You might be balking at the headline of this post. “Psssssshaw,” you might scoff whilst rolling your eyes at my naiveté , “happiness is SO much more complex than that.”
I can’t blame you for your charming skepticism. I, too, used to think that there were countless elements contributing to my happiness (or lack thereof), all tenuously tethered in a frightening, precarious balance.
From the state of my bank account to my relationship status to the opinions of colleagues at work — any or all could derail my mood in a hot minute. Basically, I was waiting for the wind to blow the wrong way and take my state of mind with it.
‘Til I realized I was missing my own part in the play.
Happiness is a choice. Your choice. My choice. And there’s a very simple, very logical sequence of events and options that lead to our good or bad humour in any given moment. It goes as follows:
thoughts —> feelings —> mood
Your thoughts shape everything about your life — how you perceive the world, how you react to others, how you make decisions: your very reality. Whether you wear that precious pink dress or your oh-so-severe charcoal suit; whether you see the singular opportunity before you or ignore it altogether; whether you believe yourself deserving of a Mr. Darcy in your life — or a Dexter. Your thoughts precede every single event and situation and circumstance. They have physical consequences for your body. They’re always with you, they never leave you. They even shape your dreams.
The guidelines are pretty simple: change your thoughts, change your happiness quotient (simple, however, does not mean easy.)
This isn’t about spouting platitudes to yourself, disbelieving them all the while (though I am a superfan of positive affirmations). It doesn’t do any good to recite what you believe to be a lie. “I’m rich, I’m lucky, I’m loved by all” might feel less than convincing if you believe yourself poor, victimized and alone. This isn’t about faking it or lying to yourself — it’s about gradually changing the thought patterns you’ve been clinging to since the days of your TLC fandom. It starts with the smallest of steps: gently moving your mental mannerisms towards optimism and joy, one teeny tiny thought at a time.
I won’t lie to you — there’s nothing more challenging (or more important) than gaining control of your rebellious brain. I’ve been slaving away at it for years, and while I’ve made pretty amazing progress, it’s not all sunshine and heliconia. I can still find myself swept out to sea by crushing waves of negative thoughts; the same stale, illogical thoughts I’ve been carrying around since I was a preteen. We have between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts per day. I can only speculate as to how many of yours are negative. Most of mine were — and many still are.
Those thoughts do not serve me. And your antiquated, irritated musings don’t serve you, either.
In the end, this is all about habit. Humans beings are born for habituation, and our minds were designed to follow patterns. We create neural pathways at a young age and stick to them, trodding ever-deeper trails of negativity as we think the same thoughts over and over and over and over. These pathways become like out of control superhighways — the Autobahn of bad moods.
But that, again, is a choice. As I’ve continued to chip away my habitual negative thinking, it’s gotten easier. Reprogramming my brain after a lifetime of pessimism hasn’t been easy, but it is possible, thanks to the brilliance of biology and a little thing called neuroplasticity.
Nothing is more important than being the master of your own mind. Because until you and your brain are on the same team, happiness is bound to be elusive.