Humans are programmed to pay more attention to problems than to the things that make them happy. It’s part of our drive to survive.
In more primitive times, ignoring a threat frequently resulted in death. Today’s threats are more likely to be annoying or frustrating than life-threatening. But that reality doesn’t change our internal coding. Our brains react to anything they perceive as dangerous with the fight, flight, freeze response.
Our minds may think they are serving us with this reaction, but focusing on negative things can lower our level of happiness.
Evidence-based research shows numerous benefits attached to feeling good about ourselves and our lives. They include a greater level of success, better health and stronger personal connections.
Assessing our level of happiness can be tricky. It’s a very subjective thing. I know a number of people who consider themselves optimists but they show little evidence of it to the outside world.
If you aren’t sure whether you spend more time considering your positive or negative emotions, try this simple exercise.
1. Think about a situation that was emotionally difficult. This will serve as inspiration for step 2.
2. Write down all the negative emotions you can think of.
3. Recall a positive experience.
4. Make a list of positive emotions.
5. Add up the number of words in each list.
If you can name negative emotions effortlessly, but struggle to think of positive ones, it’s likely you’re giving more attention to the former type of feelings. That isn’t unusual if you consider humans are coded to unconsciously scan the environment for threats.
If your positive emotions list is long, congratulations. Keep up the good work. If you struggled to come up with many feel-good words, you can remedy that by answering a simple question. “How are you?”
Drawing your brain’s attention to a wider range of emotions can broaden your emotional vocabulary. Don’t just notice your feelings when they’re screaming at you, check in with them regularly.
I recommend setting a reminder on your phone or adding the question to a daily habit like drinking coffee or taking a bathroom break. Take time to find the most honest and accurate word for how you’re feeling in that moment.
It can help to refer to a list of possible emotions for this exercise. You can make one, find one on the internet or visit the Free Resources tab on my website (https://www.reenrose.com/) for a ready-made one.
The benefit of naming your emotions isn’t limited to making your more aware of your positive feelings. There’s also value in naming your negative ones. It’s okay if you’re feeling exhausted, seething or resentful, as you reach for your second cup of coffee.
Naming your negative emotions takes their emotional charge away. It also allows you to make a choice about what you want to do with them. You can’t change or let go of something you don’t notice.
Recognizing you’re having a grouchy day can diffuse your emotions and lessen the burden they bring. Rather than wondering why you’re feeling the way you are, simply acknowledge that you are. That makes it less likely you’ll have an emotional outburst.
A few weeks ago, I found myself feeling irritated by someone’s comments on my social media posts. I have no idea why they were bugging me so much. I still don’t know why. I shared my feelings with my partner, who listened without comment.
It was the greatest gift he could have given me. Rambling on allowed me to zero in on my emotions without defending them or even understanding them. Gaining clarity allowed me to accept, let go and move on.
There are times in my life when feelings of frustration and irritation might have lingered for days, colouring my life a sad shade of blue.
Don’t wait for your emotions to demand your attention through a meltdown or temper tantrum. By simply choosing to accurately name how you’re feeling on a regular basis, you can change your life for the better.
So, stop right now and ask yourself, “How are you…really?”
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.