Boost Your Happiness and Beat the Blues in 3 Easy Steps

Published on April 20, 2015

I believe strongly that Happiness is Our Birthright. Yet so many of us, myself included, have days where we feel really bogged down by the pressures we might have at home or work, by ruminations on the past and concerns about the future. We wake up worried about the things we need to complete over the course of the day and fall asleep criticising ourselves for the things we didn’t get round to doing – or tasks we feel we could have done better. We fixate on negative feedback and get anxious about how our friends, colleagues or even family might be evaluating us.

If this sounds like you , you are far from alone. In fact, according to multiple studies on the brain now , this tendency to focus on the negative is intact hardwired into us – so if it feels like an uphill battle against those’ self-defeating’ thoughts to feel positive on a daily basis – that’s because it actually is. To explain why our brains have evolved this way and the impact it has on us today as a result , psychologist and researcher Dr. Rick Hanson says:

To keep our ancestors alive, Mother Nature evolved a brain that routinely tricked them into making three mistakes: overestimating threats, underestimating opportunities, and underestimating resources (for dealing with threats and fulfilling opportunities). This is a great way to pass on gene copies, but a lousy way to promote quality of life.” (Hanson, 2010)

You are fighting your own negativity bias when you try and stay positive – but the good news is , with the right tips and tools and continual practice, studies have also shown that you have the power to re-wire your brain to soak up the positive and repel the negative. * for more on why we’re hardwired for the negative see Rick Hansons’ comprehensive article on the roots and neuropsychology of the negativity bias.

While there are a whole host of practices that you can research and eventually include in this ‘brain-upgrade’ tool kit to rewire your brain for happiness, here are 3 simple questions that you can ask yourself every day to begin to make that change happen. I often propose them to clients in session , who easily incorporate them into their daily routine and often report back on how useful they have been in creating a noticeable change in their daily mood, experience and interactions with others. They’re relatively simple, yet few of us regularly practice asking ourselves these questions and instead choose to focus on the opposite ( or the negative inversion of them). Here they are:

(1) Where am I already succeeding in my life? - Again if you look at this question, it’s probably been a long time since you have asked it, tending to choose the more regular go-to of ‘ where am I failing?” or even just telling yourself how badly you feel you are failing and in what way on a daily basis. I’m not advocating that you throw out all objective evaluation of your successes and challenges , or constructive feedback there-of. However, what I am proposing is that you give your brain a fighting chance by also focusing on the successes , no matter how trivial they might initially seem. Chances are that you have accomplished a lot to get where you are today ( to be sitting somewhere, on a computer/your phone and therefore able to read this in the first place) and it’s really important to focus on the wins and achievements that you have to date and are continuing to make every day in order to being to re-wire towards a place of greater happiness.

(2) What tasks/goals did I accomplish today? – Yes, when did you last ask yourself this second question? Most of us hit the pillow at night racking up the things that we didn’t get round to or criticising ourselves about things we ‘could have done better’ (according to our own internal self-critic) rather than patting ourselves on the back for the things we did achieve. This makes neither for a good night’s sleep or , I expect, a good start to the following day. While you can make a list of things that you need to get done on day 2 – I suggest exercising a little more self-compassion for  you and recognising all the things that your body and brain helped you to get through and accomplish today. None of these things got done by themselves ( and even if they are things that you do every day they still required conscious attention and effort) – you did them and you deserve to feel appreciated ( even if its’ a it of appreciation from yourself!) and proud of yourself for doing them.

(3) What am I grateful for? - Expressing appreciation is one of my favourite brain-upgrade tools. So simple and yet effective , all you have to do is give yourself a moment to reflect on what you appreciate in your life right now. I regularly ask clients to express 3 appreciations/things they are grateful for having/doing each day to themselves and also their partners. This practice has in fact been shown to boost blood circulation in both the heart and the brain and improve quality of mood if repeated consistently over time (McCraty, 2004). “I appreciate my health”, ” I’m grateful for my daughter’s smile”, or ” I really appreciate the hot shower I could take this morning” are examples of some of simple appreciations that you could begin making today.

As I always say to my clients – the proof is in the pudding , so get practicing and see the impact that these 3 simple steps have on you today. Reflect on how you feel when you ask yourself and reflect on the answers you give ( as compared the feelings you have when you ask yourself the negative counterpart). Its likely you will feel more uplifted, energised and self-confident in response – and over time develop a greater tendency to focus on the positive achievements and progress you already are making – what you do have rather than what you don’t and how you’re already good enough on this journey towards re-wiring your brain for happiness & greater fulfilment. For more strategies and tools to bring greater joy and satisfaction into your life today, you can contact Anoushka at anoushka@abehpsych.com. 

One of my goals in seeking help from Anoushka was to reconnect with myself and live a more fulfilling and happy life. Each session with Anoushka enabled me to take a step towards this goal with more clarity and self-acceptance. Working through my doubts and beliefs and understanding my thought processes enabled me to reclaim my self-awareness and identify what makes me happy. During each session Anoushka provided practical tools and exercises which built upon what we were working on. Incorporating these strategies consistently into my daily life was easier than I thought and has brought about significant changes. I now feel more self-aware, confident and excited about what the future will bring.” ( Lisa, 41yrs, teacher)

References

B.Martinuzi , How to Rewire Your Brain for Happiness, Nov 13, 2013. Open Forum, American Express. https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/how-to-rewire-your-brain-for-happiness/

H. Marano, Our Brain’s Negativity Bias, Jun 20th, 2003. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200306/our-brains-negative-bias

R.Hanson, Confronting the Negativity Bias, Oct 26th, 2010. Resources for Happiness , Love and Wisdom. https://www.rickhanson.net/how-your-brain-makes-you-easily-intimidated/

McCraty, The Psychophysiology of Appreciation.  Chapter published in: The Psychology of Gratitude, edited by R. A. Emmons and M. E. McCullough. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004: 230-255. https://www.heartmath.org/research/research-library/basic/grateful-heart-the-psychophysiology-of-appreciation/


Category(s):Emotional Intelligence, Happiness, Self-Confidence

Written by:

Anoushka Beh

Anoushka Beh, MSc (MFT), BSc Hons)(UK), is a Psychologist, Marriage and Family Therapist and Life Coach.

In an integrated approach, she combines her clinical expertise with various techniques including EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), IFS (Internal Family Systems) techniques , Guided Visualization, EET (Emotional Empowerment Technique) and Mindfulness-based techniques.

With over a decade of experience, Anoushka's current work with clients is informed by a number of fields, including marriage and family therapy, developmental psychology, brain-based approaches and energy psychology. She aims to help clients transform times of crisis and challenge into an opportunities for self growth and true empowerment. She believes in providing clients with effective healing, enduring change and in the importance of not just responding to symptoms, but treating the root cause.

Anoushka Beh belongs to Abehpsych Counselling Services in Singapore

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