Chapter 29: “That makes me really happy!”
Have you ever noticed how much we focus on the negative? Think about it: when someone asks you how your day went, it may be hard to remember all the good things that happened to you. They fade into the background. On the other hand, any rough or stressful thing that happened that day will linger at the forefront of your mind, coloring your perception of the day.
Readers of blogs or online journals will know what we’re talking about when we say that people are far more likely to write about the bad things in their life than the good. People often describe their journals as unintentionally displaying a one-sided, negative view of themselves.
Negative things vibrantly stand out in our minds and memories. There is a sound evolutionary reason for this: the person who clearly remembers their experience with the poisonous berries or the unpleasant events that occurred when wandering too close to a tiger’s lair is more likely to avoid them in the future, thus increasing their chances of survival. As such, we have evolved with a part of the brain that is sensitive to negative emotions, called the amygdala.
The amygdala calculates the emotional significance of events, determines their impact in your memory, and amplifies your perceptions of emotionally significant events. Negative emotions get your amygdala going more than anything else.
Here we are, walking around in the world. There are no free-roaming tigers nearby and no poisonous berries in the grocery store. We’re going about our lives and trying to be happy, but we’ve got the dice loaded against us! We’re biologically primed to notice and remember the negative, so that becomes what we communicate. That becomes what we reinforce in ourselves and what we spread around to others.
The question then becomes “How do we counteract this effect?” One effective way we’ve found is to habitually and frequently communicate the positive.
Kyeli’s Story: Happiness Squared
When Pace and I started dating, we had many email and telephone conversations, since we lived in different parts of the state. Often, she would exclaim, “That makes me really happy!” Gradually, I noticed that every time she said this, I felt happy, too! Also, I realized that it helped me focus on the things that made me happy in my day-to-day life. At first, I focused on happy events so that I could have joy to share with her (what a good reason in and of itself, sharing joy with a loved one), so it happened by accident. After a while, I came to realize that the simple act of saying “That makes me happy!” when something made me happy helped me remember the good parts of every day, rather than just the mundane or bad parts. When this realization struck me, I decided to intentionally state to myself and others, “That makes me happy!” whenever something did.
This one thing dramatically changed my life. I began to focus on the good rather than the bad. It brings kindness into my attitude and smiles to my face. Also, it’s contagious: hearing me say, “That makes me really happy!” has brought awareness to my friends, and some of them say it now, too!
Try it! Whenever something makes you happy, say, “That makes me happy!” Whenever something makes you really happy, say, “That makes me really happy!” Say it out loud, even if no one is around to hear you. This is an easy way to reinforce your happiness and to share it with those around you. The simple act of speaking your happiness aloud will make it stand out in your memory and your experience. If you do this all the time, people who spend time with you may start picking it up too, spreading the happiness around. Joy shared is joy multiplied! Life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it.1
This simple phrase has significantly increased the amount of happiness in our lives. We highly recommend trying it out for just one month and experiencing the happiness it will bring to your life too. If it works for you too, that will make us really happy!
1. John Maxwell likes to say this, for instance in his book Attitude 101.