Over 40 years of research from top psychologists shows that what you think affects how you feel. And on the whole, negative thoughts lead to negative emotions and positive thoughts lead to positive ones.
The good news: You can train your mind to think about what’s going right (as opposed to what’s going wrong) and in so doing, create a lasting habit that will boost your positive emotions. To increase the frequency of positive emotions, you need to train your brain to focus on them, rather than succumb to habitual negativity hunting. And like any muscle, you’ve got to use it—or lose it.
1. Tune Your Happiness Radar
Ask yourself, “What’s good about my life right now?” It can be a big thing, like, say a promotion, or a small thing, like enjoying a good laugh. This is what helps you change the channel on your mental radar and tune in to the good stuff.
2. Write It Down
Rather than let these moments slip away, extend their positive effects by committing them to paper (or to Evernote, for that matter). Call it a gratitude list, call it whatever you like. The important thing is that you make a habit of writing down 3 to 5 things every day that are going well. And every day, they have to be different. This leads you to actively seek out new ones.
Can’t think of anything? Consider these:
- What’s been going well at work that you’re excited about or proud of?
- What small comforts have you enjoyed today—a delicious latte, a yummy lunch? Maybe you’re wearing your favorite shirt.
- What’s going well with your health? Rather than focus on the headache, think about the fact that you’re strong and energized. Maybe your mother is feeling better or your son is sleeping well again. These are good things too.
- We talked about how your emotion radar is always scanning for future threats. Let’s recalibrate it so that it becomes attuned to moments and experiences of happiness.
3. Bask in the Afterglow
Just the act of focusing on what’s working can have a palpable physical effect on your body.
Your body: Your breathing will be deeper and slower, your heartbeat will settle into a steady slow rhythm. Feel your muscles relax.
Your mind: Recognize that your attention right now is on the fact that all is well. No alarms going off, nothing to fear. Feel that soothing hum and glow in your mind. That’s happiness.
Your behavior: In this moment, you no longer are engaging in restless behavior. You may feel lighter, smile more easily, even have ideas you might not have entertained when you were caught up in a stressful moment.
4. Repeat tomorrow.
And the day after that. And so on.