The start of the new year is the perfect time to contemplate happiness.
Notoriously a season that is often held accountable for zapping joy, winter does not have to be the culprit for feeling unhappy. Our frame of mind is what determines whether or not we are gloomy or happy as a clam (especially in Montauk).
Research from neurologists (and Buddhism) tells us that humans can be happier if we focus on the true reality of a situation, rather than projecting our own mental constructs on it. Our brain is more powerful than we realize, we just have to pay more attention to where we channel it.
Have you thought about buying a specific car and suddenly that’s all you see on the road? Then you have experienced ‘frequency illusion,’ eloquently known as The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, where something you recently thought about seems to be, everywhere. We can process information this way as well as our emotions. When you pay greater attention to things that have become significant to you, it will feel like that event is more common than it actually is.
So how does this apply to cultivating happiness?
We all experience set-backs, stress and negative life events, and we can also create our own interventions to see our world in a different, more optimistic light. Examples of this are making an effort to find five things a day you were grateful for, noting even small events like the perfect latte you appreciated that morning. When this exercise becomes a habit, your brain starts to seek out moments of joy that you can recognize later, and soon you will be using the frequency illusion to your advantage.
When you focus on what is going well in your life, you can see events with more clarity. If we pay more attention to what is positive we balance out our tendency to rehash the negative. Sometimes reframing an unpleasant event by asking “what if this was the best thing that happened to me” – can pause our habitual responses.
The goal is to find the middle way, balance out a tendency paint an event with a negative brush and entertain the possibility that positive events are also part of the bigger picture. Try thinking of three things at the end of the day you were grateful for, and soon you may notice yourself doing the happy dance.