One great approach for tricking our brains into feeling happier is to take advantage of our tendency to develop habits. Habit development includes three parts. First, there’s a trigger. The trigger leads to the second component, which is a behaviour. And the last part is the reward which motivates you to continue your habit.
An example that helped me get my head around this is the following: You wake up and your teeth feel yucky (trigger); you brush your teeth (behaviour); and your mouth is ‘minty fresh’ (reward). And you brush your teeth every morning or night, or after every meal – without thinking about it. It’s a habit.
Let’s use our natural instinct to our best advantage by creating helpful triggers to help us feel happy. It’s easy to do and doesn’t take time or energy; just a little imagination. Here are some questions to get you started:
1. What does happiness look like? Is it a colour? A bright yellow? A soft robin’s egg blue? A pastel pink? There’s no right answer – just choose your answer to this question. Every time you see this colour (trigger), this will be your cue to smile (behaviour) and your mood will elevate (reward). Let’s say you choose pastel pink as your happiness colour.
Notice pastel pink in your life. Sprinkle it through your day: in your wardrobe, office or in your bedroom. Buy something you need anyway. A t-shirt? Pyjamas? New socks or lipstick? How about a pastel pink baseball hat for those bed-head mornings? How about this: What colour are your walking shoes? Decide that is your happiness colour, and then get a happiness boost every time you go for a walk and reinforce two behaviours at once. The possibilities are endless.
2. What does happiness smell like? Freshly brewed coffee? Cocoa butter? Brownies baking? How about your laundry detergent? Or your bath soap? A freshly mowed lawn? Fresh flowers? Take a few minutes to think about some distinct smells that occur throughout your day. Mine is my perfume (it is even called ‘Happy’- this is how obsessed I am!). It is with me all day. On a gloomy day, all I need is a quick spritz to remember I want my face to naturally fall into a smile as my ‘default’ position.
3. What does happiness sound like? My happiness sounds include seagulls and the sound of metal hardware banging on a boat mast. We have a flag pole, and every time I hear that sound it transports me to the beach. Wind chimes also do it for me. We have some outside our back door, so I hear them every time I let our dogs out, or walk out to the deck. Some of my other auditory triggers include classic rock songs and other types of music as well.
One piece that brings back especially happy memories is ‘The Nutcracker’ because my son would nap to it when he was a baby. Something you hear all the time can be your happiness trigger. I love the sound my phone makes when I get a text. It’s a sweet soft chime and I smile every time I hear it. On a bad day I can text myself to set off the trigger-behaviour-reward chain reaction.
4. What does happiness feel like? Think of the various textures in our lives. A baby’s cheek. A particularly warm and cozy blanket. A freshly washed t-shirt. The feel of a pet’s coat. The feel of ivory keys or the tension of guitar strings (for the musical people out there). One of my favourites is the soft stubble on my hubby’s cheek that reminds me of Sunday morning.
5. What does happiness taste like? This one is easy for me: It is a bite of dark chocolate. I wish I could reprogram myself to decide that happiness tastes like carrots, but no-can-do on that one. I also associate the taste of a juicy hamburger with some of the happiest times in my life. As with all our other senses, it can be anything you decide it is. Do you have a breakfast ritual? How about making your morning banana or strawberry smoothie your happiness taste?
One last Idea: Are there symbols that you can use as happiness triggers? An emoji that shows up on your phone? Hearts? A thumbs up? Mine is stars (one reason I wear star earrings and a star necklace so often). And a star is only a second away for me, because I can draw them anywhere. And then immediately make an association to all the other blessings in my life and the wonderful people I love and have come to know. Stars have become my own personal ‘gratitude trigger’; they remind me to have a quiet moment with myself to say thank you.
Thinking these thoughts, making these choices, doing what’s in our power to make us happier; it’s all up to us. We must decide we are worthy and deserving. We are so much more than enough.
Have fun with this. Here’s an idea: Is there something that really irritates you? For example, does it really annoy you when your children leave their shoes in the middle of the kitchen? How about when someone doesn’t replace the toilet roll? Decide that from now on these will be happiness triggers instead, and turn your mood upside down. Life is good. Just know it.
Joan Senio is a mental health blogger who runs My Best Friend Adeline. She is a wife, mother, sister, daughter, godmother and aunt. She is also a dog-lover, beachcomber, red wine enthusiast and self-diagnosed positivity addict. She launched her blog to provide a positive, safe place to visit when people need some gentle encouragement and reassurance. You can connect with her on Twitter @joansenio1
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