The Power of Positive Thinking?

I was feeling like crap yesterday morning. I have a cold that has attacked my voice, and roused me out of my slumber with fits of coughing yesterday morning. So, I got up and read the paper and in the back pages there was an article on happiness. I’m not a power of positive thinking kind of guy, but I was intrigued by this article and how despite the plethora of “feel good” books, no one has really done any research on if the suggestions in these books actually produce the desired results.

The reason researchers have shunned the topic as a basis for psychological study is because (you guessed it) happiness is an elusive emotion. I mean, off the top of your head can you name something that will truly make you happy? And even if you could, if I asked 3000 people, I may find some commonalities (like money or “true love”) but if I dug a little deeper, I may find that happiness isn’t the same for everyone. And that’s why “happiness” is difficult to quantify into a variable one can measure — in a social science way, that is. I know, distilling an emotion like happiness into a variable that can be measured sounds so cold, but really, to get anything beyond anecdotal evidence, your methods of research narrows to things like random sample surveys that define happiness as X. You may not agree with what X represents, but if you have researchers that are good at what they do, they will broaden the variables so there’s more than just happiness = X.

While researchers get busy with refining their methodology on measuring happiness in our society, there is a simple test you can do everyday to shift your focus from negative emotions to more positive one. Ready? Here ’tis:

1. Every night think of three good things that happened that day.

2. Then figure out why these “good things” happened .

That’s it! It’s a very simple test, but one that seems to be getting interesting results among people who are chronic worriers, bitter Bobs and Bettys, and super competitive people (who look at their fellow humans in terms of winners and losers).

So, I gave it a try. Now, mind you, I wasn’t feeling all that well, so my mood was pretty dicey to begin with. So what did I come up with? It’s not anything that has a “Wow factor” of 11, but it worked for me.

1. J and I spent part of the day in Berkeley, and part of the day at the mall (Concord) shopping for clothes she was looking for.

What was good about it? 4th Street in Berkeley is very relaxing and it was just nice to walk from store to store and enjoy the day. It was crowded, but most of the people there were in a good mood.
2. J and I watched a movie that was based on an Oscar Wilde play.

What was good about it? Sometimes watching a movie at home turns into a bit of a battle since Maya’s taste in entertainment is, um, quite different than ours. So, while she was off watching Happy Feet with her grandmother, J and I got to enjoy a movie that didn’t involve animated characters.

3. While trolling the web last night, I stumbled upon a drumming tutorial that broke down a couple of techniques that I’ve been curious about.

What was good about it? It made me focus on a musical passion of mine instead of worrying about my cold, homeowners issues (Did I tell you I’m president of my homeowners association? Talk about problems that never end!), or the people in the mall who were on full idiot mode.

Focusing on these things hasn’t changed my life, but it was an interesting experiment that I’ll try for the next week or so. If my cynical and sarcastic mood changes, I’ll let you know.

–PK

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