Don’t worry, be happy

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I used to be a news junkie, and now I’m not. There’s just too much “news,” and most of it’s bad. Some days I feel like I’m hovering at the edge of a precipice, and if I read one more story about a genocide, homicide, suicide, kidnapping, molestation, torture, or war, I’ll just sink into a depression from which I will not be able to pull myself. And as I get older, the news of bad events reads strikingly the same. Politicians are corrupt? Murderers aren’t caught? These stories aren’t news, they’re business as usual. The only things that change are the names. Although I sometimes feel guilty about it, now I read headlines and sometimes a full story. I don’t read everything. I look for good news and kindness.

So I was pleased to run across this lifehacker post the other day: “How Positive Thoughts Build Skills, Boost Health, and Improve Work.” Even the headline cheered me up. James Clear, the author, describes how fear, anger, and other negative emotions limit your range of choices: If you see the tiger leap at you, your only thought is to run away. One choice.

But he describes a new study in which subjects examined images that evoked a range of emotions. Afterwards, each participant was asked to fill in the sentence, “I would like to….” The participants who’d seen positive images had a significantly greater number of goals than those who’d seen negative images or even neutral images.

Even better, the study demonstrates how doing things that make you happy builds skillsets that–even when the happy stimulus goes away–stay with you. So being happy helps you down the road even in times when you are not conspicuously happy, because you have more resources. Negative emotions build only one skillset–the ability to run away from the tiger.

The post suggests three ways to get happy: meditate, play, and write three times a week about something that makes you happy. Seems simple enough. I’m going to try it. Because the news sure doesn’t look like it’s going to improve.

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