Gratitude exercises are one of the very best ways to increase your happiness. What this basically entails is taking the time out to be thankful for all the things you have in life and to reflect on what’s going well for you for a change.
If you think this sounds a little ‘hippyish’ then that’s understandable. In fact, it’s a very effective method that can genuinely transform your life and it’s based on science.
It’s also very close to the most popular form of psychotherapeutic intervention currently used: CBT. Here we will look at what CBT means and why it’s so effective at improving your mood.
What is CBT?
CBT stands for ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’ and it basically comes down to the process of assessing the contents of your own thoughts and how they might be affecting your mental health, then consciously going through the process of changing those thoughts.
So for instance, if you notice that you are constantly thinking things like ‘I have no money’ or ‘I’m a failure’, it’s not going to be very good for your mood. A therapist would then suggest you identify such thoughts using mindfulness (listening to your ruminations) and then challenging those beliefs and replacing them with more positive affirmations.
At the same time, CBT can also mean redirecting your attention and focusing on different things.
CBT and Neuroscience
The point to bear in mind here is that our brains work by releasing neurochemicals that are appropriate for the experiences we are having. In other words, if you’re in an exciting environment with people you love, lots of neurons will fire that you associate with attention, happiness and love – causing serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin to rush into your brain.
If you’re in an environment that’s cold, wet, dull and stressful then there will be none of those happiness hormones and instead much more cortisol and norepinephrine making you feel stressed and aggravated.
But it’s not being in those environments that is making you feel that way. Instead it’s being aware of those environments – it’s the firing of the relevant neurons.
So if you can train yourself to focus on the positive in a situation, to find the thing that is worth being happy about like the cute pigeon crossing the road, or the fact that your favorite program is on tonight, then you will release more of the happiness hormones and fewer of the stress ones.
It’s all about perception and CBT can help you to change that for the better.