What’s in a verb?
Shopping. Running. Walking. Eating. These are all forms of a verb used to express action or a state of doing things. If you want to shop, you go shopping. If you want to run, you go running. But what if you want to experience happiness? How do you do happy? You guessed it – go happy-ing! Sure, there is no such word as “happy-ing” but it’s an interesting concept, nonetheless. Just hear us out…
Understanding our thoughts
Evolutionary reasons tied to survival have wired the human brain to pay more attention to negative experiences. Research shows that 80% of a person’s thoughts are negative, and 95% of these negative thoughts are carried over from day to day because negative thoughts are stored longer and are also easier to recall than positive ones. There are so many things around us to be happy about, but with negative thoughts being so automatic, it’s easy to overlook a lot of the little things that make a big difference in our our overall happiness.
According to Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, experiencing positive emotions (i.e. awe, interest, gratitude, amusement, etc.) broadens our minds and builds our resourcefulness, enabling us to become more resilient in the face of adversity. Based on years of research, Dr. Fredrikson has found that if we want more positivity in our lives we need to experience positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio to negative emotions. Maximizing our potential and truly flourishing in this life isn’t about eliminating negative emotions. Not only is that impossible to do, but as we highlighted above negative thoughts serve a purpose. Instead, it’s about finding harmony. When we are experiencing negative emotions we must grant ourselves a little grace and just acknowledge them as normal, human brain function. Then, make it a point to seek out positive emotions to help balance out your experiences.
If you want an easy, fun way to incorporate happiness into your life, Dr. Fredrickson suggests a few easy steps to follow:
1. Make a list of positive emotions that are meaningful to you (i.e. inspiration, pride, creativity, interest, joy…).
2. Now, for each positive emotion, write down ways in which you have experienced this emotion. Be as detailed as possible.
3. Pick one positive emotion to focus on for one week at a time.
4. Keep a “Negative Emotion Tally” for each day of the week. The point isn’t to keep track of every fleeting negative emotion, just the ones you get stuck in. If you catch yourself incessantly worrying about something or you’re in a bad mood because you’re frustrated with a person or event, make a tally! For every one tally mark, make it a point to experience your chosen positive emotion three times. Looking at the ways in which you have experienced that emotion, think of things you can do to make you feel that way again. If it’s a person that makes you feel the emotion, go talk to them. If it’s an activity, take 15 minutes out of your day to do that activity. And each week, pick a new emotion and do the same. It’s simple but effective!
The point is that negative emotions are inevitable and because they occupy so much of our mind without a lot of effort, it’s easy to overlook – and take for granted – all the things in our lives that bring us happiness. So if we are actively filling our days with positive emotions and events to balance out our experiences, we can live happier lives. When is the last time you went happy-ing?