It has been really hard to smile this winter with one cold, snowy day after the other. For the first time, I really thought that there may be some benefit to moving to a warmer climate. The weather and cold can really alter our moods and outlooks. I am hopeful that we have reached the tail end of this weather; however, regardless of the weather, there are real ways we can improve our mood and outlook. Here are three easy strategies.
- Smile and say, “Hello”: Smiling is contagious. A number of years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Shawn Achor conduct an experiment with the audience. He asked people to find a partner. He then asked one person to smile genuinely at the other person, while his/her partner was instructed to keep a still face. Guess what happened? Despite that instruction, most people couldn’t do it – they smiled. Why did this happen? Because behavior (both negative and positive) is CONTAGIOUS. The song, “when you are smiling the whole world smiles with you” was right. The underlying, neurological reason for this reaction is that we all have mirror neurons. Mirror neurons mirror back the emotions of others. Therefore, when we are in the presence of smiling people, we feel happy. The converse is also true. When we are surrounded by “Debbie Downers,” we pick up that emotional energy as well. So how can we use mirror neurons to our advantage? We can smile. At school, I smile and say, “hi” to all. I have trained the kids so that when they see me, they smile too and say hello. The exchange of smiles and hellos starts my and the students’ days on the right foot. It’s so easy and costs nothing so if you want to improve your mood, the mood of your family or the larger community, say hello with a big smile.
- Focus on the positive: Many of you have heard me do the red experiment, but for those of you who haven’t or for those who need a reminder, here it is… Look around the place you are in right now and try to find all the examples of RED that you can see. Give yourself 20 seconds to look around. Now tell me, what did you see that was GREEN? “Green,” I thought you said, “red.” I did say, “red,” however even though I said “red” you all looked around the room with your eyes, so why couldn’t you tell me what was “green”? The reason is that our focus causes us to note only the object of our focus and everything else fades into the background. So what does this have to do with a positive outlook? If we focus on the negative, (the whining children, the household or work chores, or the stress of everyday life) this negative focus will become prominent in our lives. Without meaning to, it will change our moods and attitudes to the negative. Conversely, if we focus on the smiles, the laughs, and what we are accomplishing, we will feel happier and more fulfilled.
- Write it down: Journal the positive and what we are grateful for: We learned from the red experiment that our focus causes us to note only the object of our focus and everything else fades into the background. So if we focus on, but even better, WRITE DOWN what is positive in our lives or what we are grateful for, than this positive outlook will be prominent. Human beings have a tendency to focus on the negative. If your children are playing quietly, nothing compels us to give our kids positive feedback. Be honest, we often see that scene and breathe a sigh of relief. However, if our kids start fighting, we are quick to get involved. That is why we have to make concerted efforts and use active strategies, such as writing things down, to focus our attention on the positive and what is good in our lives. The act of writing is a powerful tool that solidifies our thinking, creates changes in the brain, and makes new muscle memory. So specifically, take a moment and journal the positive; or write down three things you are grateful for; or do what we did with some of our second graders at Harrison Avenue School – write a letter to a person for whom you are grateful. What we found, and what the research supports, is that when we are kind to others and share positive feelings, not only does the other person respond positively, but just as important, our own happiness meter is boosted.
So, I think you are now ready to take my happiness challenge. Here is your challenge.
1) Say hello and smile each day to people you know and yes, to people you don’t know. Even we New Yorkers can do this.
2) Focus on the positive (remember the red experiment).
3) Write down what is positive in your life and what you are grateful for. If you really want the happiness meter to swing all the way, take a moment and write a letter to someone who has touched you in your life and let him/her know how grateful you are. Use the power of writing to your advantage.
All the best,
Dr. Caren Baruch-Feldman, Psychologist
Please check out my website at drbaruchfeldman.com for additional blogs and articles and follow me at twitter at Caren Feldman@carenfeldman.