"SCIENCE SAYS...PICTURE YOURSELF HAPPY"

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The other day, a virtual stranger – a Twitter friend I’ve never met in person but have been interacting with for years – shared with me in private that she’d gotten married. Suddenly, unexpectedly. She found love where she least looked for it or anticipated finding it. It came into her life, she felt it, she embraced it, she claimed it. She was overflowing with happiness. And her happiness flooded into my mind, and my heart. It was the best I’d felt in months.

This wasn’t a Buddhist mudita exercise. It was a core experience of being me, and being alive, and being “infected” by the happiness of this happy stranger. It was a spontaneous and compelling reaction.

The Real Choice Is Happiness

It seems that everyone is aware of the oppressive bombardment of grotesque local and global news and opinion. We feel it, as if in our bones. We often refer to this as a “sign of the times”, or the zeitgeist of our modern world.

Of course, everyone has stress and anxiety from time to time, personal as well as social. But we live in a world in which negative emotions have spread like wildfire. It’s easy, even understandable, to forget that this focus on unhappiness is a choice, and that happiness too is a choice. We sometimes even judge happiness as being “less real-world” than unhappiness.

But just as we’ve experienced the stress and anxiety of the world at large, at some point each of us has also experienced the tremendous impact that the happiness of others has had on our own. Typically, we think about this in personal ways. People we know well, who are near and dear to us. What about people we don’t know well? Even total strangers. Can you picture yourself happy because they’re happy? Or even more, can you picture yourself happy because there’s happiness in the world?

Although this idea can seem initially a bit “blue sky”, it’s actually quite practical.

What You See Is What You Can Get

There’s no shortage of psychology and social science studies that validate the efficacy of visualization in creating happiness. Even reports that do not directly examine meditation highlight the undeniable impact of positive visualization on happiness and well-being.

For example, Angie LeVan’s Psychology Today article, Seeing Is Believing: The Power of Visualization, points out that the power of visualization isn’t magic; it’s a matter of focused attention impacting on brain patterns. If you can think it, you can get it (or be it, or do it, etc.). Pretty powerful stuff.

Even if you can picture yourself happy, how can you maintain that picture of being happy? How can you be happy, and dwell in a state of being happy, even as the world feels volatile and extremely unhappy?

Science is great for drawing our attention to the struggle of maintaining happiness. Take the 2006 study conducted by Kennon M. Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky. It shows us that happiness isn’t arrived at as a static achievement. Rather, it is cultivated and sustained. But how can we sustain happiness, which science tells us is a fluid emotional state?

Give a Little, Take a Little

You are a unique individual in the Oneness of humanity. Without you, humanity suffers a loss. There’s literally no one else available to be you. You’re it. And just as you have unique ways of impacting on the world, you have unique ways of being impacted by the world. You probably already know this. But have you stopped to consider how important your happiness is to the world?

Think about the subtle ways in which you consciously are made happy by the happiness around you. It might feel more subtle than the impact of unhappiness, but it’s there. Giving conscious focus to it starts to amplify it. Loudly.

This is what I saw clearly when my stranger-friend shared her joy with me. In receiving that joy, I became an amplifier of it. It came through her, passed through me, and went back out into the world reinforced. A symbiosis of human energy. It felt like a balance of both my personal happiness a beautiful contagion of happiness itself. And it made the world brighter and stronger.

Happiness Is Contagious

Picture yourself happy, and others will picture it, too, inside themselves, consciously or not. Picture others happy, and allow yourself to feel that happiness as your own. Let yourself be nourished and fortified by the joy of others. You don’t need to know their names, their stories, their lives. You just need to become aware of the ways in which you’re already tapped into that cosmic flow. Your joy is their joy, and their joy is yours. Picture the flow of happiness, and let that visualization go out into tide of global stress and anxiety. Let it permeate the waters.

If meditating brings you joy, terrific, do that. (In fact, you might want to consider subscribing to QuietSelf if you’d like some support in that.) If wrapping your arms around an aging parent does it for you, terrific. If building a family through childbirth or adoption does it, terrific. If smiling at a stranger, marching for a cause, pumping iron at the gym, celebrating a birthday, gardening, running, navel-gazing – whatever does it for you, terrific. Do it. Give joy, receive joy, in proactive ways.

Picture yourself happy, and evolving. And others will picture it, too. It’s contagious.

Image courtesy of Seth Doyle