Published on: February 19, 2015
by Barb Barrett for Chicago Tribune:
In our culture, “stressed” is a word commonly used to describe how we’re feeling and one in five 9 to 17 year olds are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. How can we become calmer, more positive, even happier people, and help our youth to be happier as well?
According to Shawn Achor, professor of positive psychology at Harvard University, the lens through which we view the world shapes our reality. Ten percent of how we feel is determined by external influences, while 90 percent is the way our brain processes the world and those outside influences. So, how do we literally change our way of thinking? How do we change our brain? According to Achor, we can retrain our brain to be happier. Happiness is a choice and a practice.
A happier brain increases brain function by 31percent. Just as physical exercise strengthens our heart, muscles and athletic skills, happiness activities strengthen our brain and train it to be happier, more resilient and less stressed. Practicing the following tasks for 21 days will help change your brain function.
• Quiet your mind. Negative internal and external messages dramatically affect your mood and your health. Doing something nice for someone else is a great way to shift focus from ourselves and open up to new possibilities. Random acts of kindness teach us that we have the power to change the world.
• Write. Simply keeping a journal encourages an attitude of gratitude. Jot down three things you’re grateful for right now. We’re 25 percent happier when we practice gratitude. Attending to the positive will leave less room for the negative.
• Communicate positively. Rather than asking your child, spouse, friend, parent how their day was, ask them what nice things happened to them that day. Remember: for every negative comment or thought, three positive comments are needed to overcome associated negative feelings.
• Exercise. Not only will you enjoy many physical and emotional benefits, you will begin to realize the outcomes of your actions. By setting goals and achieving them, we feel empowered to take on new challenges.
• Breathe. Five to twenty minutes a day of mindfulness, such as sitting quietly and focusing on your breath, calms the mind and reduces stress. Stress reduction has many physical and mental health benefits.
• Visualize. Mentally place yourself in a happy, peaceful situation. It may be a joyful memory or anticipated pleasure. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between the real and the imagined, so you’re creating actual happiness from imagined happiness.
These are simple practices that require little effort, but result in increased attention, healthier relationships, more success with school work, increased resiliency and empathy, and decreased anxiety. Make the choice to be a happier person. Just as you exercise your body and prepare and train for an athletic event or study for an upcoming test, train your brain to allow more joy, peace and gratitude in your life.
Although it’s great to celebrate the big achievements, it’s also important to celebrate the small wins.
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