Being happy is great, but does it really impact your health? Recent studies have uncovered that happiness can boost longevity, lower the risk of stroke severity, and lessen inflammation. This sounds good but can you teach yourself to be happier? Fortunately, hopeful brain science shows that happiness is a skill that can be learned and practiced.
A key piece of the puzzle in happiness is stress management and the understanding that the brain tends to focus on the negative. This negative bias is a carryover of millions of years of evolution that is embedded in all of our brains. There is nothing wrong with negative thoughts. The problem is when we focus on them and take them personally. These negative thoughts can eventually lead to more stress. And sometimes that becomes the type of stress that can feel unmanageable.
How do we switch our natural inclination from negative to positive thoughts? One way: Gratitude practice. Flip the focus from negative, stressful thoughts to positive thoughts.
Here’s how: take out a piece of paper and draw a line down the center. On one half of the page write down everything you are stressed and angry about. On the other side of the page write down everything you are thankful and grateful for. This practice has been shown in studies to help the brain clearly see positive items to focus on and can rebalance the negative bias. On paper, it is easier for the brain to see compliments and put an insult in perspective.
Happiness Boost: Participants in a recent study done at Massachusetts General Hospital were asked to look at their phones or photo albums and find a photo that reminded them of a great memory. Once they found the photo, they were instructed to write one sentence summarizing the memory. This simple practice caused a significant happiness boost that lasted 24 hours.
Many people tend to fixate on negative thoughts and that fixation only makes those thoughts stronger. This is based on how the human brain works. The more we revisit a thought, the stronger that memory becomes. If we spend a lot of time thinking negative, stressful thoughts, we make those thoughts stronger and more powerful. At its essence, when we practice our negative, stressful thoughts — practice makes perfect. Someone who spends a lot of time thinking negative, stressful thoughts becomes an expert at being negative and stressed out.
Making it a practice to take time during the day to focus on a positive memory, we strengthen that memory and have a greater chance of thinking about it throughout the day. Remember, our thoughts are connected to our physical stress response. We have control over our thoughts, and thus, control over our stress and happiness.
If you’re feeling that happiness is evading you more often than not right now, let Dr. Marc Milstein guide you with the leading science on happiness for your health! Just visit https://www.getapeptalk.com/us/coach/dr-marc-milstein to book a PepTalk with him.