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If a sad or maddening thought can occupy my mind and shape my mood for a whole day, then a happy thought can do the same. For most people, it’s easy to replay negativity, but uncommon to obsess about the good stuff. We just don’t default to that pattern of thinking—but we can.

Instant happiness, all day, everyday. All I have to do is look.
Photo copyright Robert Takata, used with permission

You can manufacture happiness

Humans do not depend on favorable circumstances to be happy. If they did, then lottery winners would rate their happiness higher than people who have suffered spinal injury and paralysis (these two groups rate their happiness about equally). No, we can create positive emotion out of thin air, and if we do it often enough, with sufficient conviction and focus, then it will produce a lasting good mood.

Enjoy the little things

In the movie Zombieland, the main character offers a list of rules for surviving in a world dominated by bloodthirsty zombies, including Rule #32, “Enjoy the little things.” Despite the constant threat of mayhem and death, he and his partner find small tokens of inspiration to keep going, like discovering a box of Twinkies. How many little things do you experience in a day that, if you really looked hard at them, could be framed as positive or pleasing? Some possible examples include:

  • Catching a green light while driving
  • A stranger smiling at you
  • Hearing a good song
  • Being able to walk or move without pain

Notice how easy it would be to take all of these for granted, but also how easy it would be to take more note of them and label each one a “Twinkie.”

Hold onto good thoughts

Imagine doing this five times a day, but with no impact on the waistline. How cool would that be?

Not only can we capture a greater volume of Twinkies, but we can also sit longer with them for maximum benefit. At this moment, I’m drinking a Reeds Butterscotch Cream Soda that my friend gave me. It’s really good, so I’m savoring it. Everyone has done this at some point with a favorite food or drink, but we don’t have to limit savoring to only these. Some people re-read books they love, or repeatedly watch favorite movies, T.V. shows, or sports highlights. Our own minds, however, are the ultimate highlight reel. We can replay a thought or image indefinitely, so when we experience something significant and positive, it makes sense to replay the memory and savor the feeling it produces for as long as it’s practical. This surpasses Twinkies, and is more like eating crème brûlée, but without taking in any calories. Imagine if you could do that five times a day. How much would that improve your mood?

Prime sources of happiness

I’m pretty sure this guy is onto something.

Positive emotion is highly subjective, and everyone has their sources, but some positive emotion generators are so powerful that it’s wise to actively pursue and harness them. Compliments, for instance, almost always produce happiness, and it’s not necessary to win a Nobel Prize to get serious mileage from a compliment. If you are alert for them, you will probably notice receiving several compliments daily. Don’t let them get away. Replay them in your head, savor the feelings they create, and try writing them down in a log that you can read anytime for a shot of happiness. Other prime sources include acts of compassion (that you have either received, performed, or witnessed), quality time spent with significant others, humor, favorite songs, and places of beauty or wonder you have visited. You can savor any of these through memories, photos, or videos. Invest some time in these, extract as much happiness as you can, and don’t short-change yourself.

by Jason Sackett, LCSW
Professional Staff at CWFL

jsackett@usc.edu

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