Brain trap #6: how our thinking dictates our happiness
Nothing – seriously, nothing – impacts our happiness as powerfully as our thinking patterns.
The way we internalise our experiences, the way we tell stories to ourselves about events in our life, the way we assign meaning to things, the way we take (or don’t take) ownership of our experiences is the absolute most powerful force in shaping our life and our experiences.
Yet, our ways of thinking developed at a time when we did not have enough of consciousness to “decide” what kind of thinking patterns we wish to have and what kind of mindset would benefit us most.
They are result of our life experiences, our culture, the way we were raised, the events that happened to us, random things and stories that others told us.,,
That means that many of our thinking patterns are not exactly the ones that we wish to have – or that are beneficial for us.
So, how about we start exploring our own thinking patterns, and take ownership in shaping new, more powerful ways of thinking?
What do we mean by “internal experience”?
Probably one of the biggest and scariest traps on our path to happiness is the “if I get this / if this happens, then I will be happy….” – in other words, thinking that our happiness is a consequence of external circumstances, while in fact it is much more dependent on what is happening within our head.
“Internal experience” is the sum of habits of our thinking, such as:
• stories we tell in our mind about our experiences,
• how we assign meaning to things and how we explain how some event impacted our life or day,
• do we remember to appreciate and look for positive sides of each experience,
• are we focused on circumstances that we cannot control or on the aspects that are under our influence?
For example, when I get a nasty cold, I can see it as something that ruined my hiking plans – or I can see it as a message of my body to rest and a nice chance to catch up on some sleep and reading a good book.
When I pass through an unpleasant experience, I can see it as something that robbed me of a bit of my life and joy,
or I can see it as something that made me stronger, more resilient and I can look for what I can learn out of that experience.
In terms of happiness, there are several ways in which “internal experience” can serve our happiness:
Do we take responsibility: are we taking an active ownership over events in our life and the meaning we assign to those events, or we feel the “victim” of our circumstances?
Do we look for positive aspects of things that happen around us or we focus on negatives?
Do we appreciate all the good things that happen or we take them for granted?
Do we look for learning and self-development in all that happens to us?
Do we approach situations with curiosity and active engagement? Are we looking for what is interesting and stimulating around us?
Do we pay attention to how events – or, better to say, our thoughts about events – make us feel and what kind of energy they create in us?
All of these are the consequences of how we are used to using our brain.
Many of those questions at the moment are the consequence of habits of our thinking – but habits are something that we can change with a bit of intention, willpower, focus and consistency!
How to improve your inner experience for more happiness?
Here are some ideas on how to work on developing more positive and rich inner experiences:
• The first step in improving own inner experience is taking ownership: deciding that you are the master of your thoughts, and that you are the captain of your experience, and that whenever you thoughts work in your interest, you will do something to change them
• This is all about Mindset – make sure to explore the Pillar 5 – Creator’s mindset
• Practice using “4 powerful questions” as often as possible
• Appreciation and gratitude are the key to positive thoughts and positive emotions – building up on positives that we already have is much easier then trying to directly change the negative aspects of our thinking – look for more ideas under our Pillar 8 – the power of gratitude
• Spend time with friends who are optimists and have a powerful mindset and try to figure out their thinking process and learn from them
• Explore toolboxes for working with your thoughts, such as NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) or ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy)
• Read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s search for meaning
• Read (auto)biographies of amazing people, such as Nelson Mandela, and learn from their mindset
• Journal on what positive/learning/gratitude can you find in diverse past experiences
• Keep an eye on your emotion and energy – when we are energetic and in a positive emotion, it is much easier to think in a quality way – look for ideas under Pillar 2 – Positive emotions
• look into Pillar 10 – Building resilience to learn how to use your brain against challenging experiences
Working with own mindset and thinking process is probably one of the most challenging aspects of happiness – but also one of the most rewarding and powerful!
The key is in patience, consistency, and doing small steps – but doing many of them 😉
Just remember: do all of it with a healthy dose of self-compassion and whenever training your mind, do it like training a puppy 🙂
How about you?
What are some of the challenges in your own “internal experience”? And how about some ideas on how to work on this and make it more positive?
Do share in comments – but also to start a conversation in our Positive Psychology Tribe virtual community for meaningful conversations.
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