Meme after meme the message arrives: “Being happy is a choice,” or some version of that. And I don’t disagree with that message except that it doesn’t really get anybody anywhere. I guess this is the problem with relying on memes as life guidance; limits on the number of characters make real help hard. So, in the interest of a wider audience, we get: “Choose to be happy.”
OK, here I go. I’m choosing it. I’ve got my chooser on (as one of my favorite pre-school teachers used to say), and I’m going to turn it to happy. Great! Done. Perfect.
Not so much. Okay, if that didn’t work, I’ll smile until I feel happy. I understand there’s actually some evidence for this strategy. I’m willing to bet it’s because when we smile, more people smile and are nicer to us. For our purposes, this example actually shows the problem with the more minimalist “Choose Happy” meme. In order to choose to be happy, we may have to do something different, and while you are welcome to start with smiling, or any other fake it ’til you make it approach, I’d like to suggest something a little more difficult that has the added bonus of lasting longer than that fake smile (maybe that’s just me, I just can’t fake smile for long).
What you need to do differently, if you want to be happy, is to have different thoughts. Tell yourself different, but believable, stories. Now, I’m not talking about a positive affirmation: “Everything in my life is fantastic. I have tons of friends and everyone appreciates me.” I’m not suggesting that you just start thinking shit that may not be true in an effort to cheer yourself up. I’m suggesting that you consciously think things that are as true as or truer than whatever is bothering you. Choose thoughts that open a door for possibility, that create forward motion, that leave room for happiness.
“BUT I can’t help the way that I think about the world.” Yes, yes you can. Maybe you should start with that thought right there. Can you come up with one that is just as true, but that leaves room for change like: “Maybe there is a way to change the way that I think,” OR “I’m open to learning how to change the way that I think.” See how both of these could still be true but soften things so motion might actually be possible?
Someone who doesn’t believe they can help what they think is a victim of their automatic response to whatever they take in. Someone who believes they can’t change what they think just might have a hard time changing much of anything, because change starts in the mind. Change starts with one new thought that you choose to try on and to practice to see how it makes you feel and act. That’s it. Stuck in some part of your life? Try that. Try a new thought that is believable AND opens the door for possibility, for forward motion, for happiness. See if you can think it consciously. Try it on and see how it makes you feel. It will take some practice, but you just might surprise yourself with a little happy.
In an ad for a class he’s teaching, Steve Martin says: “Remember, you are a thought machine.” He says it to remind people that all of their experiences are available as comedy, stories to share. I say it to remind you how very powerful your brain is and how much better you will feel when you get it working FOR you, when you become a conscious creator of the way you think, and the way you feel.
Intrigued by the idea of REALLY changing how you feel, but not sure where to start? I’d sure love to help you figure out what thoughts are running around in there so you can replace them with thoughts you want to have, that serve you, that get you unstuck and make you feel better. Drop me a line; I’d love to hear from you.