Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying that people are just as happy as they make up their minds to be. That sounds simple enough. People suffering from depression will tell you though that it’s not just that simple. We can say that we are going to be happy now! all that we want. That doesn’t make it so. Unfortunately.
Our brains are wonderful and amazing creations. The same things that allow our brains to work so well, to have the ability to adapt to new things, to work nearly mindlessly on a task that we know well, can also work against us. Our brains become wired to think in certain ways, when we think thoughts regularly our brains develop to follow those paths. They forget that there are other ways they could go.
This helps us to not have to think through our daily routines every step of the way but it also allows us to get stuck in ruts.
If you have been thinking unhappy thoughts there is no simple way to decide you are going to think happy ones now. Your brain has already ran this wiring, it’s not going to abandon all that infrastructure just because you decided! Building new circuits, happy circuits, isn’t easy. Remembering to and being able to think happy things all day to rewire your brain is not easy. I don’t really think it’s even possible. Not just by deciding to do so.
I hurt my finger a couple of weeks ago. It had a small run in with my horses mouth. He wasn’t aiming for me, we were both in the wrong spot at the wrong time. It still hurt though. It was the pointer finger, on my right hand of course, which means there are a lot of things I usually do that I could not do. Not in my usual way at least. I found new ways to do the things, usually involving my under used left hand.
Now my hand is feeling better. I’m able to use the finer again. In theory. After struggling so hard to figure out how to do things without using my right hand I can’t remember how it was done using the hand. My brain reran the wiring. Now the dominant paths through my brain uses my left hand, or at least the other fingers on my right hand. Being forced to do things a different way made my brain rewire a new way.
I think anyone who has broke an arm or had some body part put out of use has experienced the same thing. Our brains often have to be forced to accept change. Like the rest of our bodies we don’t do it willingly.
What can we do that makes us look for the positive? Requires us to find the best in others? Forces us to search for what is right and good and reward it enthusiastically? All those lead us to happiness, if only there was a way to channel them and even reward ourselves for following thought processes in those directions. That’s starting to sound disturbingly like a self help commercial. Especially when I then start plugging training with positive reinforcement.
Think about it though. I go outside and Rusty is already calling to me. He heard me come out the door and wants to play. It’s nice to be wanted, I click him and offer a treat for being happy to see me. We then spend the next half hour or so focusing strongly on everything he does right. He is thrilled. I’m proud and happy right along with him. By the end of our time together I am floating. I go back inside focusing on all the really great things that happened between us. Life is great! New pathways are being developed in my brain like crazy. The next day I go back again, we focus on the positive again. Those pathways are reinforced just as much as Rusty is.
By training others in a positive way we are training ourselves to be positive. We are learning to look for the good as opposed to waiting for the bad so we can correct it. We want them to win, and help them towards it as best we can. If we do this everyday. Even better if we do this with multiple animals throughout the day. If we start to use positive reinforcement on all the people around us. We can train our brains to follow much happier pathways in no time.
Best of all, emotions spread between people. If we start to be happier, our friends become happier. On the other hand if we are angry, people we meet and talk to will reflect our anger. Not just the ones we see in person but people we text or talk to online too. All it takes from us is a word or a gesture. If we focus on using positive reinforcement with our animals we can get in the habit of it. Treating others with kindness, in our training and interactions, is a mood booster its self.
By training with positive reinforcement we are not only forcing our minds to think good joyful thoughts but also practicing kindness to others. How can it help but lift our moods and train our minds to be happy?