Thursday, January 10, 2013

Happiness - the positive thought spiral

As mentioned in my first post of this year, throughout this year I'm going to do the occassional post on my thoughts on being happy.  I am not a mental health professional, so these are just my personal thoughts on happiness and I hope they help you.  However if you are experiencing depression or other mental health issues I strongly recommend seeking professional help.

My first happiness post is about the positive thought spiral, which is an idea I came up with (well I thought of it for myself, others may have thought of it previously) that inspired this blog.  When I began this blog it was to be a record of things that made me happy with the idea being that by focusing on things that made me happy, I would become generally more happy.  Basically it was to be the opposite of a depressive though sprial, where one depressive thought leads to another and another till all thoughts are depressive.  Instead I was going to use happy thoughts to lead to more happy thoughts and so on to a more positive, happy outlook.

Creating a positive thought spiral requires an initial positive thought, which can be easier said than done if life is being particularly difficult or stressful.  So step one of the positive thought spiral is:

Get observant
Positive, happy things are not always big things.  In fact, they are often the quietest, most subtle things, so to focus on them, you need to train yourself to notice them.  For example, my reaction to my alarm clock going off used to be to swear at it, heave myself out of bed and stagger to the bathroom - not the happiest start to the day.  To change the start of my morning to a positive experience when the alarm goes off, I now take just a few moments lying in bed to find something good or beautiful.  It can be the way the early morning sun is creating soft shadows through the curtains.  It can be how comfy and warm I am.  It can be the sound of a bird outside the window.  I find something good and that is my starting point for the day.  From then on throughout the day I've trained myself to look for more good things, many examples of which you will find documented throughout this blog.

The next step is when you notice something positive, smile.  Studies have found that smiles have all sorts of positive health benefits, but the reason I smile is that it is like making a note, or ticking a list.  It is an action that marks the activity of finding something happy and it helps reinforce that you are happy in that moment.

Be vigilant
To keep the spiral going, you have to keep adding positive thoughts.  It gets easier the more you add.  You find yourself smiling more, noticing more happy inducing things and so the thoughts add up.  But stress and negativity are powerful and can creep in, so as soon as I feel those tell tale stresses building up, I take a deep breath, look around, spot something good and start again.

Form a habit
It might sound like a lot of work all this noticing good stuff, smiling, paying attention etc but pretty quickly you will develop the habit and you will find yourself doing it without any conscious effort.  Most of us have probably already developed a habit of noticing negative stuff.  You can probably much easier list the things that have bothered / annoyed / angered you today than you can list the things that have made you happy.  By developing a habit of paying attention to positive / happy / beautiful things and smiling every time you notice them, you can reprogram that focus in a way that makes you a happier person.

So give it a try, become a positive experience hunter.  As I said, happiness doesn't have to be found in big doses, look for just the tiniest things that make you happy and focus on that.  As a first exercise, look up from the computer and tell me what in your immediate vicinity gives you a feeling of happiness.  I'll start, I can see a gorgeous photo of flowers I took in Paris.  The colours and flowers are beautiful and it reminds me of how wonderful that day was - and now I'm smiling.  Over to you ....


  1. I'm pretty sure mental health professionals would agree :-) This is a lovely post Lisa - a nice reminder of the fact that we can all take steps to feel a bit better, even if life throws challenges into the mix too.

    I'm enjoying my coffee, the luxury of a 9am work start, and the fact that there is a cool breeze blowing through the window...

    1. Thank you Kari. A cool breeze sounds like a fantastic happy thought at the moment with this crazy hot weather.

  2. Goodness your blog is full of gems :) catching up on reading now & it's like a lovely well-written scrapbook full of recipes, thoughts, advice and questions. It's beautiful! Lovely post.
    Heidi xo
    p.s. my immediate thought was yellow! It's a happy colour to me. & there is a yellow fruit bowl in front of me :) But it represents light & happiness, I think.

    1. Thank you Heidi! And yellow is such an awesome happy thought.