The Advantage of Being Happy
Happiness is a topic that is often misunderstood. It is often thought to be elusive and only activated by sources outside of ourselves. When we try to access happiness through the external world, we quickly end up realizing that it slips through our hands as quickly as it came. This is one of the reasons why happiness gets a bad rap; it is thought to be unattainable.
I would say that happiness is not to blame. It is actually or focuses on utilizing an external locus of control for how to access happiness that is the issue.
Shawn Achor, a leading positive psychology researcher and public speaker, talks all about our challenges to attaining happiness in his book “The Happiness Advantage.”
Here is Achor’s TED talk discussing the principles of positive psychology.
I recently picked up this book and it has taken me back to my love of positive psych. The idea that we can, by design and on purpose, make ourselves experience more moments of positivity is honestly inspiring.
I found positive psych five years ago during a time when I was making a shift in my career away from being a full-time employee to part-time self-employment. I had been working in a job that, while familiar and full of colleagues I loved, was making me feel suffocated.
Almost immediately after the shift, I delved into an area of psychology that I had learned during my nutrition coaching program; the study of positive emotions. I feel deeply in love. It was the oxygen I had been missing in my career path as a social worker. At the time I was drowning in my client’s problems, society's problems and ultimately the weight of my own problems with it all.
Returning to reading about positive psychology has been like bumping into an old friend who helped you through some of the toughest times in your life.
Achor talks about what he calls the “Tetris Effect” which is the brain's capacity to encode negative experiences and emotions and get trapped in them. This happens much the same as it does to someone who has been trapped in say playing hours of the video game Tetris or watching a Netflix marathon. Subjects researched at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Psychology found that after spending hours of time playing Tetris, the subjects actually started experiencing life much like it was the video game. They were trapped in the mentality of the game and automatically started envisioning experiences like shopping at a grocery store like it was the game. Crazy, huh?
Achor discussed that it is possible to use the Tetris Effect to encode positive experiences and emotions. In order for positive emotions to get encoded. we need to purposefully acknowledge the positive experiences we have on a daily basis. By bringing our conscious attention to the things that bring us
It totally makes sense. Think about it...how often do you find yourself almost automatically talking to co-workers, colleagues, friends, your partner about all the crappy things that have been happening during your week? I bet a lot. I know when I am having a challenging time, it can be really hard not to automatically share it with someone. While venting to someone can feel supportive, at the same time it is focusing on a) the past and b) what you don’t like, and wish didn’t occur.
How much energy are you giving to experience, people and things that don’t feel positive?
That’s a really good self-check question. When we are feeling crappy, it can be really helpful to check in with ourselves to be curious about how much time, energy and effort we are
This can also be applied to our daily habits. How often are we eating foods that deplete our energy? What has our caffeine intake been like during those times that we don’t feel very good? If it’s high, which it often is, know that this could be part of the problem because caffeine leeches energy and is a diuretic which means it steals water from your body.
There are many ways we can use the Tetris Effect from The Happiness Advantage to help us experience more positive experiences and emotions on a daily basis.
By shifting our focus to what brings us joy, we increase the number of joyful experiences we have, thereby making us a happier person. Happy and positive people tend to draw happy and positive people towards them. And who couldn’t use more happy people around them?
So, come on, join me in the challenge! For the next month, keep a journal where you write down three good experiences a day that made you happy. They could be the chat you had with your local barista who knows your order. Maybe the dog that stopped to play with you while you were both walking down the street (my personal favorite!) You get to choose.
Embrace the Advantage of Being Happy! Too often we get drawn into embracing the negative. Lord knows there are a plethora of things now a day to help us focus on the negative in the world. For today, shift your Tetris Effect into the positive and embrace happiness!
I look forward to hearing how the experiment is going!
Cheers to being positive and happy!
Want more info on how you can work with me to help increase your own health and happiness? Contact me to discuss further.
Stephanie Troy, LICSW is a Mind/Body Therapist & Trainer specializing in stress and anxiety management. She is the owner of Your Whole Healing which provides individual counseling Harvard Square as well as corporate wellness stress management programming focusing on helping individuals Strive to Thrive.
Stephanie came to this specialization in holistic health and stress management through healing herself from burnout in the field of social work. Over a cup of tea, Stephanie shares with her clients' antidotes she has learned along the way combined with professional guidance on better managing stress and burnout. She writes both for her own blog as well as a contributor to the Huff Post and Elephant Journal.