There are a lot of things we know can increase happiness levels. Meditation, regular exercise, giving back in a way that feels good to you can all help improve your mood.
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But every one of the above methods is useless unless you crack the most important element of happiness first. If you don’t nail this one thing, then you can meditate till you keel over with hunger. Run, cycle and lift weights until you collapse from exhaustion. And give all your cash to help starving goats in Papua New Guinea, but you’re still never going to be truly happy.
Shakespeare nailed it almost 500 years ago, and so did 19th century English philosopher, James Allen. And now neuroscience is getting on on the act by proving that Billy was right when he said, ‘There is nothing good or life, but thinking makes it so’ As was Jimmy when he said, ‘As a man thinketh, so shall he be’.
Imagine you decide to take up meditation (and by the way, I highly recommend it). You sit down, focus on your breath and suddenly up pop a host of thoughts you were previously unaware of. Prior to sitting your rear down on the floor all probably seemed quiet and sublime inside your head. However, your thoughts are like the fan running above my head. Unless I tune in to it I’m totally unaware of the noise it’s making. Our brains struggle to deal with more than about 3 or 4 pieces of information at a conscious level at any one time. As such, we have to delete everything else and trust our unconscious mind to run the show.
However, your unconscious mind can be a bit of a rascal if you don’t keep an eye on it, or rather an ear out for what it is saying. It whirs away more relentlessly than my fan, asking question after question, offering idea after idea, and of course, if you allow it, self recrimination after self recrimination.
No matter how much we tell ourselves to the contrary and how much marketers would have us believe, the quality of our lives isn’t based upon what is going on outside our head, but rather what is happening inside it. The unequivocal truth is, that it’s your thoughts that dictate your happiness and no, I’m not talking about the Law of Attraction.
There is not a shadow of a doubt that for almost every person on this planet not suffering from a severe mental or neurological disorder, a positive change of thoughts will lead to a positive change of attitude and a subsequent increase in happiness levels. But how do we do that other than just try to think positively all the time, which is most definitely not the answer at all?
If you have the chance, take 10 minutes out now to close your eyes, focus on your breathing and listen to your thoughts as they arise. See if you can spot a massive commonality. Of course you probably won’t do that because you’re human and you want to know what the commonality is now and not waste time. A massive proportion of your thoughts will arise in the form of questions. That’s what your mind is up to most of the time you are doing other stuff, just asking itself questions.
Seeing as we have thousands of thoughts per day (nobody knows how many and the 70,000 figure often bandied around by people like Deepak Chopra is almost certainly not accurate, but it is in the thousands). The problem is, you won’t be asking yourself 10,000 different and highly helpful questions every day, but a handful of the same ones over and over again. It’s these questions that are almost always problem focused for all but the happiest of people, that can cause the lowering of your mood. ‘Why does my job suck?’ ‘Why don’t the kids do as I tell them?’ ‘Why am I overweight and unfit?’ ‘Why can’t I have a pet monkey?’ It’s the ‘why’ word that causes the misery because it tunes into the problem and when we do that over and over and over again it’s hardly surprising we feel less than chipper. ‘Why does my job suck?’
Has your brain been searching for reasons why it sucks, which isn’t helpful when you think about it. Once you know why your job sucks there’s little point asking the same question again and again. Unless you are into masochism I guess.
It’s the quality of your thoughts, or more specifically, the quality of the questions you ask yourself that impacts your happiness levels way more than how much money you have, what job you do, where you live or even how healthy you are. ‘What can I do to stop my job sucking?’ ‘How can I help the kids understand I am trying to help them?’ ‘What would I need to do to get myself back in shape?’ ‘Where do I get a monkey from, and are they legal to own in my State/Country and do I need some type of ape permit?’
They are all empowering solution focused questions (except for the poor monkey, let him go back to Africa please and rescue a dog instead) and guess what?
Your brain loves to know the solution to problems that’s why you almost certainly didn’t close your eyes for 10 minutes before, because your brain wanted the answer to the question I posed (if you did, well done by the way!). And you can use that desire to great effect by posing your brain problems that forces it to focus on finding a solution.
Of course it’s not easy and within 10 minutes of reading this you will probably have defaulted back to your old patterns. But that’s ok, just every time you remember, congratulate yourself on noticing, delete the problem focussed question and replace it with a super cool solution seeking sucker. Then rinse and repeat for a few decades.