This post is about cultivating “The Hopeful Self.” It’s about acquiring optimism that can be cultivated to elevate your mood.
This post is about you. It’s about enjoying life right here and right now. If implementing any of this advice ends up attracting other people, that will just be icing on the cake.
One of the amazing things about being human is that we experience life on a continuum. Maybe there are Zen masters who reach a level of present-moment awareness more than 50% of each day, but I’ve never met them. I have met a few cats that seem to be able to pull that off, but no humans.
Humans live their lives in anticipation of what’s coming next. When we expect it’s going to be something enjoyable, our moods lift. When we anticipate heart ache, hardship, or pain, our moods plummet.
Here’s an interesting question. If you imagine a future that involves purposeful self development toward the goal of more consistently enjoying life, what would happen to your expectations about the future?
Let me explain that question with a concrete example. Let’s say I have a friend named Ted. He’s kind of average as far as his typical mood states go. He feels down once in a while. He feels really happy once in a while, but most of the time his moods follow the ever-changing expectations of the moment.
When lunch is five minutes away, his mood lifts a bit. On Friday afternoons he feels more energetic. While getting ready for his Monday morning workout he feels tired and blue. Afterward he feels successful and happy. In the weeks before a vacation his happiness goes up for a few minutes each time he thinks about the family members he will get to spend time with. When his boss dumps a pile of work on his desk his energy seems to disappear along with his cheerful spirit.
Then one day, he stumbles across a book that is all about mental strategies a person can use to purposefully enhance happiness and feelings of well-being. He begins to imagine himself in the future, changed by the contents of the book as he develops new positive emotional habits.
What would happen in this situation?
Would it be just another temporary ripple in his mood? Or might this change bring about a shift in the way he thinks about his entire life? Could the shift be so dramatic that his mood state changes more than normal?
It is possible for a person’s entire mood and mindset to shift suddenly. You see this happen in sad circumstances when someone realizes something terrible that sends a shock wave through the mind, changing that person’s perception of everything. I’m wondering if it could happen in the positive direction as well.
What if you re-imagined your future in a very specific way? What if the change was a decision to practice happiness for the rest of your life? Could that decision cause you to anticipate a future where you were less reactive to the painful experiences and quicker to embrace and appreciate the good things?
I’m talking about both internalized habits and externalized habits of happy people. Here are some examples of each:
- Savoring the moment as it unfolds
- Embracing humor on purpose and often
- Practicing gratitude
- Practicing calming mindfulness of the present moment
- Making up new rituals for remembering happy experiences
- Accepting your limits to let go of regret or rumination about past failures
- Reminding oneself to accept the limitations of others so you can appreciate them
- Increasing the frequency of connections with friends and loved ones
- Allowing yourself to afford the time, money, and energy for things that benefit you emotionally even if not all that much on a practical level
- Living an authentic life that is focused on things you find meaningful
- Alternating between high-energy activities and relaxation as you stay in tune with your body and mind
This is just the tip of the iceberg. If Ted believes he can continuously practice the art of enjoying life, and he anticipates he will actually get better at it, his anticipation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I don’t know if you’ll get the same result, but I often get a boost of energy and positive emotion when I allow myself to imagine a future that includes the purposeful embrace of mental habits that yield happiness.
Yes, I know the problems will still exist. And yes, I keep an eye on the problems and dangers that I can do something about. But still, I like to allow myself to practice that “what if…?” type of thinking that unleashes a torrent of positive expectations for what’s to come.
Here’s my invitation to you today. Re-imagine your future. Imagine a future in which you gradually increase your positive emotional habits. Embrace joy and all the good things that are worth your time and mental energy.
It’s a refreshing experience for me. The trick is remembering to do it often. They say you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I guess one of my hopes is that the other people in my life would routinely remind me to embrace the idea that I have the power to choose the focus of my life. I just thought I’d take an opportunity today to remind you to practice embracing what’s good in your life.
If you have any brilliant tips for building positive emotional habits, let the rest of us benefit from your idea. Share your thoughts in the comments section below. You never know when your one comment might change the course of someone’s life for the better.