Optimism has always intrigued me. I once wondered how some people were just generally sunnier? Did they have a trait I didn’t? How, for example, tough moments didn’t trouble them so much and they smiled just a bit more. Maybe they made their way through the day with just a little more positive energy and outlook. How? Maybe they were different somehow? Maybe they were happy.
It’s a mystery….I know. I’ve had some periods of dark thinking and depression in my own life. But there are some tools we’ve discovered that can increase our chances of having a better day. Sometimes it just takes practice.
Adjust Your Thinking
Learned Optimism is a great book by Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania. In it, he describes research showing that optimism is a mindset that pays off. Optimistic people are higher achievers, stronger earners with more resilient marriages and less health problems. Seligman provides the tools necessary for changing our minds…and for living a more optimistic life, feeling better each day. Often regarded as the “father of positive psychology”, he along with Dr. Aaron Beck has been responsible for increasing our understanding of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which I use every day in my counseling practice here in Delray. It’s a method based on noticing and changing our “automatic thoughts”, especially those that occur upon encountering adversity.
Three Happiness Hacks
Seligman identified three quick thoughts that are key to how we respond to events, especially emotionally. To tune up our optimism engine when things get tough, he suggests we remember these three “P’s”: Let’s say you walk out to a flat tire in the morning….
- It’s not personal. The universe isn’t out to get you. It’s just a flat tire. Let’s fix it.
- It’s not pervasive. It’s not everywhere. Not your whole world. Not reflective of your whole life.
- It’s not permanent. It’s just right now. Nothing lasts. Everything changes. This too, will pass.
Some of my clients like to keep a notepad nearby, and jot down their thoughts, at least once each day when something challenging happens. It’s pretty amazing how we often come across distortions in our thinking that lead to downward spirals of self doubt and recrimination.
Dr Tim Miller authored a neat little book called “How to Want What You Have” that follows a similar vein of personal thinking practice. He shed light on some of the anthropology behind why our thougths occur like they do, and how to change them. Referring to the wisdom traditions of Buddhism, Christianity and humanism, Miller identifies ways we can find happiness by guarding against depressive thinking and nurturing gratitude, even in the face of suffering.
If you or someone you love is struggling with unhappy moods or depression, I’m here to help. Call me at 561-213-8030. Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m a licensed professional addictions therapist in downtown Delray Beach, FL.