Each year, a friend of mine, when wishing family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances a “Happy New Year,” almost always follows it up with the rather dour postface of “let’s hope it’s better than the last one.” Sometimes they even run through some of the lower points from their preceding 12 months.
It’s not surprising that they do that as most human beings have a tendency to focus on the negative. It’s biological and innate; it’s hardwired into us. It’s habitual. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. It’s possible to build a habit of thinking more positively, even if you’re currently the most negative person you know.
Positive psychology contains a vast range of tools, exercises, tips and tricks to help you do just that. Whereas most forms of psychotherapy focus on mental illness, positive psychology firmly fixes its gaze on mental wellness. “What can be done to make you feel happier and more fulfilled in your day-to-day life?” it asks. “How can you learn to flourish?”
One of its many, many laboratory tested exercises (i.e., a bunch of researchers have made people undertake these things and then rated their mood and physiology in a variety of ways) is one specifically designed to help you reflect upon events in a more positive way. And it does so by getting you to review the day, or the week, or even the month.
On a bad day, something nice will have happened (but it’s usually the bad thing you focus on) and, on a rotten week, several good things will also have happened (but it’s usually the rotten things that you reflect upon). But, by ignoring the bad in favour of good, despite your natural inclination, by writing them down in a diary or notebook, you are slowly and steadily building that habit of thinking more positively.
But, what does this mean for the new year and your happiness? Well, why not review your whole year? News and current affairs (and pop music) shows do it all the time.
So, another positive psychology exercise builds on the above by asking you to get hold of a bell jar, or some such similar receptacle. And, for a sense of occasion it asks that you get it in time for New Year’s Day. Then, over the coming 12 months, whenever something nice happens, you write that event or situation down on a piece of paper and pop it into the bell jar.
Note by note, nice thing by nice thing, into the jar it goes. A compliment here, a bonus there; a trip on a sunny day, a night out with friends, you name it. Large or small, any and all events go in the jar. And then, on New Year’s Eve next year, you can gather around the jar with family and friends, or simply on your own if you enjoy being solitary and introspective, and then reflect on what a lovely year you’ve had.
“Happy New Year,” you’ll say. “I hope it’s as good as this one was.”
You’re not denying that bad things have happened; you’re just choosing to ignore them for once, in favour of the good.
Won’t that be nice?