The Pursue of Happiness
Sunday, January 29, 2023

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It seems like we can throw away our negative thoughts and be happy forever, but the fact is, as researcher Richard Petty says, "they are not really gone - you can regenerate them, but the representations of those thoughts are gone, at least temporarily, and it seems to make it easier to not think about them."  For negative thoughts, writing them onto a piece of paper and then throwing it away appears to thwart their negative power, though it may only be short term. With repetition, one could possibly gain longer term benefits by "practicing" discarding negative thoughts.  If you have pervasive negative thoughts, write them down on a piece of paper, and physically throw them away, or burn them! This strategy can be employed as a quick way to clear your head of negativity.



Use your imagination:

A just-released study found that the human imagination is powerful to a scary and exciting degree. "'This is the first set of experiments to definitively establish that the sensory signals generated by one's imagination are strong enough to change one's real-world perception of a different sensory modality,' says Professor Henrik Ehrsson, the principle investigator behind the study."  Your imagination is so powerful that it can alter what you see and hear in the physical world, having the power to change your mindset to a happier state.  If you spend all of your time thinking realistically, not only will life be a little bit boring, but you'll miss out on your brain's most enjoyable and powerful tool - imagination.  


Exercising your imagination muscle will generate creative ideas, motivate you, and make you happier if you use it well. For example, look closely at the photo above and imagine a clear day in Burma where you can see a perfect mirror reflection of a rocky hill on a beutiful lake in Burma.  The image in your mind should be an inspiring image of a serene and spiritual praying woman with her child.  Happiness is a perspective, and using your imagination is an effective way to alter your perspective to your liking.



Instead of Buying Possessions Start Buying Experiences:

Our personal experiences have been shown to make us happier than material possessions. The linked study from Cornell says, "Consumers spend more time thinking about material purchases they didn't choose than they spend when they buy an experience." It appears that experiences are free from the comparison mindset that can sour an item purchase. A year later, your phone is outdated, but your trip to Rome isn't - instead it ages like wine in your mind. I went to Rome in May and my $800 Galaxy Note II was stolen. I haven't missed my phone at all, but will remember the trip forever. When it comes to spending money, experiences are almost always a better value than possessions. Material possessions tend to make us happy initially and then wane off considerably, but the happiness gained from experiences may last a lifetime.



The Power of Giving and Sharing:

Volunteer, help the person in front of you pay their bill in a supermarket, cook a surprise meal for someone, or give someone an unexpected gift. We are incredibly powerful in our ability to make someone else's day with very little effort on our part. And one study suggests that giving is an innate source of happiness in humans. The study found that toddlers before the age of two years old "exhibit greater happiness when giving treats to others than receiving treats themselves."  Another study by a Harvard scholar found that happiness can be bought, so long as you're spending the money on someone else.  Instinct tells us that receiving is preferable, but giving brings real happiness results. If you truly want to maximize your happiness, then find ways to give to others. You won't regret it.



Train your Brain Like a Monk:

Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk, is sometimes called "the happiest man in the world." What's his secret? "We're not always angry, always jealous, always generous," says Ricard. "There is a possibility for change because all emotions are fleeting. That is the ground for mind training. Mind training is on the idea that two opposite mental factors can't happen at the same time ... You cannot in the same gesture shake a hand and give a blow ... There are natural antidotes to emotions that are destructive to our well-being." Ricard says that mind transformation is the way to go, but that it takes tim. The mind transformation is achieved through meditation on unconditional compassion and loving kindness. If you want to multiply your happiness results from giving and sharing, meditate on compassion and loving kindness. 




Perhaps the most surprising and 21st century relevant happiness factor of all is focus. Did you know that being distracted makes you unhappy? This study found that people's minds wandered a disturbing 47% of the time on average. And the result? It had a bigger negative impact on their happiness than what they were doing. "If you ask people to imagine winning the lottery, they typically talk about the things they would do — 'I'd go to Italy, I'd buy a boat, I'd lay on the beach' — and they rarely mention the things they would think. Harvard Psychologist Dr. Daniel Gilbert explains: "Our data suggest that the location of the body is much less important than the location of the mind, and that the former has surprisingly little influence on the latter. The heart goes where the head takes it, and neither cares much about the whereabouts of the feet."  One more benefit of focus is that it allows you to live the life you want to live. Focusing your skills and energy on fewer areas is a simple formula that brings big results. The more you focus on what matters, the more your life becomes as you desire, and the happier you'll be. Learn to control your whims or they will control your life and steal your happiness. True happiness is not being a slave to a piece of technology - it's deciding what's most important in this moment and focusing all of your energy on it.