that happiness is an elusive goal for everyone. In fact, many therapists and researchers alike would argue that in order to truly find happiness, we can begin by noticing any negative tendencies in our thoughts and then working to replace these negative thoughts with slightly more positive thinking. This is the art of happiness; the secret to transforming negativity, and it comes one small thought at a time.