The key to happiness
The key to happiness
These two quotes may seem opposed but they go to the heart of the key to happiness:
“Happiness is an inside job” and “When you are in your mind, you are in enemy territory”
Both of these quotes are true and illustrate how important it is to manage our minds and our thoughts. The key to happiness is knowing how to manage our minds and deal with our thoughts. We have something like 50 000 – 70 000 thoughts per day and the majority of these thoughts are non-productive, irrational and of no proper value to us. When you keep this in mind, it makes sense to learn what to do with out intrusive and automatic thoughts. The content of the thoughts we choose to pay attention to and focus on determine our feelings and beliefs about the world and therefore influence our behaviour and the quality of our lives.
Learn to focus on the right thoughts and dismiss the ones that serve no purpose and you will be on the road to happiness. Optimists tend to have far more ‘buffers’ than pessimists and are better able to hang on to the positive thoughts rather than the negative ones. They are both equal in that they are thoughts – not facts. Choose which thoughts to pay attention to and you will definitely improve the quality of your life.
Having said that, I am not saying it is an easy task. Humans are hard-wired to focus on threat and danger and subsequently- negative thinking. Back centuries ago when we roamed the plains as hunters, it would have served us well to perceive threat and danger and telling ourselves that the lion approaching was just “cute and cuddly” would have been very dangerous.
These days, there is less actual threat like a lion or famine but when we feel stressed and anxious, the exact same parts of the brain get activated. This part of the brain cannot tell the difference between real and perceived threat – it will receive the signals and act accordingly. This is why it is important to know when your body is reacting and causing anxiety – this is when we can use mindfulness, bring ourselves back to the present moment and learn to silence our fearful and anxiety provoking thoughts such as – No one will ever love me, I am useless, life will always be this bad etc
Steps to manage your mind and thoughts:
- Learn to identify your thinking. Hang on to the positive thoughts and learn to let go of the negative ones. I often catch myself saying something negative to myself but immediately ‘reframe’ the thought. ie. “No I am not useless and worthless, I am just human and making mistakes like everyone else”.
- Learn to dismiss negative thoughts. Visualise your thoughts as leaves floating down a river. Watch them float by. You can’t ignore thoughts but you can learn to dismiss them and not focus on them. Don’t ‘buy into’ your negative thoughts…let them pass by. They are just thoughts.
- Cultivate positive healthy thinking. Engage in positive self talk and make a habit of talking to yourself as you would a best friend. The more positive we are towards ourselves, the happier we tend to be.
- Try mindfulness. Be in the present moment. The more we engage our five senses in the moment, the less time our minds have to wander and get us into trouble with negative thinking and worry. If you catch yourself obsessing over something or running it over and over in your mind, try bring yourself back to your immediate surroundings.
- Accept intrusive thinking as a part of life. We ALL have intrusive mad thoughts that pop into our heads, it’s just the way we are made. Don’t take it personally, just learn to dismiss them and not pay too much attention to those thoughts.
What we believe about the world will influence our enjoyment – this is the bottom line. Keep the positive thoughts, dismiss the negative and intrusive thoughts and get used to challenging thoughts that you find difficult to dismiss by asking yourself where the EVIDENCE is for a particular thought. I recently had a client who said he was “useless”, but we soon challenged this by finding times in his life when he certainly wasn’t useless, making that statement incorrect. Get into the habit of being a better ‘mind manager’. It really is the key to happiness.