Its true. Controlling your thoughts can make you happier! So lets look at the thoughts that stop us being happy, and see how we can control them
This is the big one! What if………… You fill in the blanks. But the one thing that is certain is this scenario will not be a happy one.
The primitive part of our brain, the limbic system is always on the lookout for things that are a threat. This part of the brain hasn’t really evolved that much from when we were cavepeople. (See my previous blog https://klhclinic.co.uk/how-old-is-your-brain )
Accordingly anything new or challenging it sees as a potential danger. Significantly it cannot tell the difference between what might make us uncomfortable or sad, from things that could kill us. When thoughts are generated from this part of the brain, there are only 3 ways it can react.
By withdrawing from the situation until it has passed (depression),
Being watchfull and obsessive (anxiety).
Producing more energy and strength to defent itself (anger).
Even the big things like “what if I lose my job?” are not things that will threaten your mortal existence. So why invoke the mechanisms for your physical survival, depression, anxiety and anger, when it hasn’t happened and probably won’t? It is said most things we worry about never happen.
However, more insidiously, what your brain imagines, it is inclined to perceive has actually happened. And if that is a stretch for you to believe I have put references to this below.
What that means is that your brain’s circuitry actually behaves as if it has happened. Consequently it reinforces your apprehension and anxiety about the future. This is how fears and phobias develop.
The three As will help you control the “what if” thoughts and make you happier!
How likely is that to happen? The chances are when you actually shine a light on whatever it is, your conclude its not likely at all.
Action (Beats Anxiety)
If there is a possibility it could happen what can you plan to do now? Do something constructive. Take control of the situation, rather than avoiding it.
If its unlikely, what is it that makes you anxious about it ? What can you do to fix that?
What if I really enjoy it?
What lovely things can you think about instead? For instance an upcoming holiday, how lovely the birdsong was this morning, where you might go for a walk later?
Often people cannot move on from things that happened in the past. Something they said or did that makes them ashamed or regretful.
Lets look at what happened to me on Saturday. As a bit of background I was in pain. Consequently I only had 3 hours sleep. I went to the Range to buy 2 huge pictures. They didn’t fit in a trolley, so they were balanced on the top. They slipped and slid about, fell off and knocked things off shelves. Additionally it was really hot in the shop. As I was about to leave a woman at the adjacent till said, rather aggresively “Please move your trolley, you are stopping me getting out”. My riposte wasn’t very kind. I was instantly disappointed in myself.
As I left I realised three things
I couldn’t change what had transpired. We cannot change or influence the past. It is done.
I could reflect on what happened only in so far as I learned from it. So as I walked to my car, I realised the third thing .
I was in the wrong.
How did controlling my thoughts make me happier?
I could have driven home fuming at being a victim of this woman’s rudeness. But I didn’t. Managing not to relive the situation allowed me to let it go. Furthermore I didn’t beat myself up for my lack of control. Nor did I tell myself what a bad and horrible person I was. I am human, far from perfect. None of us is.
The lady in question may have been suffering in very similar circumstances. Is that why she was in such a hurry to escape the shop?
Instead I could have diverted my thoughts to how nice my therapy room will look when I’ve hung these pictures. In turn, in my more positive mindset, my response to her would have been lighthearted. The energy around both of us could have been uplifting. Controlling my thoughts could have made me happier at that stage. So next time I will be a bit more aware of my mental state. Learn and move on.
Being able to take ownership and move on
Moveover, I took ownership of my behaviour by accepting I was the one in the wrong. I have the knowledge to understand my pain and fatigue, and frustration were triggering my primitive brain. And that was liberating. Isn’t it better to acknowledge being human and making a mistake, than being a victim? A flawed human has control. A victim doesn’t. And having control makes us happy.
As it is, I learned from the experience. So I went about my day, happy and in the present moment.
Obviously my case is trivial. Yours might be more profound and have changed the course of your life, but the same principles apply. It might be regret about breaking a diet, or a rift you caused with a friend. Work out what you learned from it and understand you are a human being and we are all flawed. What is important is now. You cannot fix the past, but you can make this exact moment more joyous.
So, whatever your circumstances, whether your happiness is being destroyed by regrets from the past or fears of the future, controlling your thoughts can make you happier.