It is possible, because of brain plasticity, to train ourselves to be happier. By brain plasticity, I don’t mean your brain is plastic, I mean it’s flexible. Our brains can learn to rewire in a way that may be totally contradictory to our genetics. That’s why I said at the very beginning that only about 25% of our happiness set-point is genetically related. The other 75% can be changed – with practice.
There’s an old Cherokee story of two wolves that occupy your mind. One wolf is angry, mean and vengeful. The other wolf is calm, playful and truthful. The wolf that rules your mind is the wolf you feed. You need to focus your attention on feeding the calm wolf.
How do you do this? Every moment where you feel you’re becoming contracted, frustrated or challenged beyond your limits and the negative internal dialogue sets in, take a moment to stop. Without fighting those feelings, what is equally true in this situation that is positive?
For example, there was a time when I was recovering from surgery and just when I was at the point where I could go back to my normal life, like exercising and lifting stuff, I started bleeding internally. I was shocked and scared. When my doctor told me that the bleeding was caused by an infection and that I would have to go back on antibiotics and my planned return to my fitness routine would be delayed by another 3-weeks, I wanted to cry. I was so frustrated that I wasn’t able to get back to my “real” life.
And then I stopped. What is equally true about this situation? I have found great joy in walking the routes that I normally run, enjoying the nature, greeting other people as we pass, and pushing myself only slightly to walk a little faster and dig a little deeper into the hills. I’ve really found peace for myself in this morning ritual. These thoughts were just as equally true as my frustration but they were positive thoughts I could lean into that caused me to feel expanded.
Take note that I didn’t dismiss the other negative thoughts. I didn’t fight them. I just found something just as true and much more positive to pay attention to. And by doing so, I’m training my brain to follow that path instead of the path of frustration and annoyance.
Each time you lean in the right direction, you carve paths in your neural circuitry that make it easier and easier to pick that path in the future. The faster and more often you catch yourself feeling contracted and change that feeling to expansion, the deeper your neural pathways become. Pretty soon, it will only be natural for you to lean into your positive thoughts, leaving the negative ones as glimmers of memories past.
Your happiness challenge is to begin to lean in. Start finding just as true, just as powerful positive thoughts to lean into while simultaneously leaning away from the old, negative programming.
To your improving happiness,