My book, blog, newsletter, and speaking engagements are peppered with suggestions for ways to enhance your happiness. My recommended path to greater happiness is not a magical one where you can snap your fingers and change your life; my message is not “la-di-da, let’s just be happier.” What I recommend are concrete suggestions that lead to enhanced happiness; activities that are part of what I call proactive positivity.
I wrote about proactive positivity in my newsletter earlier this year. In my article, as in my speeches, I talked about how negativity tends to comes naturally, for example, when we’re lying in bed unable to sleep in the middle of the night. When someone asks, “What keeps you up at night?” the answer is rarely, “All this great stuff in my life is making me so excited I can’t sleep.” For most of us, those middle-of-the-night sessions with ourselves are about problems we want to solve, or other things bothering us.
Then, recently, I read a remarkable op-ed piece in the New York Times. The piece discussed a University of Virginia experiment where people, in order to avoid the thoughts in their heads, would go so far as to choose to administer themselves electric shocks when left alone to think. As I do, the piece talked about the way people, when left alone (whether in the middle of the night or at any other time), tend to dwell on what’s wrong in their lives, aka rumination, which leads to insomnia.
The author also wrote about how busy so many people likes to complain they are, and yet so many of us never allow ourselves a moment of down time—for example, as soon as we have a moment alone, we tend to pull out our smartphones and engage in a variety of activities to fill the time. The point of the piece was to point out the importance of allowing ourselves time to think about our problems—otherwise we won’t be able to solve them or let them go.
I came to a similar conclusion 20 years ago. I was in the midst of a business dispute where we were so unhappy with what another company was doing to our company we initiated a lawsuit. During the trial (which we ultimately won), I endured many sleepless nights. As frustrating as it was to not be able to fall back asleep in those wee hours, I realized I was solving many problems in those middle-of-the-night sessions with myself—much in the same way some of my best ideas have come in the shower or when I have been alone in the car. That realization helped me feel better about the lost sleep.
Meanwhile, positivity doesn’t tend to be automatic, thus, the need for proactive positivity—activities like: expressing gratitude, smiling, helping others, exercising, spending time with people you like, looking for silver linings, being present, seeing the glass as half full, celebrating your progress, laughing, having fun, pursuing your passions, working in a job you love, having hobbies, and investing in experiences vs. stuff.
How are you practicing proactive positivity? Please join the conversation with your comments…
p.s. The “Be Happy” image attached to this post is a photo of part of a piece of art I bought from the work of my very talented niece.