A Pursuit of Happiness

February is six months that I have been working with a trainer. I had hoped that working out would decrease the pain and increase the ability of my muscles to handle exertion, but it has not done so. I have gained muscle, lost fat, and seen my body reshape itself into a somewhat leaner one. My health and diet seem to be improving.

Because the pain medications I take do not address the underlying cause of my problem and because vitamin deficiencies I have are associated with these medications, I am in a slow, long-term process of testing whether I can reduce and eventually eliminate my pain medications.

Despite all this, I have been feeling blah and apathetic. I have made few attempts at writing in the last few months. I have been wasting a lot of time reading online news that depresses me; I seem to be addicted to certain Internet sites.

I am struggling with my online habits. I need to stop the time wasting and get back to the activities that made me happy last year: writing every or most days. I have been happiest when I have pursued activities that interest me, and I need to get back to that. I want the kind of happiness that is acquired via the pursuit of fulfilling activities. That’s writing. Exercising. Eating well.

And training my brain to be more upbeat and positive. Not working towards goals only keeps me feeling ‘depressed’ where ‘depressed’ is code for ‘bored’ and ‘not doing anything fun or useful to oneself.’ A dear friend posted a link to Shawn Achor, Harvard positive psychology professor and author of several books, including The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness. First, I watched a 12-minute TED talk called The Happy Secret to Better Work followed by an hour-long talk he gave at Google. The Google talk includes the same content and wording that is included in the longer Google talk. I also bookmarked a few other talks on the subject of positive psychology.

In Shawn’s TED talk, he put up a slide called Creating Lasting Positive Change. Achor suggests that, for a 21 day period, you do the following:

  • Write 3 things for which you are grateful every day. Each day, write about 3 new things (Emmons & McCullough, 2003);
  • Once a day, journal about one good thing that happened to you in the last 24 hours. Our brains get to relive a happy memory twice, enhancing its effect (Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006);
  • Exercise so that you train your body to know what feeling good feels like (Babyak et al., 2000);
  • Meditate to help your mind dampen down the negative states (Dweck, 2007); and
  • Perform random acts of kindness to share your positivity and goodness with others (Lyubomirsky, 2005). Goodness knows that the world needs it – desperately!

The effect of doing this is that it helps rewire your brain to start looking for the positive. We know how much negative news is out there. In fact, it’s almost like the understanding is that it’s not really news if it isn’t awful. I feel it happening to me when I read my news sites, when I scroll through my Facebook feed. Rants about politics, stories about people performing acts of hatred, mutilation, and murder on one another.

And then what? I’ve just spent hours reading negative material that drains my energy and doesn’t do anything for me because I’m not doing anything. How does something like that enhance me, my relationships, and the rest of the world? The short answer is that it does not. Something must change.

And the only thing that I can really count on to change is myself. I am the one who has to take the next positive steps – to stop reading news for hours, to put my writing first, to defer time wasters to the evening in timed segments so avoid the endless negative news absorption, and to change my outlook.

And begin writing every day again.

I can do this.

You can, too (whether writing or otherwise).

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4 Comments

  1. I stopped watching the news regularly about 15 years ago. And boy did I get criticised for it. I was told it was my “duty” to know what was going on in the world and accused of being apathetic (amongst other things). But you know what? It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I’m not ignorant – I still get to hear what’s going on. But I no longer have that draining effect you describe.
    Actually, I might do a blog post on it. Thank you for the inspiration 🙂
    I have a question tho – what is a 21 day person that is referred to by the speaker you mentioned?

  2. Hi, Moongazer! I think it the constant exposure to negative news that causes the apathy. We all have our causes that we champion and contribute to, but we can’t contribute to all of them. We pick and choose. But news makes it all feel so overwhelming. I’m going to have to try a news diet. You’ve inspired me to try again.

    Ooooh, I’m so glad that I inspired you! I ❤ it when that happens. Thank you for catching that typo! I reread my blogs before posting, but it seems like I miss one word that doesn’t make sense. It should have read: “for a 21 day period”. I made the change. Thank you for pointing that out!

  3. I know exactly what you are talking about! And, you are so right. After reading I went over to Gary and gave him a kiss and he was like, wow, what was that for? I told him I was practicing positivity and he likes it, lol … thanks for the thoughts … like sister, like sister on the negativity. I wonder where we got our 1st lesson, yuk, yuk!

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