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  • Peg Hunt

Expand Your View: Learn to Make Room for Greater Happiness

Do you ever feel like you are on a long slog toward some promised land of happy that is always just around the corner? If we can only do enough, be enough, we will be happy (once we get a better job, house, body, etc.), then we will be worthy of true happiness, and we can relax.

We recently heard evolutionary biologist Rebecca Heiss talk about rewiring our brains for happiness*. It is well known that our brains are wired to notice and pay attention to threats or negative information—back in the day it was important to see snakes and tigers to avoid an untimely death. However, in the world most of us live in now, threats to survival are rare, and, if we only notice information pertaining to threats, happiness can be elusive. In her talk, Dr. Heiss shared that we can rewire our brains to also notice the good. And by learning to notice the good, you can be happier now.

Most of us trip ourselves up by our negative self-talk and focus. We can even pride ourselves on our critical eye-- after all, isn’t trying to please our inner critic the thing that underlies all our success? If we only let our inner critic (that part of the brain that is focused on survival) “drive”, we only focus on the negative and we miss out on other information that is life-affirming and fun and encouraging.

Here is how to expand your focus and create some more room for happiness or contentment right now:

  1. Pause. Notice the negative thought. Take a deep breath (and activate your parasympathetic nervous system which is calming!). Ask some challenging questions.

    • What’s is the real worry under the negative thought?

    • Is the outcome you imagine realistic? What is actually the worst case?

    • Will people really judge you harshly? What if they do?

For example, what will happen if I ask Joe to review my speech? What is the worst thing than can happen: he says no? gives me suggestions for improvement? Notice that these outcomes are not devastating.

2. Reframe or Prime. Our brains believe the stories we tell, so how can we tell ourselves a story that includes more than just the negative?

  • Instead of getting stuck focusing on the ordeal, how do we reframe it as an adventure?

  • Instead of only focusing on what you perceived did not go well, what can be learned from the 80% that did go well?

  • You could focus on how it felt to stretch yourself or how it would have felt if you had never tried.

  • What have you learned that will help you in the future?

  • If you are feeling unworthy, whose standards are you trying to live up to? What specifically are the standards? (what do you think of those standards in the full light of consciousness?)

  • Talk to yourself as if you are your best friend—you wouldn’t berate your friend, you would encourage them to think of what was good, how they could turn it around next time, or how courageous you thought they were.

3. Practice. What else besides the negative can you notice; consciously practice noticing the good—train yourself to see it. Consider taking notes.

  • What are all the good or valuable things about a situation?

  • What else can you take away that was useful?

For example, we easily notice our negative emotions—we are afraid, unworthy, unlikeable, incompetent; what else could we feel? Respected--for being asked (for our opinion, to give a presentation, etc.), proud (of trying, of achieving), calm, etc.

  • Notice the real outcomes of stressful situations—most often nothing dangerous actually happens!

The brain only sees what it is looking for, so use the steps above to consciously create opportunities to notice the good things and claim some happiness now.

Working with a coach can help you learn and practice these new ways of thinking that can lead to greater happiness. Please contact me for a free coaching consultation.

For more information:

*Instinct: Rewire Your Brain with Science-Backed Solutions to Increase Productivity and Achieve Success: How our biology highjacks our happiness. Rebecca Heiss, Citadel Press, 2021

© Anne Garing, PhD & Peg Hunt, MS

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