How happy have you been at work and home lately?
Do you know that your memory of happiness or sadness is based on recent memories and emotionally strong events you have experienced – discarding almost everything else that happened in-between?
That is helpful information for working carers because you can use it to intentionally make yourself happier.
For example, positive psychology proposes an exercise in which, at the end of each day, you have to remember three good things that happened during the day. The aim is to positively modify your perception of the day. And it works because of brain science.
In layman’s terms, think of it as this example. You are having a dreadful time over some situation – it could be workplace conflict, the illness of a loved one, a car accident or personal health issues. Every day there is plenty to make you miserable.
But if you find small things to celebrate, no matter how tiny they are, and try and get excited about how good they are, you can go a long way towards counter-balancing your negativity.
You might celebrate your orange tree giving you nice fruit, a work colleague complimenting you on your work, a neighbour mowing the verge out the front of your house, a joke that made you laugh – whatever.
If you are continually having negative work issues, it is important to realise that these are just a small part of your overall life – and a part of life over which you may have very little control.
Put these issues into their proper context in your life – work is just one aspect of your total life, don’t make it the whole experience of your life. Focus instead on the part of life that you DO have more control over, and focus on the good things in that.
The only thing that you can completely control in your life is what you think. You alone have the power to change your thinking. Don’t give away that power. Use that power to think positive thoughts about the good things in life and stop the negative self-talk that gives too much weight to the negative things.
Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman, and some other researchers, have shown that the way we experience happiness in the present moment is different from the way we remember happiness. Indeed, when we remember how happy we have been over the last month, our brain does not work out an average of the level of happiness we experienced in every moment. In fact, our brain is influenced by emotionally strong events and recent episodes.
Put differently, if your boss increases your pay, it will certainly have a positive effect on your appreciation of your average level of happiness during the last month. Ditto if you have lived through a negative and emotionally strong event. In fact, our memory neglects most of the moments in our lives – positive and negative.
These biases in our memory can be used to improve happiness as per the example above, in which you have to remember three small good things that happened during the day so that you ‘massage’ the memory of the overall day as being a happy one (or at least happier than it perhaps was).
Why is it important to know that the happiness you are experiencing at this moment is different from the happiness you will remember from this moment?
It is important because it affects our decisions. We make decisions on the basis of the functioning of our brain. We make decisions based on our memory of a situation, and not on what we actually felt at the time, and we do this without being aware of the process. This is true for all domains of human choice: personal life, consumption choice, management, politics – even our happiness.
So, if we want to improve our personal happiness or the happiness of society, we have to take into account these biases and act accordingly.
To view Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman speaking about how our ‘experiencing selves’ and our ‘remembering selves’ perceive happiness differently (using examples from vacations to colonoscopies) visit: