What's one thing you could do right now to be happier?
To answer this question, I spoke with Amy Spencer, the author of the new book Bright Side Up - 100 Ways to be Happier Right now! Here's what she had to say.
Here's one simple idea: Take something negative you've been thinking about today, and force yourself to come up with something that's also positive about it. In other words, flip it.
Easier said than done? Sure. But if you actively look at a negative situation from a more positive angle, you will find yourself feeling different - and happier - about it.
For example: Maybe you're annoyed that your house is too small to house all the things you've been trying to organize this weekend. But if you flip it...it's the perfect reason to purge the things you really don't need. (Do you even have the products that connect to those yellowing old power cords, anyway?)
Or maybe you're overwhelmed by your "To Do" list for your family. But...you do feel lucky to have such a great partner and kids to fill that list up in the first place. Or maybe your Internet server isn't sending out your emails. But...it's also a great opportunity to call people instead, allowing you to connect and hear their voices for the first time in who-knows-how-long.
By taking something that's frustrating you and finding the positive about it, you allow yourself a chance to feel happier instantly.
At the very least, think about flipping the words you're using when you talk about your setbacks. An "awful" day can be called "challenging"; a "difficult" woman at the returns counter is "teaching you patience," and getting stuck in "nightmare traffic" is also some "bonus time alone" to listen to your favorite radio station or bask in the sound of nothing at all.
Essentially, you're altering what positive psychologist Martin Seligman calls your "explanatory style," because how we explain our setbacks affects what we take away from it. Pessimists, Seligman says, tend to see negative experiences as personal, pervasive and permanent, while optimists tend to feel it isn't personal, it's just this one situation, and it will likely pass.
Try to frame your setbacks the same way, seeking something positive in every one. Flip it.
Positive thinking, really, is like piano scales: The more you practice, the better you'll get at doing it naturally, and the happier you'll feel no matter what you're facing. But for now, just try it once and see how you feel: What's one thing you're feeling negative about and what's also positive about it?
Blogger's Closing Comment
I met Amy when she was writing this book, and I'm happy to see it's now in print. She had contacted me when she was thinking about the "ought self," drawing on some of my writing about the ought self and procrastination. She's expanded on that idea in her book writing about how we need to "out the ought." It's a good focus towards ensuring that our goals are self-congruent and not falsely internalized (a sure recipe for procrastination).
If you want to learn more about Amy's approach, you can listen to this podcast interview with her, and you can check out her new book at brightsideup.com. She's even got an app with 365 strategies for flipping life "bright side up!" one day at a time.
Attitude - it's the not-so-secret ingredient to happiness. When we learn how to look on the bright side, we are simply happier people. It's something that each of us can learn to do more effectively and more often.