Highways to Happiness

In any moment we can notice if our thoughts, speech or actions are running along a path that leads us into unhappiness. We can stop, take a breath, lift up our heads and purposely offer ourselves a different route to take.  

When we look around we can see lots of things that could potentially be a source of happiness, but our minds label many of them as neutral because they are so ordinary. A favourite mug, clean water in the tap, a parking space, a train caught instead of missed, the sound of birdsong, the sight of sunlight on a wall, the feel of solid ground beneath our feet, or the fun of plants springing from cracks in the pavement with cheery flowers bobbing in the breeze. Simply by noticing and appreciating these flickers of happiness we can help them grow into stronger, longer lasting feelings. Research by psychologist Rick Hanson shows that it takes 15 seconds for these pleasant experiences to become embedded in our brain, so if we take time to notice each one for 3 slow, deep breaths we can maximise their benefits.

At first these new pathways of thoughts are just like footsteps on the grass that quickly disappear, but the more often we think them the clearer the paths become, until eventually they are like highways that our brain can easily travel along. When you take a moment to notice the ordinary, enjoyable aspects of life you are watering your seeds of happiness, and they may grow especially well if they’ve been covered in the mud of other emotions. A simple way to practice is to begin each day by seeking out something that makes you smile, and then looking for the next. There are many stepping stones of happiness in each day, just waiting to be discovered.

This article first appeared in the Post Newspapers Group of Community Newspapers in August 2023.

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