Two people jumping in happiness in front of sunset on the beach
By Categories: All, Positive Psychology6.4 min read
Matt Hersh, PhD

Dr. Matt Hersh holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with a specialization in child and family clinical psychology. He is a licensed clinical psychologist and mindfulness teacher in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with a private practice in the Boston area.

We often log thousands of hours of our lives trying to figure out who has done us wrong and how we ended up this way.

Our parents may not have given us what we really needed when we were children, peers may have bullied us on the playground, and fear may have cast a long shadow on our confidence to speak up, assert ourselves, or get what we really needed. We often attempt to trace back what currently ails us to specific events or general trends earlier in our lives.

This certainly has merit and can have a profound impact on our well-being. In fact, when we are successful in finding the roots of current unhappiness AND when we can adequately process and healthfully integrate the emotional memories of these past experiences, then we are likely well on our way to a happier existence.

As a psychotherapist, I continue to be amazed at how the art and science of psychotherapy marches on with both traditional and highly innovative ways to help us live less stressed and more fulfilling lives. Just a few examples of approaches that integrate ancient practices with newer innovations are mindfulness and acceptance based therapies, guided imagery, and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT, or simply called “Tapping”), and Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART). These are just three of many therapies and methodologies that can help all of us unstick our stuckness.

But without such approaches as guides, we may stay stuck in the search for answers using the same lens that created the stuckness in the first place.

Although we are biologically predisposed to look for and dwell on negatives more than positives (infamously known as the “negativity bias”), we are perfectly capable of turning the coin over from tails to heads in order to bring about less stress and greater fulfillment in our daily lives. Not surprisingly, it just takes a bit of work.

So let’s ponder a few questions:

  • How often do we trace back things that are going well for us to things in our past?
  • How often do we tell stories to our loved ones of good memories that we want to have actually stick more in our brains, minds, and bodies?
  • How frequently do we focus our minds on the different events that have had to occur in our lives to help shape some positive part of our existence?

In short, how often do we source our good fortune?

If you are like most, the answer to these questions is “not often.” It’s difficult mostly because we are often using that “tails” lens to try to view the “heads” side of the coin.

So let’s intentionally flip the coin to heads.

From Tails to Heads: Re-Discovering Our Lost Happiness

One of the easiest ways to do this is to find a memory that unconditionally brings up some kind of positivity within you. This could be an event, big or small. This could be a calming sunset you saw, a friend’s kind words, or even a stranger opening the door for you when you had a bunch of bags in one hand and a coffee in the other.

Let that memory linger for about 20 seconds. Really try to re-capture it (with your eyes closed if you feel comfortable) with as many senses as you can. What were you wearing? What was the weather like at the time? What was spoken? What were your feelings and sensations of this event?

Now let’s become really interested in what forces had to come together for that event to occur and for you to find some positivity within that event.

Perhaps the stranger holding the door for you that morning was in a good mood, and his mood influenced his kind action. Perhaps he held the door for you because of how hard he works at being a kind and generous person. Or perhaps he got his children out the door that morning with relative ease, and he was feeling happy and relieved about this small triumph. Maybe this stranger had a horribly rough childhood, and despite of this suffering (or maybe because of it) he still acts with as much kindness and benevolence as possible. Or perhaps he simply held the door out of courtesy, regardless of his mood and childhood.

It really doesn’t matter the exact source of our good fortune in that moment, and we wouldn’t be able to pinpoint one in that example anyway. The real point (and practice) here is that we are intentionally dwelling in potential positive causes for a positive action or event, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant.

Sourcing our good fortune is really about mindfully acknowledging how we, as human beings, are truly interconnected. The late venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Zen monk, peace activist, poet, and author, spoke clearly about how the lives of all sentient beings are inherently woven together. In other words, our happiness affects someone else’s well-being, and someone else’s well-being affects our happiness.

It is this positive, virtuous cycle that we want to perpetuate. And when we intentionally do this in our minds (or in conversation with others), we increase our chances of true contentment in life.

3 Simple Steps to Sourcing Good Fortune

  1. Purposefully examine the aspects of your life that bring you some measure of comfort, happiness, love, inspiration, contentment, joy, or excitement. This list could include the food you find on your table each night, the bed you sleep on, the people who frequently add positivity to your life, the relative safety of your neighborhood, your relative physical and emotional health (even if you are struggling with some issues), etc.
  2. Begin to trace one aspect of your current good fortune or relatively positive situation to aspects of your life and others’ lives that have a history to them or have already been put in motion. For example, if your neighborhood is clean and safe, map out in your mind  (or on paper) the potential forces that had to come together to help create the current atmosphere of your neighborhood  – city council members working hard to make your environment safe, neighbors taking out their trash each week, people upholding basic ordinances, and architects designing, builders constructing, and skilled laborers working to build the home in which you now live.
  3. Let the facts or speculations about the sources of your good fortune sink in. Focus your mind for about 20-30 seconds on the notion that so much had to come together for you to enjoy the relative goodness you currently experience. While focusing your mind, move your eyes back and forth, nod your head, gently smile, and/or tap on the pinky side of your hand (about 2/3 of the way up from your wrist). This provides positive feedback to your brain that what you are focusing your mind on is indeed worth it. And these somatic gestures and movements help the brain to the make the changes we’d like to experience.

Repeat these 3 steps as often as you can with as much in your life as possible. With increasing practice, you may find that your mind begins to source your good fortune a little more automatically. And you may find that you are becoming that much more content and positive too!

To learn more about the how to bring happiness into your life in a more lasting way, check out Rick Hanson’s book, Hardwiring Happiness.

Be well, and may you enjoy sourcing your good fortune,
Matt

P.s. Check out my featured interview with MysticMag online magazine where I talk integrative psychotherapy, mindfulness meditation, and anxiety treatment.

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