How to become happy and positive? Train your brain to scan for the positive
You can become more happy and positive than you are by systematically focusing on the bright side of things.
External circumstances account, on average, for no more than a tenth of your total level of happiness. The rest is based on your focus and how you interpret these circumstances.
Something as simple as writing down positive experiences on a regular basis has a lasting effect on the level of happiness. In a study, people who wrote down their positive experiences for 20 minutes - three times a week -became happier than a control group who wrote about neutral topics.
What’s the reason for this? In short, regularly writing down positive experiences forces the brain to systematically look for and focus on the positive side of things.
Creating such a positive focus in your mind on what’s going on in your life on an everyday basis has a major impact on your level of happiness.
What does a positive focus mean?
Your focus determine what you look for in a situation - your interpretation of the reality presented to you. Most situations can be interpreted differently according to what you choose to focus on. The classic example of this is the "half full / half empty" glass analogy.
The good news is that you have a great deal of control over your focus - and as a consequence control over your level of happiness. You can literally train your brain to look for the positive - and for the possibilities in every situation instead of the limitations.
The cost of a negative focus
Just as having a positive focus can boost your happiness, a negative focus can do just the opposite. A negative focus reduces your creativity and motivation and can cause stress and depression.
For an illustration have a look at these examples.
- Tax auditors that are trained to look for errors and irregularities in their jobs have been shown to transfer this negative focus to their everyday lives.
- Lawyers are taught to be very critical and look for mistakes, flawed arguments etc. This is an essential skill for them to do their job! But it comes at a cost. The negative focus spills over to the rest of their lives, and studies have found them to be more than three times more likely to suffer from a depression.
When our brains constantly scan for, and focus on, the positive, we profit from three of the most important tools available to us: happiness, gratitude, and optimism.
Make a choice
A large number of studies have shown that people that perceive a challenge as a potential success instead of a barrier have a much greater chance to realize this potential for success.
This little story is a good illustration of the difference between a positive and a negative focus: “Two shoe salesmen were sent to Africa in the early 1900s to assess opportunities. They wired separate telegrams back to their boss. One read: “Situation hopeless. They don’t wear shoes.” The other read: “Glorious opportunity! They don’t have any shoes yet”.
So choose what your focus will be :)