The Happiness Thermostat
At what level is your happiness thermostat? At what level is my happiness thermostat? How do we maintain a happy equilibrium in our lives and is it necessary? I know that I feel better about myself and the world around me if I feel okay – I am happy. That is, I am not feeling down in the dumps, or at least not for too long!
As we all know how we feel, our level of happiness, fluctuates. We can feel sad. Life circumstances can cause sadness and sadness is an emotion that will come and go in life. Sadness has benefits as it allows us to work through a situation and come to terms with disappointment, grief and loss. Sadness as an emotion is okay if we don’t stay there. But I must differentiate sadness from depression. We can bounce back from sadness and feel happy again, but it is much harder to bounce back when suffering depression – sadness for no apparent reason. Depression affects our thinking, our perceptions and behaviour. That is why it is good to get professional help when depressed.
Is positive thinking the answer?
Is “positive thinking” the answer to staying in the “happy” zone? Over the years I have had so many people tell me that positive thinking will change everything. That is, positive thinking is the key to happiness. One example of positive thinking was when we had our last home up for sale. While there was interest in the house nothing was happening, we had no offers. I was told that I needed to think more positively, and it would somehow magically happen. As I know and more than likely you know, life does not work like this. On another occasion we put our house on the market and without even one positive thought we had a contract of sale within three weeks!
Positive thinking is often the recommended vehicle to get us where we want to go in life – a life of meaning, fulfilment, success and happiness. Positive thinking is better than a negative mindset and while positive thinking is a good start, it is not the entire answer to a happy life. When I think back to when our house that was languishing on the market I firmly had the view that it was a timing matter. I believed the house would sell at the right time – I was optimistic. As it happened if we had sold the house months or a year earlier we would not have been in the position to buy the house we now live in. It was not for sale back then. It only came on the market after we had sold our house and patiently waited in our rental property.
I see the world as a big jigsaw puzzle. At times I must wait for the missing piece and for the pieces to come together before I can see the full picture. Waiting has never been one of my best attributes but now I am older I am more resigned to wait, rather than rush. With such an outlook my happiness thermostat threshold is more likely to remain stable.
Replacing positive thinking with optimism
Positive thinking and optimism are two different realities. Positive thinking can ignore reality – the facts of the situation. Whereas optimism is accepting our reality. All the “positive thinking” in the world will not change our reality. However, if we accept our reality, take steps to make changes if we don’t like our reality – this is a positive step forward. If you want to read more about this approach read what Dr Happy (Dr Tim Sharp) has to say about the subject.
Maintaining our happiness thermostat
Adopting an optimistic outlook on life will sustain our happiness thermostat at the right level. How does it work? If we are going through a bad patch in life having an optimistic outlook will give us hope and keep us buoyant for the journey ahead. That is, while we work out what to do and the changes we need to make. The characteristics of optimism start with gratitude – thankfulness for what we have. Then, holding on to hope in what may be a hopeless situation – gives us strength to change or accept our situation.
When the optimistic person has a setback, they see it as temporary. An optimistic person will manage failure differently to a person who believes positive thinking will change things. The optimistic person will want to learn from failures. Whereas the positive person can be in denial and believe positive thinking rather than decision-making and action will change circumstances.
Then there is the negative person who will want to wallow in their failures or blame others. Optimistic people don’t dwell on all the things that can go wrong in life. Mostly, they don’t expect things to go wrong! On the other hand, a pessimistic person will dwell on the possibilities of what could go wrong! Which is the wrong way to live a happy life!
Optimism is turning lemons into lemonade and seeing the glass as half-full rather than half-empty and believing that every cloud has a silver-lining. I find that looking at life from such a perspective gives me a better life – it sustains my happiness thermostat at the right threshold.
What about YOU? Do you have any ideas about what will keep our happiness thermostat at a threshold where we can live a full, meaningful and happy life?