Education

Re-programme your thoughts

Photo for representation.

Photo for representation.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Beneficent behaviour can prompt a chain of positivity

In last month’s column, I described Sonja Lyubomirsky’s research that examines happiness levels of people, which can vary due to innate temperament and life’s circumstances. While we don’t have any control over the genetic lottery bestowed on us at birth, we often cannot dictate life’s vagaries as well. In truth, almost everyone is hit by curveballs that are neither desired nor anticipated. However, in her book, The How of Happiness, Lyubomirsky argues that we can influence our happiness levels by following certain strategies regardless of our temperamental profiles or the cards that fate metes out to us. While many of these strategies may sound prosaic, studies have validated their effectiveness in elevating people’s moods, both in the short term and long term.

Of course, Lyubomirsky is aware that not every one of her dozen strategies will work for everyone. She exhorts you to pick ones that mesh with your personality, predilections and principles. Today, I outline four strategies. The remaining eight will be covered in subsequent articles.

Be grateful

The first strategy involves cultivating gratitude. I had discussed how expressing gratitude enhances well-being, in a previous column. We have so many things going right in our lives, but we are blind to our fortunes until we are deprived of them. Whether it involves good health, a steady job, a roof over our heads or a supportive family, we usually overlook our pluses, and complain about what is lacking in our lives. Yet, if we make a conscious effort to list five positives every week, we may find ourselves with a growing sense of appreciation compounded by greater well-being. In addition to feeling grateful, we may also express our thanks more consciously, more explicitly and more often.

Next, even if we haven’t been blessed with a sunny disposition, we can grow more optimistic, which results in greater resilience. The doyen of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, argues that people have a preferred attributional style to explain the causes of events to ourselves. While optimists tend to view negative situations or failure as temporary, local and external, pessimists rue that their effects are permanent, pervasive and personal. But the cynic in us can learn to reprogramme our thoughts so that we view misfortune through a less damaging lens.

What did I do wrong? Why did I mess up? Why didn’t I think of a contingency plan earlier? What will my friends think of me? Why do others seem to have it all together? When we err, such thoughts may whirl in our heads.

While some amount of self-reflection is salubrious to our well-being, Lyubomirsky dissuades us from “overthinking.” Repeatedly regretting and ruminating is not conducive to our well-being. So, when we catch ourselves falling into a vortex of obsessive thinking, we need to distract ourselves and direct our attention towards more productive activities. Another phenomenon, closely linked to overthinking, involves indulging in social comparisons. Instead of determining our worth, relative to others, we need to develop our “own internal standards” by which we gauge our actions and achievements.

Lyubomirsky has also found that engaging in acts of kindness, on a regular basis can augment our spirits. Offering a seat on a metro to an elderly person, helping a kid haul her school bag up the stairs of your apartment, leaving a ₹100 note in a hotel room for the cleaning staff, volunteering to do groceries for a neighbour with a broken leg — there are umpteen ways in which we can assist others over the course of a typical day. Moreover, beneficent behaviour can galvanise others to act in prosocial ways, thereby prompting a chain of positivity.

The writer is Director, PRAYATNA. arunasankara@gmail.com

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 1:07:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/re-programme-your-thoughts/article28224708.ece

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