Contributing Author Issabelle Woods (Izzy)
You’d be forgiven for thinking that happiness comes solely from those things around you: friends, family, the books you read, the music you listen to, and so on. While this is certainly true to some extent, there are plenty of other ways to boost your happiness levels – using nothing but your own brain. They don’t call it the most amazing organ in the human body for nothing! So if you’ve been feeling a little down in the dumps or you’re simply having a rough week, following are a few simple methods to ‘think yourself happy’. They’re remedies you can practice anywhere – even from the comfort of your tempurpedic mattress! And don’t shrug these methods off as smoke and mirrors – they’re all based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques: a proven means of treating issues such as depression and anxiety.
Remember, you are not your brain
The first step to boosting your happiness levels with your brain is to realise that your mind and your brain are two separate things. Leading researchers like Dr Jeffrey Schwartz, author of Brain Lock, have proven that using cognitive techniques (i.e. telling yourself how to feel) can quite literally transform your brain chemistry. The technical term is neuroplasticity, but what it basically means is that the connections in your brain can be physically altered through thought entrainment. All you have to do is change your thinking, and you can actively change your brain chemistry.
You are what you think
Let’s get practical. One of the core exercises in any CBT programme is keeping a thought diary. The purpose of this is to identify negative thoughts, then replace them with positive ones. If you’re feeling down, there’s a good chance that your thoughts haven’t been too ‘feel good’ either. But these thoughts, given the chance, can take over and make you lose perspective. By keeping a diary of these thoughts and writing down positive rationalisations, you’ll teach your brain that these thought processes are unhelpful. With any luck, this will result in an uplift in mood and outlook – just remember that it may take a few weeks or months to have an effect, but keep at it.
Distractions are incredibly useful
For some people, feeling down is almost habitual. And like any other habit, it can be broken. This may not work for everyone, but for some people using a distraction can be very helpful in refocusing energies. Constructive distractions such as gardening, playing a music instrument, or learning a new language, can be great choices because they activate the learning centres of our brains. This refocuses your attention on learning something external, and takes you away from the internal dialogue that so often accompanies periods of low mood.
Try some positive reinforcement
Many of us are down on ourselves way too much, especially in our own minds. How many times have you given yourself a mental telling off? Probably quite a few. When our mood is low, we can be even harder on ourselves. This mental punishment results in nothing more than an even lower mood; it’s completely self-defeating. You may feel odd doing this, but try giving yourself some positive reinforcement. Choose a positive phrase like ‘I am lucky to have my family or friends’, then repeat it to yourself at least five times. Use this mantra whenever you need a boost. Try to choose something that really makes you smile: a memory of a happy time will do too. Again, this process will refocus your mind and boost your mood given time.
Think positive, be well, and don’t be afraid to ask for help
Remember that these ideas are most useful for those who have a few days of low mood every now and then. If you find yourself feeling down for longer than this, you may want to consider speaking to a professional. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you think you need it; there are hundreds of ways to make yourself feel more positive and energetic. And not just from the medical profession: you could try massage, reflexology, acupuncture, or any number of other remedies. You want to feel your best at all times, and with a little positive thinking, you’ll find that feeling good is never too far from reach. Be well.