If you knew that you could boost your happiness in just four minutes a day would you? (If you answered no to that question, bravo for your honesty and watch for my next blog about why we are sometimes more comfortable staying unhappy). The other day as I was driving, I noticed myself thinking about a memory that had not been happy for me. I was reliving an embarrassing event when I had been interviewed for an article about my book and the interview went very badly. During the interview I couldn’t think. She asked what had inspired me to write this book and I said “um….” I’m not kidding! I couldn’t seem to complete a whole sentence, the day had been jam-packed and I was distracted by something that had just happened. I finally had to ask the interviewer if I could send some written answers to her questions. Thank goodness this hadn’t been a live interview!
In my car, I was replaying this embarrassing memory over and over again to no avail. I think our brain does this so that we can learn from our mistakes but trust me, there was nothing else to learn. I had already realized that when I have something like this to do, I need to plan a little down time to get grounded. Now I was just reliving the moment for no good reason. Like a broken record for those of you old enough to remember what scratched vinyl sounds like.
I then decided to turn my mind purposefully to a time when I had felt good about something I had been involved in. This memory helped to dispel the embarrassment and left me feeling much more energetic. It occurred to me that we don’t often choose mindfully which or our memories to focus on; they simply seem to appear in our minds. Our brains are wired to focus more on reliving unhappy moments than happy ones since we learn more efficiently from negative experiences than positive ones. However, we are capable of choosing which memory to think about to dramatically shift our mood. Here's some proof:
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found that certain forms of happiness-based writing can boost mood in persons recovering from substance abuse. 531 adults with current or previous substance abuse were randomly assigned to five groups and given a writing exercise which took an average of four minutes to complete. The highest level of “in the moment” happiness was experienced by people who were instructed to go through their own pictures and choose one that captured a happy moment. They then simply wrote about what was happening in the photo for an average of four minutes. The researchers named this “reliving happy moments” exercise. That’s good evidence that this can work! So start going through those pictures now and find at least enough for your first week. I would love to hear from you. Please scroll down to the bottom of this page (past the banner of recent posts) to leave a comment.