We all love the warm feeling of happiness, and if it could stay with us forever, no one would dare complain. But what happens when we’re feeling blue, or stressed, or anxious? How do we go about feeling instantly happier on really crappy days?
Happiness is a subject that has always fascinated me. It often seems to me that we do so much to ‘avoid sadness’, but not as much to ‘feel happier’. Which is weird, right?
Today we’ll talk about 3 of my favourite techniques to feel happier, and live a more fulfilled life.
In recent years, I’ve discovered more happiness warriors like myself, who have created resources and techniques to help us feel happier. A favourite of mine is Yale professor Laurie Santos, an absolute boss-babe academic, who, among her many other feats, also created the critically acclaimed podcast ‘The Happiness Lab’.
A really bad day
Let’s explore some common threats to our blissful happiness: fighting with a partner; hating your job; not liking the way you look; the bar being out of your favourite Chardonnay.
Instead of feeling your normal, happy self, you’re feeling angry/ hostile/ bitter/ guilty/ misunderstood /annoyed/ jealous. Instead of feeling good, you’re feeling like punching a wall or binging on Cookies & Cream till the sun rises.
The 4 attributes of negativity
Giving attention to a negative feeling can often mean you become a negative feeling, and it means you:
- Express it in your body; by being slumped, not prone to moving, or being stuck in the same spot for hours. Perhaps you’re grinding your teeth and balling your hands in fists. Maybe you’re carrying out obsessive repetitions, or checking and re-checking your work. Maybe you’re sucking in your stomach, pinching your fat, picking at your skin etc.
- Focus on things that sustain your beliefs; by only calling upon depressive or angry or anxious memories, by surrounding yourself with negative outputs or angry, anxious thoughts. By consuming media that fuels your beliefs.
- Discuss it and apply meaning to it, by saying thing like I have depression, that’s why everyone leaves me. Or, I am an angry person, that’s why I can never have a peaceful conversation with anyone.
- You go around in circles in a discussion or argument; by being unable to think outside of your roundabout, unwilling to consider other ideas. You feel that you and you alone feel like this, you and you alone are unsalvageable; you are sad, angry and lost, and you feel alone in it.
A quick note on vulnerability
Before we can explore some easy techniques to feel happier, it’s important to note that it is absolutely OK to feel vulnerable and to experience negative emotions. Part of the process of healing is the ability to sit with pain, and just let it have its own space, carving a room inside of us where we let this feeling live without needing to repress it or fix it.
Yep, read that again. You don’t need to repress it OR fix it. You can just let it BE.
So, before we begin the climb back up to ‘happiness’, let’s first take a moment to acknowledge vulnerability. Pain is a natural part of life, and we must all learn to coexist with some degree of it.
But at the same time, we also must be aware that there ARE ways out, and we are all allowed happiness.
Creating Happiness, or more specifically Positive Emotional States, is the ability for us to take charge of our feelings, and be At Cause (or fully responsible) for our wellness.
Here are my top three techniques to feel instantly happier; use them to break what in NLP is defined as ‘an unresourceful state’ (a state that’s not conducive to you living your best life), and manufacture a much more joyful one!
First, let’s consider the body
More often than not, we express negative feelings with our bodies: slumped shoulders, head down, a limp posture, or tensed muscles. If you were to think of a person who’s going through a rough patch, do you envision them jumping up and down the room, or walking with their head held high? Probably not. So, the first tip is to address that.
- Change Physiology: Shift your poor posture by pinning your shoulders back, holding your held up high, standing up straight. Shake things out. Move. Go for a walk, jump a little, smile (even if at no one). If you’re angry and holding tension in your jaw, hands or shoulders, release those muscles, and notice the tension melt away. Hug your own body. A personal favourite of mine is to put on Tina Turner’s Proud Mary and pretend I’m on stage, shaking my derriere to the music.
Now, ask yourself: Hows does my anger feel, when my body is this perked up, this relaxed? Am I still able to experience helplessness, whilst dancing in the living room?
Next, think of your focus
Let me show you something that will probably blow your mind.
In this famous and much acclaimed 1999 experiment, psychologists Chabris & Simons postulated that when we are focused on something, we are blind to everything else we are not looking out for. Even when it’s RIGHT in front of our eyes. Seems impossible? Try the experiment for yourself. Watch the video in the hyperlink, and count how many times the players in the white shirt pass the ball. DO NOT read anything below the video, just see how you go with that.
- Change Attention: The same is true of our mood. If all we’re looking for is depression or anger, all we will see will be depression and anger. If we’re exposed to depression and anxiety exclusively, we won’t notice what’s good. Happiness could slap us right in the face, and we wouldn’t see it.
If instead of focusing on anxious, anger inducing or depressive inputs, you call on positive thoughts, how would that feel? Are you still able to feel anger or depression to that same level, if you focus on emotions like joy, kindness, or better yet gratitude? If instead of surrounding yourself with fights, abuse, helplessness, you watch kittens on YouTube, how has your mood changed?
Now, ask yourself: How would my sadness feel, if I were watching happiness-inducing content? How would my mood improved if I switched from depressive songs to Zumba? Can I still experience the same level of anger if I suddenly felt grateful for your health, your family, or the great pizza I had at lunch?
Lastly, your communication
Like I always say, the way we speak to ourselves and about ourselves matters. A LOT. Hearing yourself refer to yourself as a loser, or a failure, or stupid leads to you believing you are those things. And not only is that likely to be factually inaccurate (having failed a job interview does not make you a failure, for example) it’s also restrictive; you might have failed an interview, but you aced a pot roast.
- Change Language: unhelpful questions or statements like ‘I’m a real mess’ or ‘why am I always feeling like this’ are limiting, and can never elicit a positive state. Try asking more empowering questions, like ‘what can I do to feel better’ or ‘I am not where I want to be, but I am carving a path to get there’.
Now, ask yourself: how does your awful mood feel, when you speak to yourself with kindness? What would you say to a beloved friend who was struggling? Can you still feel jealousy, if what you ask yourself is not ‘why don’t I have what s/he has‘ but ‘how can I learn from this person’?
Taking full responsibility of your mood, and subsequently your life, makes you feel empowered and in control, and it allows you to manufacture happiness by yourself, as opposed to waiting for it to come to you.