ARTICLE: Writing Yourself Happy

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“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” – E. L. Doctorow

writingI have written and spoken many times about strategies for creating authentic happiness, and the recurring theme has always been “Happiness is not something you can pursue; it is who you are”. Experiencing the kind of lasting happiness that can maximise your overall satisfaction with life is less about accumulating and more about acknowledging and allowing; to make a genuine connection with that quiet part of you that has always been OK regardless of your circumstances and the stories you tell yourself about what is going on (or not going on as the case may be).

As happiness expert Dr. Robert Holden would put it, “To be truly happy is to finally end the search”.

There are many ways to access your natural wellbeing that are far more effective than trying to ignore your problems and convince yourself you are happy, “No, really… I AM happy”. One of the most powerful and rewarding techniques is to practice writing about specific positive aspects of your life in a way that pushes the pleasure buttons in your brain.

Now, I doubt that I am the first personal development bod to harp on at you about the benefits of putting your thoughts onto paper, but here I’m not so much referring to writing in order to clarify your goals or to keep track of your progress and development. I’m not even talking about writing to help you make sense of things. I’m talking about writing for writing’s sake; to take advantage of the profoundly different psychological effect that writing has on your neurology as compared with speaking or daydreaming.

Humans are designed to be happy. It has been hardwired into our make up to return to a natural state of wellbeing when we are not experiencing stress. The issue for many, though, is that stressful thoughts linger on in the imagination long after any real stressful event has passed (and often on events that either didn’t or won’t take place at all). This causes the natural path back to wellbeing to get a bit clogged up. What we need is a way of cutting through the debris.

Extensive research by Positive Psychologists shows that giving people exercises to do that require them to focus on particular positive aspects of their life consistently increases their happiness over the long term. It has been shown to be even more potent when participants are asked to engage in written activities. The act of writing about happiness related topics causes the brain to make deeper, more meaningful connections that not only improve your mood in the moment, but that ensures the happy effect sticks around long after your conscious attention has been directed elsewhere.

I explain the difference as being, when we speak (either out loud or to ourselves) we are simply narrating our thoughts. When we stop speaking, those thoughts dissolve like chalk being wiped off a blackboard. When we write, however, we have to go on a deeper search in order to bring the meaning to life within a well constructed sentence. We are essentially stirring up the river bed of our knowledge and experience, on which the unconscious continues to ponder long after the writing has ended. After all it takes a while for a river bed to settle down.

There are a set of common ingredients for happiness that we are all naturally programmed to enjoy, and when we focus on each of them we cannot help but feel an elevated level of wellbeing. These ingredients include:

– The experience of experiencing gratitude
– Remembering happy times from the past
– Fantasising about a great future
– Acknowledging the importance of others in our lives
– Reviewing our recent successes

Regularly setting aside little windows of time to write about these areas gives your mind a wonderful opportunity to steer itself in an upwardly happy direction. Literally spending 5 minutes a day on one of these topics, and alternating the topics you write about, not only keeps your spirits lifted but, according to the research results, is highly likely to make your more successful too. To me this makes a lot of sense. Being happy brings with it a sense of openness to new possibilities, heightened creativity and a natural desire to keep going. Happiness leads to success far more often than success leads to happiness (are you bored of me saying that yet? :o)


HOMEWORK


I’ve stolen this exercise from Professor Richard Wiseman (author of “:59 Seconds – Think a little, change a lot”). It is called ‘The Perfect Diary’. I think its brilliance lies in its simplicity. There is no excuse not to find 5 minutes a day to do this! It covers many of those compelling happiness ingredients and encourages your mind to think more broadly about how you derive deep pleasure from your life:

Unlike a conventional diary or journal, ‘The Perfect Diary’ is designed to simply direct, capture and enhance your happiness thoughts in a different way each day over a five day period (you can have the weekend off for good behaviour!) The purpose is not to try to come up with a right answer or to sensor what you write. Just spend a few minutes freely writing from the heart and then get on with the rest of your day, leaving your unconscious to devour the learning. Repeat again the following week:

Monday: Thanksgiving – Write about a least three things you are truly thankful for in your life. They could be absolutely anything: family / friends, health, food, education, work, nature, etc…. Be sure to cover why you are so grateful for them.

Tuesday: Terrific Times – Cast your mind back over your life and write about one of your happiest memories. You might start of with big events, but as the weeks unfold you could equally write about less official occasions when you just had a really great time. What was it about this time that was so happy?

Wednesday: Future Fantastic – Spend a few moments writing about how you would love your life to be in the future. What has gone really well? How have you grown as a person? What are you doing? Who are you with? It doesn’t matter whether you think this can be achieved, the purpose is to put a smile on your face right now (it’s up to your unconscious mind to look for ways to bridge the gap)!

Thursday: “Dear…….” – Pick someone in your life who is really important to you and then spend some time writing them a little note to express your love and appreciation for them. What is it that you value about them? What kind of a difference do they make to your life? You don’t have to actually give the letter to the person; the idea is for you to linger on that ‘feel good’ aspect of your life.

Friday: Haven’t you done well!! – Think back over the last week and write down as many things as you can that went well for you. It doesn’t matter how big or small, could be anything from a promotion to a simple compliment; from winning a competition to find a parking space.

I encourage you to keep this up for at least a month so that you can experience for yourself how a just little written focus in the right direction can make your world a very happy place indeed. Happy writing!


Take great care. Namaste.

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