Happy Valentines Day!!! We all have different feelings about this day. You are either…
- All-in! Red roses, candy, cards, romantic dinner, your one-and-only love by your side.
- A bit cynical and jaded about the ‘holiday.’
- Or trying to avoid it all together!
Whatever your particular feeling is towards Valentines Day, the one thing that all of the images have in common is the invitation to be happy. When someone wishes you happy birthday or happy valentines day or happy new year, do you accept their invitation to be happy? I’ve been having conversations with a number of my clients about happiness and whether it is a choice or not. I would argue that it is a choice.
I don’t know a lot of people who wake up and say, “I wish I could shake off some of this happiness today.” Or, “I feel way too happy today.” We seem to typically be in pursuit of more happiness. So, if happiness is a choice, why wouldn’t more of us choose it and more often?
I was invited to speak on The Science of Happiness: Positive Psychology Research and Tools at the Women Economic Forum (WEF) in British Columbia, Canada this past year. Researching this topic has opened up a whole new interest for me regarding happiness and positive psychology.
As a psychology major in the early 80’s, the emphasis during that time (and the previous 100+ years) was on what was wrong with people. It was looking for cures and treatments for psychic ailments. It wasn’t until the late 1990’s that Dr. Martin Seligman introduced positive psychology and used it as the theme during his term as President of the American Psychological Association. His work looks at what makes people feel happy and fulfilled with a focus on strengths. Since his introduction to this new theory, there has been a tremendous amount of work done on happiness and positive emotions.
So…back to my question…can we choose to be happy? First, can we agree on the premise that happiness is an emotion? If we agree, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor notes in her memoir, My Stroke of Insight, that the physiological lifespan of an emotion in the body and brain is 90 seconds. The sensations— adrenalin, heat in the face, tightness in the throat, rapid heartbeat—arise, peak and dissipate on their own. She calls this the 90 Second Emotion Rule. After the emotion has flushed through, we can decide if we want to continue in the circuitry of the emotion.
So…when was the last time you had a 90 second emotion??? I can’t remember either!!!
Why does it feel like our emotions last longer than 90 seconds? It’s because of the stories we tell ourselves about the emotions. Those stories can go way back and typically have many twists and turns. For example, let’s say you have a loved one who tends to be late. The moment you see a call coming in from him when it is around the time you are supposed to meet, you instantly get upset. In addition to the stories, we also work hard to find evidence to make our stories true. Using our example, you think to yourself,
‘Oh, here he goes again…he is never on time. He did this to me last Tuesday. He doesn’t respect me enough to show up on time. Now we are going to be late…we are always late…I hate being late. Why does he always do this to me? He knows I can’t stand being late.’ And you answer the phone with an angry, “WHAT?”
I’m guessing that sets a certain tone for the conversation! All of that story is not emotion, but rather thoughts about the emotions. The initial physiological feeling was gone in 90 seconds. Sometimes an emotion brings up an old story from when you were a kid…a story that you’ve told yourself over and over and over. You’ve told the story so many times that it has now become a belief that you have about yourself, whether you know it or not. Maybe your long-time story is that you’re not getting the respect you deserve and the belief that goes along with it is you don’t deserve respect. This may be a story you’ve believed for many years and is it even true?
What if I told you that you can create a new story? Do you believe you can change those beliefs you have about yourself? THIS is the point where I believe happiness can be a choice…if the story you’ve told yourself over and over is a negative story, you can change that story to something that is more positive. You can choose to focus on something that makes you happier. For instance, suppose you got the call from your loved one right before you were supposed to meet him and maybe he is going to be a little bit late…what if you focus on the fact that you now have ten extra minutes to respond to an email you’ve been trying to finish AND you will still be on time. Would that be a happier conversation?
When things look bad or dark, it may not feel like this is even possible. I ask my clients to look for the good in their situations. Even though things look dark, can you can find something good about it and focus on that rather than the negative or dark aspect. It doesn’t make the dark part go away, it just focuses your mind on something different. And when you can focus on something that is positive, it moves your thought frequency in an upward spiral vs. a downward spiral.
What can you do to start to create a new, more positive story? Action for Happiness is a movement of people committed to building a happier and more caring society. They synthesized their happiness research into “Ten Keys to Happier Living” using an acronym, GREAT DREAM. You may find these tools help you to choose a different story.
- Giving – do things for others
- Relating – connect with people
- Exercising – taking care of your body
- Appreciating – awareness of what you do and the world around you
- Trying Out – doing new things
- Direction – doing things towards a goal
- Resilience – bouncing back after something negative
- Emotion – being positive about what you do
- Acceptance - that we all have faults and that things go wrong
- Meaning – being part of something bigger
So if someone wishes you a Happy Valentines Day, take them up on their offer and be happy!!!
Do you have an old story you are ready to change? If so, email or call me to schedule a complimentary strategy session to create a new story! Shelly@YourNextChapterCoaching.com 602-617-8351