Everyone wants to be happier and the great news is that scientific research suggests it really is possible to make lasting improvements to our mood. To achieve this, we need to harness the power of our mind, calming our negative thoughts and boosting our positive thoughts. Here are eight techniques to help you do just that.
Write about your emotions Aim to write for twenty minutes three to four times each week. Don’t analyse your thoughts and feelings; simply describe them. Imagine you’re writing a report so that another person can understand exactly how you’ve been thinking and feeling. Amazing as it seems, you’ll discover that merely writing down your thoughts is enough to rob them of their power.
Use worry periods Save up your worrying for a daily twenty-minute “worry period”. If you find yourself worrying at other times, write down what’s bugging you and then keep it for later. Twenty minutes a day worrying is plenty! Be comfortable with your choices We tend to assume that our decisions influence our level of happiness – and sometimes, of course, they do. But arguably far more important is our attitude towards those decisions. It’s best to trust your judgement, enjoy your choices, and don’t look back.
Challenge negative thoughts Most of our thoughts are anything but logical. They’re usually a snap reaction to what we see or feel. So don’t treat thoughts as if they were facts. Consider the evidence for and against the thought. And see if you can think of alternative explanations for how you’re feeling or what’s happened.
Keep a gratitude diary
Every night for two weeks, write down five things in your life for which you are grateful. Those things can be as minor, or as important, as you like. If you find this activity helpful – and lots of people do – consider making it a regular feature of your week.
Visualise success Whatever the upcoming challenge, the trick is to visualise it turning out well. Perhaps you have a job interview coming up. Maybe you have to give a presentation at work. Or perhaps you need to have a difficult conversation with someone. Include as much detail as possible in your visualisation, and rehearse your part as often as you can.
How music affects your mood
Let music boost your mood Music can have a powerful effect on our emotions. The evidence is clear: relaxing music calms us; happy music cheers us up. So try putting together a compilation CD for those times when you need a lift. In fact, you might want to have one selection to get you feeling up and bouncy, and another to help you chill out at the end of a tiring day.
Smile! Research has shown that we can produce an emotion in ourselves just by adopting the appropriate facial expression. If you pretend to smile, for example, you’ll actually feel happier. Try it out for a day. Every couple of hours, and whether you feel like it or not, spend a few minutes smiling. To help you, think of a happy memory or a time you had the giggles or a favourite joke.
Over the past fifteen years happiness has received more attention from psychologists than ever before. The bottom line from all this research is simple and inspiring: we can all become happier. Make these techniques part of your routine and you’ll be well on your way to transforming your own mood.
Daniel Freeman is Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University. Jason Freeman is a writer and editor. You Can Be Happy: The Scientifically Proven Way to Change How You Feel is available now, published by Prentice Hall Life at £10.99.