Day 4: Happiness is a Practice, Not a Destination


Many of us struggle from time-to-time with what one psychologist termed the "common cold" variety of depression. You might experience it as a low, unengaged or empty feeling. However, for some this outlook can linger for days, weeks, months or even years.

Interestingly, cognitive psychologists Albert Ellis and Aaron T. Beck concluded this "common cold" depressed state to be the result of habitual negative thought. Depression is the symptom. Thinking is the cause.

This aligns well with a wisdom tradition teaching that the mind is the source and the solution to our misery. This is because the mind is the lens through which we look out into the world. The stories we project out will also project back layering and shaping our experience. In the wisdom traditions these stories or pattern of thought are called samskaras and they can be changed through practice.

Science is catching up! As recently as the mid 1990s they proved that the brain is actually "plastic" and not fixed. In other words we are not bound by our genetics or environment-we can rewire our brain!  We can change our mental habits or neuropathways (a modern word for samskaras).

Both views agree that it is through behavior that this transformation is possible! So we need to practice to reshape our brain, just like a runner might have to train to improve his speed. Wishful thinking or even a strong desire to change isn't enough.

The growing science of positive psychology has validated many interventions to help us. One is to cultivate more optimism. It is one of the 24 character strengths underpinning overall life satisfaction and is considered to be the most highly correlated with life-satisfaction!

Some of the benefits of optimism are positive mood, longevity, popularity with peers, academic success, perseverance in the face of adversity, active coping, effective problem solving and happiness!

Prospection, the act of looking forward, has been researched and proven to increase optimism. Try this:

  • At night write down three good things that await you tomorrow.  This can include activities, people or events.
  • You can also create more activities you are looking forward to. For instance, make lunch dates, go on walks, sports, hobbies or everyday little pleasures.
This was proven to have a buffering effect against negative cognition and emotions. And against our default thinking of the to-do lists and tasks.

Have an optimistic day!