Tracy & Geneva (23 months)

Where to find happiness

Try this: Set a timer for 10 minutes and go for a very slow walk. Letting your gaze wander, look for things you like in the environment. When you find something you like, pause and appreciate it for longer than you otherwise would. Continue on, looking for the positive.

What do you notice?

This is an exercise from a class I took in mindfulness meditation. Our teacher talked about the brain’s negativity bias. We are wired to look for the negative because, from an evolutionary perspective, those who did were more likely to survive. (If you assume there’s a tiger behind the bush over there, but there’s not, the consequences are minimal. If you assume there’s not a tiger, but there is, you’re toast.)

We’re much quicker to see and to remember the negative in any situation. Excessively focusing on negative thoughts, however, leads to a bad mood and a low opinion of our lives and our relationships.

If we notice and appreciate the positive things in our lives, we’re happier. But it’s something we need to practice.

When I did this walking exercise, the first thing I noticed was how much there was to notice. The class was held in a beautiful hotel, but I had rushed in that morning without really looking around. Spending time with the space, my experience was much more rich. I walked toward some artwork. My first thought: “That’s an ugly painting.” My second thought: “Hold on, there’s positive and negative in everything. Can I find something positive in this?” Looking very closely, I could see an interesting mixture of colors and shapes, and it shifted my perspective.

During the rest of my slow walk, there were plenty of details that I liked immediately — aspects I hadn’t noticed before. The last thing I noticed was how many moments of genuine interest, peace, and happiness I felt during the exercise. More, please!

Every moment has positive and negative elements, and we can choose which one we focus on. This evening, for example, I could focus on how cold I felt outside or on how cute the kids were playing together in the snow. I could focus on how my kid was trying to stuff two Brussels sprouts in her mouth at once, or the fact that she was actually eating Brussels sprouts. And so on. Whether it’s a slow walk for a few minutes or a moment at the dinner table, we have an opportunity to find the positive.

Gratitude is something we could stand to practice not only every day, but in everyday moments. Thanksgiving seems like a good day to start.

Copyright Betty Udesen / Pear Press
Written by

Tracy Cutchlow

Tracy is the author of the international bestseller Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science, a public speaker, and a creator of places to speak and be heard. Sign up for her newsletter here.

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