The road to happiness: Thinking positively in this stressful world

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WHEN it comes to positive thinking, it’s best to cultivate a sense of happiness that you determine, which will remain reasonably unaffected by external forces. This may seem like an impossible dream, but it can be achieved. A positive mindset and self-belief can make you more successful in work and relationships, but how do you achieve it it? Fortunately, there are many who claim to understand the art of happiness; it’s just about finding the right method to suit you.

The ability to think positively can be considered a reward in itself, but author Rhonda Byrne claims that it can be used to attract more positive things into your life. ‘The secret’ is a ground-breaking idea, allegedly utilised by the most successful people in history, and is one you couldn’t possibly conceive without forking out £15 for this book. The secret to ever-lasting happiness? Don’t be so miserable!

It does go a bit deeper than that (barely). As Byrne stresses in The Secret, over and over again, just worded slightly differently each time (seriously, I’m sure she could have fit the whole thing in a pamphlet, not a 215 page illustrated hard back fancy thing) – anyone can easily harness the wonderful powers of ‘the universe’ to achieve your goals. This is based on the idea that ‘like attracts like’, which is basic physics, apparently – though even a scientifically-stunted English student like myself knows that in the actual universe, not the magical ‘secret’ universe, it’s opposites that attract.

According to Byrne, all you need to do is ask ‘the universe’ for what you want, behave like you already have it and, hey presto, it will be yours. I’ve already put my order in for a date with Kit Harington – I’ll let you know how that works out.
It all sounds too good to be true, but it comes with a warning: if you spend your time fretting over something, it will become a reality, as ‘the universe’ is dumb and can’t tell the difference between “this, please!” and “no, no, no – if this happened it would ruin my life”. Proceed with caution.

By attributing the positive and negative effects of something that happens in our own mind to a higher power, Byrne is perhaps mythologising the reasons why your attitude affects your life. This may be due to my inherent lack of spirituality, in which I may be proved wrong, but I believe your own mind is powerful enough tool on its own.

The existence of a conscious ‘universe’ is a dubious one, and who’s to say if such a power exists, it would concern itself with your desires? Even if you’re sceptical about the spiritual aspect of the law of attraction, the effects of positive thinking attracting positive things, and vice versa, can be seen in the world around us. It’s just the way that a lot of things work and it doesn’t need ‘the universe’ to facilitate it.

Negative thoughts can have the effect of a black cloud hanging over you, and you can cause your fears to become reality through your own actions. For example, if you are preoccupied with the worry that nobody likes you, it can consume you you will more than likely appear miserable and repel potential friends.

On the other hand, fear of failure and lack of self-belief can lead to apathy, leading you to put less work into something and decreasing your chances of success. In the same way, a healthy sense of positivity will make you more approachable, confident and help you in all areas of life.

But as wonderful as Byrne’s attraction idea sounds, it seems to take hard work out of the equation, placing your future and happiness in the celestial and probably immaterial hands of ‘the universe’ and relinquishing responsibility for yourself. Apparently, none of the successful people we admire planned for their success, why would they when they had ‘the universe’? With this in mind, you might as well stop studying for that exam, ‘the universe’ has got you covered.
One thing Byrne does insist upon is gratitude. It seems ridiculous when you think about it, but in life it is far easier to let the things we don’t have affect us more than the things we do. If you break up with someone, it feels like your life is over, forgetting that the we may lack the love of one person, we have friends, family and our own existence to be thankful for. An anonymous quote I found on the internet puts it very well: “It doesn’t matter if your glass is half full or half empty. Be thankful that you have a glass and grateful that there’s something in it.”

You can’t necessarily change the things you experience, but you can alter the way you perceive them, not allowing the negative emotions to overpower the positive. Of course, there are times where this may be impossible, such as a bereavement. But even if something seems awful, you can always see it as an experience to learn from. The Secret focuses on gratitude as a means to an end, but this seems counteractive. Having hopes and ambitions for the future is great, but we should appreciate the value of the things we have as they are, and appreciate the feeling of being grateful. It’s useful to make a list, mentally or otherwise, to draw upon when you’re feeling low so you can appreciate your life.

This attitude of acceptance is used in the practice of mindfulness, which concerns ridding your mind of negative thoughts and anxieties and focusing on the now. It is the seventh step of the Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism, but you don’t need to be a Buddhist or spritual to practice it. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is used to treat depression and anxiety, among other conditions, and has been seen to be so effective that Intel have implemented it for their employees. Mindfulness involves focusing on the present as a source of happiness, being aware of your negative emotions that you can deal with them. If you wake up and it’s a nice day, focus on that as a source of joy, that you’re alive. When practising mindfulness, the amygdala of the brain is said to be more active, equating to feelings of happiness.

One of the most effective ways to practice mindfulness is through meditation, by focusing on your current state. It is recommended that you find a peaceful place where there are no distractions, and focus on breathing slowly. Not only does this help you relax when you’re feeling stressed, the act of focusing deters any negative emotions. I’ve had friends say they’ve felt this is a spiritual experience, but whether or not you hold such beliefs doesn’t make the practice any less effective, as mindfulness appreciates that the mind is a powerful tool. So next time you feel stressed about revision, take time to clear your head and return to work with a fresh perspective. These are just a few of the ways to achieve happiness. Of course, a lot more has been written on the topic that I don’t have room to go into. Whichever way works for you, go ahead and smile: you deserve it!