I’m in the business of helping people to be happier and for all the theories and strategies I’ve learned to help people do that, often it’s the simple things that can make the biggest difference. For example, the Serenity Prayer suggests that we should have “the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference”.
Being a practitioner and teacher of mindfulness, I’m always talking about the acceptance part. Things in your life may not be ideal but futile resistance to things that are out of your control and the stress you create for yourself by wishing they were somehow different is the very definition of suffering. You might not like it, but sometimes your best option is to drop the struggle and let it be. It’s not defeat – it’s a wise redirection of your time and resources.
Of course the other very important part of the prayer is the part where you ask for ‘the courage to change the things you can’.. because there is plenty that you do have control over. In fact, happiness researchers suggest that almost half of your general happiness in life is determined not by the circumstances of your life but your intentional thoughts and actions. That’s huge!
I thought I’d list three very simple things you can change, which have the potential to make a big difference to your mindset and mood.
1. Change what you focus on.
Our minds are like Velcro for negativity and Teflon for all things positive. This is because of your inbuilt negativity bias and you’re not alone in having this biased perspective. When you realise how much you fixate on the negative while you ignore, deny or dismiss the positive, you can make a conscious decision to switch your focus. Instead of seeing only what’s going wrong, shine a mental spotlight on everything that’s going well. When you notice you’re zeroing in on your perceived flaws, make the decision to focus on your best qualities and dial up the self-compassion. If you’re assuming the worst about other people, try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Regularly make a note of all the things you have to be grateful for.
2. Change your language.
Just as you can choose where to direct your mental energy, you can also take charge of the kind of language you use and the conversations you engage in. Check yourself if you are using negative, critical words to describe yourself or other people. Try to steer clear of complaining and the gossipy conversation that often gains traction in workplaces and social groups. Negativity breeds more negativity so wherever you can, do your bit to raise the tone of conversation by injecting comments that are more optimistic, encouraging, and positive.
3. Change your social circle
They say we become like the five people we spend the most time with and I think there’s some truth to that. If you spend your time with people who are negative, cynical, apathetic or have a victim mentality, it can be easy to adopt the same way of thinking or for them to sabotage your efforts at positive change. On the other hand, being around people who are goal-directed, optimistic and enthusiastic can also be infectious. We all have some friendships we’ve perhaps outgrown, or people in our lives who might drain our energy or undermine us in subtle ways. It’s not that you need to cut all of those people out of your life (though you might decide to do just that) but you do want to make sure you’re making an effort to connect and nurture relationships with people who uplift and support you.
Decide right now the one thing you can change to shift your mood from crappy to happy.
P.S. One of the best approaches I know for improving your mood is mindfulness. I’ve spent years learning, practising and teaching it and have just created my very own 8-week online course, “Mindfulness for Busy People” so you can learn these skills from the comfort of your lounge room! Hooray!
If you would like to know more, please get your name on the waiting list. This is the only way to get updates about start dates, prices etc. We’ll be kicking off again soon!
An earlier version of this article first appeared in the private online community at www.tiffxo.com