If I asked you to tell me ten things that have been bad about your day you could probably give me 20! Maybe work stressed you out, the coffee machine broke, the car wouldn't start, your partner didn't do what they said they would, the kids were arguing..... I'm pretty sure the list would go on and on!
But what if I then asked you to come up with ten things that have been good about your day? Difficult huh?
We live in a world where we all like to moan. The media is our first culprit; the press pick on people for wearing the wrong thing, the news is full of doom and gloom and we are constantly reminded that there are threats, dangers and other negative things to worry about. And we are then our own worst enemy because when bad things happen we will tell anyone who will listen. It really is part of our culture and the more we moan to each other, the more we are encouraged to moan. When was the last time you phoned your best friend just to tell them how great your day was?
We use different parts of our brain depending on what we are thinking about. The left pre-frontal cortex is activated when we are feeling positive and happy and the right pre-frontal cortex is activated when we are feeling sad. Operating from the happy part of the brain means we are able think intelligently about situations that may cause us stress. If we are not in this part of the brain when crisis strikes then we will generally start panicking!
The brain is like plastic and the different areas can grow and change depending on what we use and scientists have shown this by brain-scanning a group of buddhist monks. The results showed that the left pre-frontal cortex in the monk's was actually bigger than most people. And the reason for this? The monks regularly practice mindfulness which involves being in the here and now without worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. Mindfulness is a wholly positive practice and has shown to improve learning, creativity and memory as well as reducing anxiety.
So what does this show us? Well first of all it shows that you can learn to be happy. Look for the small things that make you smile; this could be seeing an elderly couple holding hands, your partner bringing you a cup of tea in bed, someone offering you a seat on the train, a favourite song coming on the radio.... They may seem small and inconsequential but every time you recognise that this is a small positive thing, you are lighting up that part of your brain that makes you happy.
Do this over and over means that this part of the brain becomes stronger and stronger and then being happy becomes a habit. You will easily find the positives in your every day life and when something negative does happen you will be in a better place to deal with it.
This can also be applied to how we talk to our children and to each other. So try this.... When your kids get in from school or your partner gets in from work, rather than ask them 'How was your day?', ask them 'What has been good about your day?'. The benefits of this are two-fold; you will be encouraging them to think positively and you will also start to look forward to these chats as they will make you feel happy and positive too!
I ask all of my clients to look for the positives in their everyday lives and the difference it makes is amazing. Try to notice the positives, however small, and see the difference it makes to your life!