Human nature is pessimistic. It’s been hard-wired in our DNA to help us survive since man began. But can we re-wire our brains with how to be happier since we no longer need those survival instincts? YES, we can!
In the past, we needed to be constantly on the look-out for invaders or predators and aware of our surroundings. It was critical for our survival. And it made us vigilant, critical, negative people out of necessity.
But we no longer have to survive like that so those traits and instincts that we have genetically passed down from generation to generation in some form are no longer needed in the same ways. And those genetic tendencies tend to interfere with our ability to be happy – or at least to easily be happy.
But there IS good news! We can re-wire the pessimistic, survival genes to be happy genes – sort of.
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The Science: Epigenetics
Until the last few years, scientists thought your genes were what your genes were and there was nothing you could do about it. Aside from Frankenstein-ish lab experiments with gene splicing, etc. And that has more to do with genetically modified crops and animals than changing someone’s personality.
Now we know that certain genetic traits can be turned on or off to put it very simply. The study of this modification of gene expression is called epigenetics.
Epigenetics can explain, at least in part, why one identical twin will get a disease and the other doesn’t when raised and living in the same circumstances. And there are many other examples that I could point out. But how do those genes get turned on or off?
The Woo: Law of Attraction
This is where I mix the science with the woo. You know, the woo-woo, hocus pocus stuff? I do get a little woo at times, like when talking about spiritual or energy “stuff.” LOL! But I’m not too over-the-top with it.
I think most of us have at least heard of the Law of Attraction (or LOA, for short.) Now, don’t click off! I told you, I’m not going off the woo crazy ledge! I know how controversial the Law of Attraction can be but I’m just touching on one aspect that lines up with the science here. (I’m NOT talking about manifesting a lottery win or thinking your way to be cured of cancer.)
I’m touching on the concept that you get more of what you think about. Or, in woo-speak, “Where attention goes, energy flows.” It’s a significant piece of the LOA concept and also has a scientific basis.
In the Law of Attraction, it’s presented that you notice and are open to new opportunities and circumstances because you are thinking about a wanted outcome so it is at the forefront of your thoughts. It’s not necessarily that you created new opportunities, but often that you actually SEE what may have been in front of you the whole time. Or you think outside the box about a situation or jump when a new opportunity comes along rather than poo-pooing the idea.
More Science: Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon
It’s like when you buy a new car that has not been very common in your area or in that color or you hear an uncommon name. Then once you hear it or buy the car, you see and hear them every time you turn around. Or so it seems.
Scientifically, it’s called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. It’s just that you start noticing what you are thinking about that was already there. So if the woo concept of LOA offends you, we’re just talking about the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. (wink, wink)
So what does all this have to do with being happy? Simply put, thinking about being happy and surrounding ourselves with things that make us happy will cause us to notice more things that make us happy. And eventually, it becomes a habit and essentially (eventually) flips off the survival, pessimist gene.
Start With Easy Changes to be Happier
An easy way to start this is to regulate what we’re focusing on with TV, our music, and our environments. For example, when I’m cleaning the house or doing some other busy-work that doesn’t take concentration (and often is something I’d rather not be doing) I will almost always play happy music or podcasts to keep my mood upbeat while I work.
Truth be told, I’m usually rocking out to Disney tunes! Haha! I know, I know… not the adult-est music but it’s happy and fun, and I can sing along and do my work without having to think about either one. And the bonus is that it usually gives me an energy boost because of the peppy music so I get done faster. And adulting is often overrated!
Another way to focus on happy things is to NOT focus on unhappy things. What do I mean? Eliminate or minimize your exposure to the news. The news makes money by promoting fear, sadness, and sensationalism. I VERY rarely watch or listen to the news or read it on my phone even. I have a good friend (and my husband) who will fill me in on anything important that I miss. And that’s just fine with me.
Also, work on coping and stress management mechanisms to help you not worry about things you can’t control. And here you can learn some techniques on How to Manage Stress During a Crisis. If you can do something about any given situation, by all means, DO IT. But if there really is nothing you can do (or nothing you can do right now,) then give it to God or just let go of it. Stop focusing on what you can’t fix and focus on what you can.
Surround Yourself With Happy
Finally, surround yourself with people, ideas, décor, and experiences that make you happy! You’ll see “happy” all around you, you’ll be happier, and you’ll start to look for ways to be even more happier. (Yes, it’s grammatically correct – in my book anyway!)
Make your home your sanctuary, where you feel warm, safe, and happy. Eliminate excess clutter (I need to work on this myself!) and use bright, light colors that will make you feel happier. Colors like yellow, orange, pink, and sometimes red or even light pastel colors like light pink, peach, and lilac. You don’t necessarily have to use those colors on the walls but add those pops of color throughout. Simple things like using bright pillows like these sunshiney ones can quickly and easily “happy up” a room!
So if you tend to be a bit pessimistic or wonder why you aren’t happier, it’s not your fault! It just may be those pesky genes trying to keep you safe but working overtime! Use the science or woo along with these suggestions to bring happiness to the top of your mind and to continue to use epigenetics to turn off those negative genes and re-wire your brain to be happy! Which area are you going to start with?