by Christine Sine,
Do you ever feel that you should be happy but it eludes you? Do you find negative thoughts always crowd out the positive and negative emotions send you spiralling downward when you should be happy? Evidently, you are not alone. According to a recent Medium article, Your Brain Doesn’t Want You to be Happy. It Wants You to Be Safe, 90% of our thoughts are negative because it is usually our negative thoughts that historically prepared us for change and kept us safe from predators.
The good news is that we can change what our brains focus on. We can choose to be happy to see the good in the midst of the bad, to see light when others see darkness. And as the seasons change and so much challenging news faces us each day, it is a good time to think about how to get ready for a season of happiness not of despair. As I look to the future I realize it is all about intention. We can control where our brains focus. As the article goes on to say
Choosing the bright side isn’t always easy, but it’s more fun. This isn’t about faking smiles or toxic positivity but about making the most of your life.
So what are the practices that help us to focus on the bright side? Here are a few that I find helpful.
- Begin the day with rituals that focus you on the good and the positive. This might be something as simple as reading a psalm, lighting a candle, or saying a breath prayer, but it reminds us – we welcome this day of God’s creation in expectation of joy and delight. Similar rituals can be performed alone or with others not just in the morning but at any time of the day. I love the centering prayer practice that Jenneth Graser does with her kids. So enriching for all of them.
- Pause deliberately before you begin a new task and either repeat your morning ritual or create another one. Perhaps you need to make a cup of tea or coffee, stop for a stretch break, or to admire a flower on your desk or in your garden.
- Indulge in regular gratitude breaks. This is one I am not good at but I keep trying to improve. At the least, end your day by reflecting on what you are grateful for.
- Pause to remember not just what you have done during the day but the people you interacted with during the day, and all who make your life special in some way. I have quite a few photos of friends and family around my house and love to look at these as a way to remember.
- Take time to play. In The Gift of Wonder, I reminded us that play lights up the brain like nothing else and is probably God’s greatest gift to humankind (54) yet adults rarely play and I must confess I still don’t play as often as I should. I am not very good at it. But I know how much better I feel when I played or laughed during the day.
- Rethink your day’s story with a positive twist. The impact of how powerful this practice is was brought home to me last week while reading Howard Thurman’s autobiography, With Head and Heart. In 1935, he took his young daughters back to Daytona Beach Florida where he grew up from Virginia where they are now living. In Daytona, beaches and playgrounds were segregated and the children could not understand why they should not use the swings. Here is how he explains:
It is against the law for us to use those swings, even though it is a public school. At present only white children can play there. But it takes the state legislature, the courts, the sheriffs, and policemen, the white churches, the mayors, the banks and businesses, and the majority of white people in the state of Florida – it takes all these to keep two little black girls from swinging in those swings. That is how important you are! Never forget, the estimate of your own importance and self-worth can be judged by how many weapons and how much power people are willing to use to control you and keep you in the place they have assigned to you. You are two very important little girls. You presence can threaten the whole state of Florida. (With Head and Heart, 97)
Isn’t that powerful? His daughters could choose to become bitter because of their exclusion, or they could feel inferior but he made them proud.
None of us can be happy all the time but we can control where our brains spend most of our lives. What could you do today to make this a happier day not just for you but for someone else as well?