I’m the forever optimist, a happy and positive person… even when it’s difficult to be. It’s not that I’m ‘burying my head in the sand’, which I’ve heard some people around me suggest – I’m very aware that bad things are happening, some personally, some on a global scale, and many that I cannot influence, stop or help with. It can even make it feel wrong to be happy when so many others are suffering. Yet, positive and happy I will stay.
The reason for this is that it helps me keep some perspective on what is good in the world and it keeps me going. And yes, it’s hard sometimes, when so much unhappiness is around us all, such as events going on in the world right now, or personal difficulties or bereavement. But, I’m going to continue being the way I am.
Can we change our own happiness? I know that I did – over 20 years ago I read a great book that totally changed me and the way I thought. It was called ‘Creative Visualisation’ by Shakti Gawain. So, I truly believe you can change how you feel and behave, and reframe the negativity you face. I recently read a great report: Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable Change by Sonja Lyubomirsky, David Schkade and Kennon M Sheldon, which talks about happiness in terms of whether or not it can be increased and improved. The conclusion is that yes, levels of happiness can change, both long and short term. (Great article, by the way, and worth a read).
The report looks at what aspects of our own individuality can influence happiness, both positively and negatively. Firstly, there’s the general way we are as a person based on genetics and this is pretty fixed and immune to influence. I know people that I describe as being an Eeyore compared to others I call Tiggers…. Then, there’s our life circumstances such as our marital status, gender, age etc. Changes in these elements can alter our happiness, such as getting married, but these are often more short term changes. For example, once we settle into our new married life, we generally settle back to our previous happiness levels until another change, such as moving to a new area or having a family.
The third factor is the most interesting as it’s the one that can influence our happiness the most. This is what the report calls ‘Intentional Activity’ and includes us being kind to others and being grateful for what we have (counting our blessings). This is one of the most powerful things we can do to improve our happiness.
Being grateful is something I try to practice every day, keeping an optimistic perspective on my own life and learning how to reframe the negatives. For example, I may not be 100% fit and well but I can still feel very grateful for what I have as I know it could be much worse. If ever I start to feel life is getting me down I return to keeping a journal of all the things I am grateful for and the happy experiences I have every single day. If you haven’t done it already, give the journal a try. Even on our darkest days we can still find something positive to reflect on. It just sometimes takes a little longer to search for it…