Around ten years ago I stumbled across a crazy-ass Russian website about psychology. I honestly can’t remember how, especially since the website counter showed that about a dozen total people had viewed the page. Anyways, this website is all about negative thinking. The crazy-ass Russian author has an interesting theory: 99% of negative thoughts are optional, and we can potentially eliminate them with lots of practice and an open mind, leading to sustained happiness. Here is an excerpt:
Day after day, minute after minute, people experience negative emotions: jealousy, self-pity, fear, irritation, discontent, resentment…this book…consists of consecutive replacement of the unwelcome perceptions into the ones that you wish…cultivate them persistently and firmly until a newly created habit overpowers the old ones which haw been created automatically.
Okey dokey…I was intrigued but didn’t believe him at all. Don’t we need the bad to balance the good, or something like that? Does this mean I can’t be sarcastic anymore? Still, I printed his whole treatise out at Kinkos and got it spiral bound, and kept it as a memento of my good intentions. In the years to come, I studied up on meditation, and briefly worked at a meditation research center. Indeed, arduous meditation practice changes the makeup of your brain, and now I believe that most negative thoughts are optional (for some people, given enough practice and motivation). Negative reaction to seeing someone pointing a gun at you? Okay. Negative reaction to someone walking slow in front of you? Calm thyself…these negative reactions pile up over time and screw with your brain. Let’s start with baby steps though. Accentuate the positive for now, and consider these tips to help you escape from the dark side. Being a worry-wort and a Negative Nancy can make chronic pain much worse, and secretly annoys your friends even though they are too nice to call you out for complaining all the time.
1. Get at least an hour more sunlight a week
We evolved outdoors. Most people love sunlight. Our eyes glimpsing sunlight is critical for our circadian cycle. If you lack access to the outdoors, use a light box, like the one I’m giving away this week. If you get a chance to be silly outside, take it. Skip along a street, empty if possible. Sing a little, but try not to annoy too many people.
2. Give a random gift
During about 98% of my waking life, I think of myself as getting the shaft, health-wise, and commence having a lively pity-party in my brain. As you probably know, life is pretty difficult for almost everyone. So give someone a random gift sometime. Maybe they’ll thank you profusely, maybe not. But paying it forward occasionally will make someone happy, and that someone might be a friend, a family member, a stranger, or even you!
Look at human faces as often as you can, especially…babies!
Nutrition and health wizard Paul Jaminet recently posted about using “faces therapy” to normalize circadian rhythms. Throw in some sunlight, turn the computer and TV off at night, and watch things start to improve.
4. Dark chocolate
Studies are not clear on whether chocolate improves mood, and some studies say the effect is only very temporary. To these studies, I say “Screw you”. Dark chocolate is very likely good for a host of health-related reasons. So you can feel good knowing that something tasty is also good for you. But what about those darn calories? Dark chocolate has a good amount of (healthy) fat, although people tend to eat less of it because of the slightly bitter taste. If you are being strict on calories, try some variations on chocolate consumption. Like…eat it on Wednesday for a mid-week reward. Or put (raw/natural/unprocessed/whatever) cocoa powder in a shake with a banana to sweeten it, and avoid pretty much all the fat calories! You can even put cocoa powder in savory recipes like chili.
5. Join a group
This could have tremendous benefits. I started a pain meetup.com group in Boston in 2011, got busy, and it ended up dissolving. Stupid me. Groups are a great way to meet friends and lovers. Hold on, did I just say “lovers”? Yes, I did! Some of the happiest couples I’ve known met through some kind of group. Two of them met in a volunteering group, and volunteering aficionados tend to be pretty cool, but I’m seriously digressing here and should just stop talking about meeting lovers. Just mosey on over to meetup.com and test out the waters for anything you’re interested in that has groups around you. You may strike out, but at least you tried (to meet friends…forget that whole lovers bit).