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Happiness. We all want it. We all strive for it. So what if I tell you you can actually become happier right here, right now? All it takes is a little change of focus. There is a simple, scientifically proven exercise that keeps changing lives. Added bonus: it takes less than a minute a day! One portion of instant happiness, please…
Change of focus
In order to stop looking for happiness and to start actually being happy right now, we have to change our focus. There are two simple keys. First and foremost, we need to shift from long term happiness to instant happiness. Not to be confused with Instagram-happiness. I mean the real deal; the warm, grateful, maybe even ultimate bliss-kind of happiness. But we also need to focus on the positive things in life.
Long term happiness
Many people long for a long-term ideal future that should bring them happiness and then work towards it. This is how Western society works. As a child, it prepares you for your future. When you will be a successful, accomplished person. Let me paint you a word picture: you study hard, land a nice job, buy a house and start a family. This is good. Safety, stability, happiness. Sounds familiar? In primary school, I already heard some of my teachers describing this future as “the dream”.
I even recognize it in the Thai cities I travel through, and I hear it from the locals as well. I am currently staying in a community eco-village and most of the people here have quit their jobs to come live and learn here. One of the community members said: “Land is power because it provides the security of your future. Your land gives you everything you need.” He explained that most Thai people used to live like this until one day a minister said that monetary richness would make the people happy. “…So a part of the people left their lands behind and took to the cities. They found jobs and worked hard, for sometimes up to ten hours. Most people just got unhappier, poorer than before, and now they had no time left to spend with their families.”
Remember why and how
Of course, there are plenty of happy people studying or working in an office or fulltime job. And there is nothing wrong with working long and hard towards a future you really want either. But in my opinion, there should be some conditions for it.
1) First, ask yourself whether this path (and the end result) will make you happy. You are never sure of the result until you get there, but we can at least consider our future pros and cons, right? Make sure that there is a balance between how much you want this future and the effort you are willing to put into it.
2) Secondly: remember to live now. Working (or training, or studying) hard does not mean working non stop. Remember to stop, take a break, breathe and have fun! I will write more about this in other articles.
Positivity is key
Thank you, Mrs. Obvious! Yeah yeah, I know, it’s an open door. But think about it: if we want to be happy -a positive feeling-, we should stop focusing on the negative, right?. If you spend your day being bothered and annoyed, how can you be happy that day? All it takes is this little switch. And with the tiniest of efforts, it really becomes an easy thing to do. Here’s an example from my own experience.
When I was a student, I had trouble waking up in time in the morning. On such mornings, this is what would typically happen and what I would typically think:
- getting out of bed (I hate myself for waking up late – again)
- getting dressed (why is that t-shirt from the laundry still not dry?)
- putting on the shirt as planned anyway (Ugh…)
- getting breakfast and preparing lunch (no oatmeal left. And no bread for sandwiches either. Cr#p, I should have done groceries yesterday!)
- deciding on skipping breakfast (hopefully I can at least find a place to buy lunch later)
- rushing outside (Oh no, my keys)
- running back for keys, race to school (Move, people! Out of my way!)
- park my bike (of course there is no free parking anywhere near the study room for that morning…)
- arrive just in time (or not)
- being so stressed and annoyed I can listen but barely process the first half-hour of my lecture
By this time, I would be stressed and annoyed with myself and anyone and anything that would delay me even more. I would curse the wet laundry, the absence of food and the misplacement of my keys, the people I wanted to bypass on the way and the fact that I had to park my bike that far away. After all this, I was actually more stressed and frustrated than at the moment I just woke up and realized I would be late for school. Something must have happened on the way. All this stress and negativity, I put it in my mind myself!
Some things always suck
Yes, some things suck (I mean, wanting breakfast and not having any just takes acceptance, not so much positivity. Then again, I promise you it (acceptance) helps). And without the bad, we do not know how to appreciate the good. So it’s not about making every single thing a good thing, okay? Some things are bad. Nonetheless, we can turn most things into a positive experience!
A better perspective
During the morning I described above, some positive thinking might have led me to:
- Finding back an old shirt I had forgotten about. Turns out I would actually like it and start wearing it again.
- A more relaxed bike ride. I was late anyway, why rush? And look at that little girl I pass by, she is waving so enthusiastically at me I cannot refuse to wave back.
- A slightly later but more relaxed start of my lecture, resulting in actually understanding my lecture right away.
Three good things
Alright, I got that out of my system! Onto the fun stuff. So how can we focus on positivity? Good news: everyone can do it and it takes merely a minute per day! Ready? Here goes:
1) think about Three Good Things that happened today.
2) that’s it, you’re done!
You can do it in the evening to fall asleep with a more peaceful mind, or in the morning to start out on a positive, happy note. To get the most out of this exercise, I suggest writing them down, but when I´m in a pinch I just think of my Three Good Things and I’m good to go. Writing it down makes your brain remember them more strongly. Plus you get to read it back. When I look back on the month or year I have written, I can vividly remember almost every Good Thing I have written about, even the tiniest, seemingly unimportant things.
Effortless brain training
This exercise helps you to focus on the positive things in life. As you keep doing this, after a few days you are already training your brain to search for your Three Good Things during the day. At first, you are usually just looking back on the past day. The longer you will keep this up, the more you will find that you are automatically noticing and enjoying the good things as they happen.
If you can only get to one or two, in the beginning, that’s okay. But I am sure there are plenty of Good Things happening in your day, even if you may not notice them (yet). It can be almost anything. From hearing a chirping bird nearby your window to receiving a smile from a loved one. From a compliment from your colleague all the way to finally graduating or getting that well-deserved promotion!
Apart from these Good Things that you can be grateful for, your Three Good Things can also be accomplishments, realizations or things you have learned today. Feel free to give yourself a little praise for what you have done today, you deserve it! (If you find this difficult at the beginning like me, it’s even better to put at least one of those on your list.)
- I had a nice cuddle with my pet
- I heard this new song and I like it
- the sunset wat beautiful
- it did not rain today
- my morning coffee was delicious
- I had a good _ (workout, study session, nap, etc.)
- I felt _ (proud, loved, respected, worthy, happy, strong, empowered, etc.)
- _ was there for me today (friend, pet, online stranger, religious figure, spiritual vibe, etc.)
- _ made me laugh (person, animal, situation, thoughts, etc)
Like most things, I used to really overthink my Three Good things. “Is this really my top 3 for today? And what does that mean?” If that sounds like you, this is important: It’s not a top 3. It’s just three random good things. And they are supposed to make you feel good. So just like your fantasies, it’s up to you! Try not to think about it too much, just pick some. Try not to judge yourself or your Three Good Things.
We often forget to notice the sweet things in life because we sometimes focus too much on our goal. Or because we only focus on the negative (or a bit of both). Whatever you do or work towards, don’t forget to enjoy the process of getting there. Happiness can be found in a moment, not in a future situation. And we can only see it when we start to mind positive things daily. So here’s an exercise to train your brain to focus more on the good things throughout your day.
Write down three good things daily.
It works best if you write then down. The brain learns better that way. Also, then you can read it again while reflecting on your week/ month or if you ever need a pick-me-up. But in a pinch, you can also just think of your Three Good Things. It’s your thing!
In a matter of days, you will notice your brain is actually automatically starting to look for things to put on the list. There you go, instant happiness throughout your day!