Are you happy? You might not know how to answer, and that’s okay. Our sense of happiness can change from day to day, which is totally normal. There are always going to be everyday stressors and problems that crop up here and there. But the more we focus on the negative things that happen in our lives, the less happy we tend to feel.
Living a happier life sounds like something out of a romantic comedy, but there are actually ways to make yourself happier. A lot of happiness does depend on circumstance and structural barriers, which are often out of our control. Think about things like poverty, generational trauma, or systematic oppression. These things are hard to change on an individual level in this country, especially without widespread change structurally.
While fighting for change institutionally is important to help more people live happier lives, it’s also important to work on things you can change yourself. One thing you can control is the way you react to things and your attitude. There might be days where finding the positive is tough, or you genuinely feel miserable, but when you make it a practice to cultivate positive emotions, you’ll be more prepared to face them.
One way to increase your long-term happiness is by making it a practice to cultivate positive emotions. We often think of emotions as unchangeable or impossible to control, but we actually have more of a choice than we think when it comes to our emotions. It’s important to remember here that emotions or feelings aren’t facts. If you’re feeling a rush of anger or impatience, that isn’t the only possible emotion to experience at that time. There’s probably a reason you’re feeling that emotion, but when you take the time to notice it happening, you have more control over where your reaction goes.
Learning how to tune out the negative thoughts and feelings that come up almost automatically is tricky. It’s a habit you’ve learned, so it will take time to unlearn. If you’re looking to cultivate positive emotions and increase your sense of happiness, here are some ways to start:
Mindfulness is a practice that teaches you to savor the present moment. There are many ways to practice mindfulness, from walking in nature to meditation, but essentially it means to focus on the present. Anything that helps you focus your mind on what’s happening in the present can be mindful. The key with mindfulness is to let go of judgment. When thoughts and feelings come up as you’re trying to be mindful, don’t judge yourself or feel like you’re not doing a good job. Gently redirect your mind. Repeat to yourself “Let that thought pass me by” or something similar to redirect your thoughts on what’s happening.
It’s pretty common for people to feel their feelings and accept them as truth, but that’s just because we don’t do a good job of teaching people how to deal with their emotions as a society. The first step is to notice what your feelings are. When you feel an emotion pop up, be curious about it. Ask yourself about it – what prompted it? What’s the full story? What else might be causing these feelings? What’s the other person’s story? Keep exploring where the feeling is coming from and what it’s trying to tell you. Emotions are great little messengers, but we have to learn how to decipher them.
Believe in yourself
Even if you have to fake it till you make it, try to approach new situations with confidence. When insecurity or fear pop up, remind yourself that those feelings aren’t the only option. Give yourself a mantra or affirmation to hold onto in moments where you doubt yourself. Repeat it to yourself regularly. When you get in the habit of questioning your instinct to doubt yourself, it will be easier to move forward with confidence.
Be nice to Someone
A stranger, your mom, your future self – prove to yourself that there is kindness and goodness in the world. Start by being nice to yourself and see how that feels. Branch out to do something nice for someone else at least once a day. Pay someone a compliment, offer someone a ride, treat someone to a meal, give to a cause, give money to the person on the corner, whatever it is, lead with kindness and empathy.
Change your Language
Your brain is listening to you. Take advantage of that and use your language to shift your thinking. Some words to try to eliminate from your vocabulary are “try”, “should” “have to” and “can’t”. Relying on these words tells your brain that you’re expecting the worst. When you say something like “”I’ll try to be there!””, you are giving yourself an out before you start.
When you start paying attention, you’ll probably notice phrases like these more often than you think. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to change quickly – it takes time, but when you notice these thoughts try to reframe them. Instead of “I should go grocery shopping today,” reframe it as “I get to go to the store today and buy my favorite snacks!”. It’s also important to pay attention to the way you talk to or about yourself. Don’t beat yourself up with negative self-talk, because your brain is listening! Even if you know what you’re saying is false, on some level your brain will accept them if it hears negative things often enough. Start with yourself – be kind!
In our virtual IOP group, we have a different focus each week. We start learning about different types of self-care, so you have a foundation to build on that helps you tend to your needs. Once we’ve covered self-care, we move on to coping with stress as a chance to apply those self care skills we just learned. When we have a handle on stress, we move forward to cultivating positive emotions so you can start to feel happier right now.
We believe that there isn’t just one way to tend to your mental health – you have options. Whether you’re interested in talk therapy, Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy, taking medications, or something else, we have more ways than ever to support your mental health. If you’re interested in learning more about our virtual IOP program, get in touch with our office today.