We all want to have more happiness in our life. We often talk about “pursuing” happiness as if it is something concrete, that we can acquire, if we try hard enough. According to Psychologist Bridget Grenville-Cleave , the amount of happiness we experience depends on how we spend our time, and our outlook on life.
The first thing we need to do is to define Happiness. According to several on-line dictionaries, the definition of happiness is, the state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.
If we think back over our lives, we will remember times when we were happy. Sometimes it was when we were doing some special activity we enjoyed. Other times, it was just a feeling we had, when we were in the middle of our ordinary day-to-day life, and all the world seemed right. For example, it may have been when we were on holiday, at the beach. Or it may have been when we were reading bedtime stories to our children.
If we are trying to improve the amount of happiness we experience in our life, it seems logical to start by planning activities to do, that we enjoy. This is a great way to begin and it can have positive effects on the levels of happiness we experience.
But interestingly, happiness is an emotion/feeling. And according to psychologist Albert Ellis, all feelings happen, because of thoughts we are thinking. Therefore, it is what we are thinking, that is making us feel happy, it is not some activity that we are doing. Activities are neutral. They do not make us feel either happy or sad. It is what we think about the activity that makes us happy or sad.
Take the activity of golf, for an example. If we are on the golf course and thinking thoughts such as “what a waste of time, I would rather be at home baking”, then we are not going to be happy and enjoying the activity. Whereas, if we are thinking, “this is awesome, I love being out here”, then we will be happy and enjoying the experience. Same activity, different thoughts, and therefore different feelings.
The good news about this is that we can often choose to think different thoughts. And if we choose to think positive and uplifting thoughts, we will end up creating feelings of happiness. We don’t actually need to be doing any special activity, or drastically change our life. There are lots of different ways we can do this.
We can analyse our thoughts, and work on changing them, on purpose. For example, if we are out on the golf course and find ourselves thinking thoughts that are making us feel miserable, we can decide to change those thoughts. It is not always easy, and it usually takes an effort to make a mental shift. But we could decide that we are out there spending our time, so we might as well find ways to make it fun and enjoyable. With this new thought/mindset we could start thinking up amusing prizes for each hole, or decide to challenge ourselves to finish with a certain score. Or whatever leads us to feeling enjoyment, while we are doing the activity.
We can also practise being mindful. Instead of leaving our thoughts to go wherever they want, (which is often looking for problems and judging other people), we can choose to focus on the awesomeness of the simple things around us. Like the way the sun shines through the window in the morning, the giggle of the kids in the next room, the smell of our morning coffee, how nice the warm shower feels, and so on.
Another thing we can do, is to keep a box, or book, that has memories of happy times. And every now and then, choose a memory and focus on it. Remember the details, and the feelings of happiness that the event gave us in the past. This will create feelings of happiness in the present moment.
By becoming more aware of how our thinking affects our feelings, we can start to manage our thoughts in a way that creates more feelings of happiness in our lives.
Written by Lynda Timperley Btch, Dip Psych, Cert Life Coaching
Albert Ellis (the originator of Rational Emotional Behavior Therapy)
Bridget Grenville-Cleave in her famous book, Positive Psychology