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Give Yourself a Happy Face!

woman smiling smelling flowers

Better than the Beatles?

When I was a kid, every Sunday we’d pile into the car and make the long drive to visit the grandparents. Being the youngest, I always had to sit in the middle, but even worse was having to listen to a crackly Norman Vincent Peale. Happiness Psychology may be all over the place these days, but Peale was the pioneer, and in the early 50’s his book The Power of Positive Thinking became a bestseller. Back then, as I was fighting off invading elbows and knees, I remember thinking “Who is this guy? I wish we could listen to some rock ‘n roll.” If I only knew then what I know now, I might have replaced that negative thought with “It’s not the Beatles, but I might learn something here.”

Don’t Even Think It!

According to their book Words Can Change Your Brain, authors Mark Waldman and Andrew Newberg, M.D. say that negative words, whether spoken, heard, or even thought adversely affect the chemistry in your brain and get in the way of happiness and success.

“The Most Dangerous Word in the World”

Waldman and Newberg tell us that MRI scans show: when a subject is exposed to the word “NO” flashing for even less than a second, normal functioning of the brain is disrupted. Instead, the brain responds with an immediate release of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters, which are cells that carry all kinds of messages to other cells in the body.

Don’t Mess with the Messenger

According to the Mayo Clinic, the long-term activation of the stress-response system—and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones—can disrupt almost all of your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Digestive problems
  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Memory impairment
  • Worsening of skin conditions, such as eczema

We have seen over and over again how each aspect of your health—mental, emotional, and physical—affects the other. ­­­­­ In other words: it is essential that you regard your mental health as a key influence on your overall well-being.

Staying on Track

In her book The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor in the Department of Psychology at UC Riverside, talks about scientifically-backed strategies that can help you stay on the positive track. According to her breakdown, about fifty percent of a person’s happiness level is determined by genetics, forty percent by self-control, and only ten percent by life circumstances.  Which is why she says:

“If we can accept as true that life circumstances are not the keys to happiness, we’ll be greatly empowered to pursue happiness for ourselves.”

Think Happy to Feel Happy

Great news! Positive thoughts are self-perpetuating (remember—so are negative thoughts); continue to think positive, and you will continue to think positive!

Build it and They Will Come

Barbara Frederickson PhD, renowned social psychologist and author of Positivity, says that happy thoughts not only lead to more happy thoughts, they also help to build something called resilience. Resilience is the ability to process and manage stress, adversity, catastrophe, sadness, grief—without it bringing your life to a dead halt. Please understand: positive thinking does not eliminate difficult feelings, events or experiences from your life, but it does reduce the effects of negative thinking and stress.  More importantly, it actually fosters the development of effective coping and problem-solving skills. Thinking positive thoughts creates what Frederickson calls “The Broaden-and­-Build Theory of Positive Thinking.”

Happy Dominoes

According to the “Broaden-and-Build Theory,” positive thinking literally broadens one’s awareness, which over time leads to more diverse and creative thinking, which leads to the development of more effective behavioral skills and resources, which leads to better problem-solving and stress management, which leads to better relationships, (both personal and professional) which leads to A Happy Life!

Go Toward the Light!

Because nature wants to be sure we respond quickly to a perceived threat, we are hard-wired to hop over to the dark side more readily, so as to trigger limited, short-term, survival-type responses.  But it is the positive thoughts that nurture long-term happiness and we must regularly and repeatedly make a conscious effort to go towards the light!

Here’s Your Recipe

It’s simple.  According to Dr. Frederickson: For every negative thought, come up with three positive ones.

Try it for a couple of weeks. See how you feel. (You’ll probably be smiling.)

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