Your Happiness Project: Give yourself a mental vacation, or, how to find a comfort food for your mind.
Posted Oct 17 2008 1:32pm
I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in -- no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.
Ever since the subprime mortgage mess began, and with the current financial crisis, many people—like me—have felt distracted and upset by the gyrations in the economy.
For some people, the anxiety is intense and relentless. If you’ve lost your job, or your job is at risk, or you’re entering the job market; if you’re planning to retire soon and your savings have taken a big hit; if you need to sell your house in a tough residential market – well, in those situations, you might find it hard to think about anything other than financial woes.
But try to give yourself a break from your worries, at least occasionally. By doing so, you’ll re-charge your battery, find it easier to stay calm and cheerful, find it easier to take action to remedy your situation -- and you’ll sleep better. But this is easier said than done.
We all suffer from “ negativity bias,” that is, we react to the bad more strongly and persistently than to the comparable good. Research shows one consequence of negativity bias is that when people’s thoughts wander, they tend to begin to brood. Anxious or angry thoughts capture our attention more effectively than happier thoughts.
So look for ways to pull your mind away from your worries onto positive topics. One great way is to watch a movie – preferably something funny! -- or watch a favorite TV show. Don’t muddy the experience by trying to multi-task; you’re not going to get the benefit of taking a break from your own thoughts if you’re watching Trading Places while you pay bills or fold laundy. Give yourself a proper vacation: sit down and enjoy what you're doing.
My favorite activity is reading, and when I really need “comfort food” for my mind, I read Victorian novels or children’s literature. I always re-read, too; when I’m upset, I want the comfort of knowing that I’ll love the book and that I won’t be upset by some unexpected plot twist.
I do find that some activities that are usually happiness-inducing don’t work very well when I’m preoccupied with bad thoughts. Listening to music, for example, is an extremely effective way to boost mood, but I find it too easy to start thinking about my worries when I’m listening – others might not have this problem. Similarly, although going for a walk usually cheers me up, it also gives me an excellent opportunity to brood if I’m inclined that way.
Cooking, cleaning, playing with your kids, playing video games, playing basketball – different people find different solutions. If you can find an activity that gives you exercise, gets you outside, or brings you in contact with other people, that’s especially effective.
So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, schedule a breather for yourself. By cheering yourself up, you’ll make yourself feel better, and you’ll also equip yourself to deal more effectively with tough situations.
Have you found a good way to give yourself a mental vacation -- or an activity that acts as a comfort food for your mind?
* I'm very interested in the issue of organ donation, and I got tears in my eyes when I read an article in yesterday's New York Post. There was a terrible fire here in New York City, and in one family, a mother, a father, and three sisters died, and a ten-year-old boy was being kept alive only on life support. A family member said, "He was our only hope. We just hope they can harvest his organs so that his organs can save somebody else's life." With so much loss, this family was still able to think about others. To sign up for the organ donor registry yourself, go here.
* Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.