Lately I've been reading The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, and, truth be told, it's been an amazing experience. I'm learning so much not only about the world of happiness from a scientific perspective, but also about myself. There are many great exercises in the book, but one in particular helps you identify what actions to take to make yourself happier. This is great because there are many, many things we can do to bring about the happiness that lies within us and it's so important to narrow the list down to a few things that will most likely work best for you.
After taking the test to figure out which four things would benefit me most in terms of being happier, I discovered that these tactics would be best for me: (1) doing things that engage me, (2) practicing acts of kindness, (3) learning to forgive, and (4) committing to goals. All of the options for increasing happiness sounded appealing to me, but when I found out these four would be best for me I realized that the test was really dead-on.
These four things really do benefit me when I do them. For example, I love writing and reading and participating in things that actively engage me in what I'm doing (#1). I also love creating projects for myself and committing to goals in the future (such as an ebook and, someday, a novel) which really relates to #4. As for #2, I've always been the kind of person (due to the rearing done by my wonderful mom) that loves to do kind things for others -- send cards, remember birthdays, cheer a friend up who's feeling down. Now I don't think I do any grand acts of kindness and I know I could certainly work on this more (where is that kindness hiding when I'm being sassy with my loved ones?), but I know that when I do kind things for others I really do feel a lot happier. As for #3, well, that is something that I know will ultimately bring me happiness should I really work on it (I'm going to try, I swear!). I have a lot of people to forgive and it's definitely not an easy one for me, but I do believe it will benefit me a lot in the long run.
Where am I going with all of these personal accounts, you wonder? Yes, I know it's probably not the most fascinating thing to hear about what works for me in terms of happiness activities, but I bet you it would be very interesting for you to see what works best for you. While I'm not going to review The How of Happiness here (I don't know how I could without rewriting the whole book in this post because it's all so fabulously interesting!), I would encourage you to pick up a copy if you haven't already.
It's so fascinating (at least, to me) and it's an easy read. I'd been hesitating about buying it for a long time because of the scientific aspect. I'm not a scientist. In fact, science was my very worst subject when I was a kid so I was a bit hesitant to read this book for fear that it would be -- god forbid! -- boring. I hate, hate, hate being bored. But I was far from it when I was reading this great book. I was engaged, taking tests (sounds not-fun but it was actually fun!), learning about happiness. It was (and still is -- only about half-way through) a great reading experience.
Since I'm not going to review the bookhere, I've decided to pick one element of the book that really stuck out to me and talk about it. I could go on and on and on about how great the book is, how much you can learn about yourself and the best ways to handle so many situations, but I'm going to stick with this one and very interesting topic: the ABCDE disputation technique. Sounds fancy, I know, but it's really just another way of saying "five ways to dispute negative thoughts" which, to me, sounds pretty awesome. So, here it is. I present you with five ways to get rid of negative thoughts. (The steps come from the book. The examples and explanations are my own.) Before you dive in, you should know that:
A stands for adversity
B stands for beliefs
C stands for consequences
D stands for disputation
E stands for energize
The ABCDE Disputation Technique (or, 5 Ways to Get Rid of Negativity)
- Write down the nature of the adversity, the bad event or problem you are facing. Okay, let's say you're facing a tough problem (or, what you think is a tough problem) and you have to deal with it. How you are handling it in your head might not be the best way, which is why you have to write it down ina single statement. An example of this would be, "I don't have a significant other." (We'll use this example throughout the exercise to provide concrete examples...I always do better with those personally!)
- Identify any negative beliefs triggered by this problem. Once you've identified what you think the problem is, note what the negative beliefs are that come from this problem. Using the example, using the situation above, some negative beliefs might be: "No one likes me because I am not good looking" or "I'm not an interesting person so no one wants to date me" or "I have too many problems to be a good significant other."
- Record the consequence of the problem, how you are feeling and acting as a result. What actions and feelings come from these negative thoughts? The thoughts are different than these feelings or actions so it's important to identify both. Some examples for this situation might be: "I feel very alone" or "I don't feel like I deserve to be loved" or "I'm not going to go out tonight because no one wants to see me anyway."
- Dispute the negative belief, challenging it, thinking of other possible reasons for the problem. After you've identified the consequences of the problem, challenge them! Fight 'em off by creating arguments for the beliefs you identified with. In this situation, disputing the beliefs might be something like, "Maybe I'm not being open to new people and situations" or "Maybe I'm still clinging to an old relationship and not making room for new people" or "Maybe I am putting out negative vibes and that explains why people aren't acting attracted to me."
- Consider the more optimistic explanations for your problem can energize you. Considering other possibilities in the situation will help you to realize that you've probably been looking at it from one (negative) angle. (I do this a lot.) Once you see that there are other possible believes that can be associated with your problem, you'll probably feel a lot more positive about the situation and realize that you have control over the way you view it.
As Lyubomirsky writes in The How of Happiness, "ABCDE disputation basically involves arguing with your own overly pessimistic thoughts rather than let those thoughts control you." The most difficult part, as noted in the book, is the disputation. Even when I was doing the example above, I had to pause for longer on that example than on the others. It was easy for my mind to think of the negative beliefs and consequences, but I had a harder time thinking about how I could view the situation differently. I had a hard time thinking of reasons why someone who wanted to be in a relationship might not have a significant other that weren't negative. Luckily, as I keep reading the book (after having written everything above) I come across questions you should ask yourself when attempting to combat your negative beliefs about a specific problem. According to Lyubomirsky, "Below are questions you should ask yourself and answer, preferably in writing and preferably when you're in a neutral mood." Below I've paraphrased the questions from the book so you can use them when tackling your own problem...
- What specific evidence do I have for this belief?
- What alternative explanations are there for the behavior of others?
- What is the worst thing that could happen? How likely is it?
- What is the best possible thing that could happen and what is the likelihood of that?
- What do I honestly think is the most likely outcome?
- What do I get out of having this belief? Is it useful?
- What do I plan to do to address the problem?
I really believe that these questions are so important to ask yourself when dealing with a negative belief -- and I would know, considering negative beliefs used to be my specialty. Now that I found out about this technique, I'm going to put it to good use. Every time I find myself faced with a negative belief, I'm going to try to implement this technique and see if it works. I have a good feeling that it will...