Want to find a way to boost your happiness on a hard day? Think about what you are thinking about. Your thoughts initiate how and what you choose.
Happy thoughts grow powerful choices.
The choices you make create your future.
To be happier on a hard day, we need to think well so we can feel well.
Happiness habit 1: Thinking with hope and optimism
Sure, things happen we can’t control and that’s a separate topic, but the way we behave, socialize, and work creates who we become and the life we live.
What else creates our choices so we can feel happier?
Our culture plays a part in how we work towards happiness. Individualism says if you want to succeed it’s down to you. Collectivism emphasises society and family for shaping each person. This view acknowledges group influence, government policy, socioeconomic background and family.
Both views are valid.
Our family history and access to resources influence the choices we make and the outcome of our lives, but we have agency and influence over our choices. The first way we use our agency and ability is in choosing our thoughts.
The cycle of optimistic and hopeful thoughts so you can live happier
When we choose to think with hope, we make excellent choices.
With powerful choices, happiness flows backwards to reinforce the choices we make. Choosing healthy thoughts helps to create the future we prefer. Success then feeds back to our beliefs that we are capable and we experience more wellbeing and happy thinking.
Healthy thinking habits and positive emotions grow a happier life
Researchers here  explain when people experience positive emotions, they have greater wellbeing. The researchers developed the Positive Emotion Regulation program as a validated intervention and theoretical model to explain and grow positive emotions.
When our thoughts are healthy, our emotions are positive, we have access to better attention, creativity, longer life, stronger immunity, better relationships, and we are kinder and more helpful.  When we feel well and joyful, we have an instant reserve to feel happier on a hard day.
Healthy and hopeful thoughts
How do we know our thoughts are healthy?
Healthy thoughts are are constructive, optimistic and realistic.
- Acknowledge our present emotions.
- Notice pain so we feel and express emotions appropriate to the situation.
- Choose to focus on the good aspects of life in the present.
- Allow us to be hopeful about the future.
- Help us make choices beneficial to ourselves and people we love.
I talk more about this approach here.
Below is a list of optimistic thoughts we can choose. This not an exhaustive list and I encourage you to come up with your own.
- I am responsible for the way I think
- I am capable of thinking in ways to build my happiness
- My pain and suffering won’t stay the same. Things get better with time. (If we think our problems or pain will remain unchanged, this is a cognitive distortion of permanence). You can read more about other cognitive distortions here.
- I pay attention to the good things in myself and other people by thinking about those things.
- Meaning in life comes naturally when I appreciate where I am and the people around me
- I choose to think about my strengths and the purpose in all my activities
3 ways to become instantly happier: use these thinking habits
So we know we are able to choose our thoughts. But how do we do that in stress? I’ve noticed this is important when I first wake up before anything else happens in the day.
We do this through thinking processes of noticing, attending, and restructuring
1. Notice thoughts leading to distressing emotions.
When you recall an important event, or you are in the middle of one, thoughts pop up without awareness. In cognitive behavior therapy these are called automatic negative thoughts and therapists help their clients to identify these thoughts in order to question or change them.
Can you feel this…
Something happens or we remember something. We have thoughts. Emotions arise. If we have noticed the negative, our thoughts become negative and so do our emotions. We have missed the opportunity or the good in the bad. We feel defeated and uncomfortable but we aren’t sure why. Usually it’s because of thoughts out of our awareness.
For example, I had a difficult work day yesterday and came home feeling dissatisfied because I had a meeting that went over time. I ran out of time to complete paperwork and didn’t have time for lunch. I felt my contribution was lacking in the meeting and I started to doubt my knowledge and ability. This was out of my conscious awareness. I had to reflect on my emotions to get to this.
In all of this, I forgot the gains. I was behind in my paperwork because I invested time in talking with my clients and listening to them. I had the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone in the meeting. I have time to finish work at home. I have knowledge and ability. I’m not perfect but never will be, but I care about people at work and put in my best effort.
2. Attend to the positive
This is described at a positive attentional bias or attentional deployment . Sometimes we disqualify the positive, which is a cognitive distortion that leads to negative emotions.
When you go about your day, attend to your positive emotions. This gives you better resilience to stress . By noticing your positive emotions, your thoughts become happy and hopeful.
3. Restructure your thoughts
When you have a hard time with negative emotions tapping at you, think about a three step process: Awareness, acknowledgement and adaptation.
- Awareness of the pain and upset. What upset you? Notice what you are you thinking about?
- Acknowledge your negative emotions. Notice them without judgment. Trying to suppress them, or feeling guilty about them with “I shouldn’t think this or feel this” gives power to the negative emotion. Acknowledge they are there with a quick glance.
- Adapt to the current thought by restructuring it. This is changing the way you think to change your feelings using cognitive restructuring. You are applying a new angle or outlook to a situation by changing how you think about it. Like my example above at work, I can see my day as a failure because I am behind in paperwork, or I can say I am behind because I was interrupted and I spent time connecting with the clients.
How to use the thought habits to increase your happiness and wellbeing
With the above habits, you are more likely to have positive emotions. Feeling happy helps you to plan the life you want, set goals, and make daily choices to get there. I will be talking about designing your preferred life in a later habit in this series.
Ideas for creating instant happiness [happiness on the day]
I have lifted these actions from reference  below. The authors note Forndyce’s exercises for building happiness.
- Keep busy and active
- Socialize with people you love
- Engage at work by seeing meaning in the tasks
- Be organised to feel clear and focused. You could design simple workflows and tidy your work space as an example.
- Worry less and accept what is happening in the moment. To do this you could write a list of things you can change and things you can’t.
- Lower aspirations and expectations. This means being realistic, flexible and open to change and unexpected circumstances.
- Think optimistically about now and the future. Optimism is a large topic and one I will be tackling in later posts.
- Be present- focused. This helps reduce worry and confusion.
- Work on being an emotionally healthy person. Look after yourself with rest and recovery.
- Be sociable. People matter more than things.
- Be yourself. This means less comparison and more self acceptance. You can read an article about this here
- Reduce negative feelings and emotions by noticing when you feel positive and which activities help you do this.
- See close relationships as number one for happiness
- Place happiness as a priority in life but know this doesn’t come just from making ourselves happy. Generosity and kindness grow happiness.
From the above you can see your thoughts have power in these actions.
Your thoughts have power for creating positive emotions. Then positive emotions help you to choose activities and actions to create your best future. This doesn’t mean a life with no pain or problems, but you will cope with problems better as your thoughts enhance your resilience and creativity.
List 10 thoughts you can focus on daily to grow your happiest life. Aim for thoughts about yourself, other people, your work and the world around you.
Weytens F, Luminet O, Verhofstadt LL, Mikolajczak M (2014) An Integrative Theory-Driven Positive Emotion Regulation Intervention. PLoS ONE 9(4): e95677. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0095677
Theorn HA, Grueschow M, Ehlert U, Ruff CC, Kleim B (2016) Attentional Bias towards Positive Emotion Predicts Stress Resilience. PLoS ONE 11(3): e014368. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0148368