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How We Can Turn Ourselves into Happier People

Ways to make ourselves happierA few weeks ago, I accompanied my son and his classmates on a field trip to learn about the Lenape Indians. The kids (and I) learned about the incredibly resourceful ways they survived by hunting food, creating communities, and making shelter and clothing. (Meanwhile, my biggest concern when I arrived was whether or not my photos from the day were Instagram-worthy.) The one thing I took away from the field trip was a deep admiration for a generation of people who were forced to survive and thrive, focusing solely on their needs rather than their wants.

Our bodies are designed to have a fight or flight mentality. We were built to fight for survival. Because of this, our brains have what scientists call a “negativity bias,” where we innately let positive experiences pass by while we focus more on the negative. Some people can easily train themselves to be happy, while others may get stuck in that place of negativity bias.

So how can we get unstuck?

In his book, Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, Dr. Rick Hanson (a neuropsychologist and member of U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center’s advisory board) says that we must train ourselves to appreciate positive experiences by embedding them in our brains. If we can take the time to embed moments of contentment, calm, and confidence in our minds, we can learn to be naturally happier people.

It is an interesting perspective, don’t you think? However, in considering how we can train ourselves to be happier people, I wanted to know more about ways to train our brains to think positively. It turns out that we can achieve this by being self-fulfilling people. Using strategies that deal with autonomy, such as responsibility, self-acceptance, and self-control, can make us happier people. In other words, we need to take control of our happiness.

Here are five takeaways from modern research on happiness that might be helpful for those who want to become happier people or help our children be as happy as possible:

#1: Recognize and appreciate positive experiences by taking the time to focus on them and what they bring to our lives. This will embed them in our brains and elevate our moods.

#2: Acknowledge that it is up to you to be happy. Accept that you have the power to control your emotions, and that includes choosing happiness. Understand that is not up to somebody else to make you happy. Consider repeating this to yourself in a daily mantra.

#3: Make an effort to be happy. People who actively try to be happier will become happier. Sometimes, it is a matter of finding the methods that work for you, such as listening to happy music or keeping a gratitude journal.

#4: Look for the positives, even in the negatives. When happy people experience failures or setbacks, they often use coping strategies, such as positive reframing, acceptance, and humor. They try to find the positive, such as what they learned from the experience.

#5: Recall happy memories from childhood. Adults who had a happy childhood are more likely to report higher levels of well-being later in life. These people hold onto their positive childhood memories. If you have happy childhood memories, try associating them with physical objects or locations so you can easily bring those associations to mind.

What do you think? Would you try these strategies? Have you tried any of these strategies?

Sources: The Atlantic, PeerJ, The Journal of Positive Psychology, University of Kent, Association for Psychological Science, University of Cambridge, University of South Florida

Jessica also recently wrote:
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Read more from Jessica at FoundtheMarbles.com.  And be sure to follow her on Twitter too!

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