How to make yourself happier by killing ANTs
We all have that one relative who complains at everything. It can be a stunning gorgeous day and they’ll say its ‘too hot’ or blab to you endlessly about skin cancer. These people are exhausting, tiring and are sinks. There are two types of people. Radiators and sinks. I personally feel every person has a moral duty to make themselves a radiator. To bring happiness and energy to those they meet. This isn’t easy though, it’s a challenge to fill your own cup so high that your happiness flows out of you. I’m going to be documenting stuff I do to make myself happy on this page every Tuesday. I’ve not always been as happy as I am, and I’m not as happy now as I know I will be. Like everything it’s a journey.
Happiness is one of those multiplier effects. In the same way teaching yourself how to learn more effectively multiplies academic achievement, actively making yourself 2x happier makes your life happier and so makes you 10x happier.
Ants. Bloody ants. I don’t mean the small insects. I mean automatic negative thoughts. Everyone has these. We live life telling ourselves we are too short, ugly, annoying, too loud, stupid. We do something good and our brain bombards us with ways it wasn’t perfect, ways we need to change it. We live constantly criticising and comparing ourselves to this ideal perception of perfection. This is daft.
Once you realise how daft this is you can do three things. The first option is remaining apathetic to it and continue as before. This is by far the worst as you stay in your world of sink, with no motive or drive to change. Slightly better you can be angry at yourself for being so stupid and beat yourself up about it, before realising this is yet another ANT. This drives you down a road of further sadness. But don’t lose hope, you are close to progress.
Thirdly you can catch these ANTs exactly as you did before. Instead of beating yourself up however, you can take stock and just note that they exist. Become mindful of the thought and without passing judgement just let them go. If anything, you should celebrate the fact that you have caught the thought, it is an opportunity to rewire your brains habit of self-criticism.
Our brains are creatures of habit however. You cannot simply just get rid of something, you must replace it with something else. When you catch a negative thought, consciously analyse it and replace it with a positive one. When it rains think ‘the air will be so much fresher’ or ‘its just water’. These may at first seem hugely contrived, but as they build up and become the normal response of your brain your world will simply be a better place.
All the world is anyway, is an interpretation. A bunch of molecules buzz around and a bunch of photons hit our eyes. There is not predetermined positives and negatives, no emotional pre-requisites of the world. The world is therefore effectively what we chose to interpret it as. Chose happiness.
Another way to express this is that we fundamentally are not our thoughts. If we look at a sunset and for a second our mind is silent, lost in the moment, then we are still there. We don’t cease to exist because our mind stops babbling away. When Descartes said ‘I think therefore I am’, he was correct that we cannot observe thought without being. He was incorrect however as we can be without thought. Possibly a better phrase is just ‘I am’. So observe these thoughts as the observer of them, not as these thoughts themselves. Cease to identify with them and play with them to make them more positive. You may want to re-read this paragraph a few times, these were some massive paradigm shifts for me.
The one remnant of doubt I can envision you having to making this change in life is the role critical thoughts play in improvement. If we don’t criticise our current failings how will we improve. It is all about, as with most things, where it is coming from. If it is coming from a place of disappointment with the current state of performance in a sport, test or situation; then it is damaging. It is degrading your confidence in your current ability. Your current ability is your current ability. You will always have the ability you have at the moment of time you observe it. Better then to embrace your current ability as is and see the opportunities to improve as exactly that. Enjoying the fact that you are exactly where you are on your journey and enjoying the process of progress. You still see ways to improve but it comes from a subtly but crucially different frame.
You may have read this post and feel slightly happier than you did at the start because of an artificial sense of immediate emotional empowerment. This stuff is not that simple. You don’t read an article by a slightly verbose nineteen year old and become happy. Brain chemicals are the most addictive things on the planet. If you are a 3/10 happiness now, don’t expect to be giggling at a fart by Christmas. You may be a 4/10 happiness by the end of the year, a 5/10 by next summer etc. Regardless if you put effort into making yourself a happier person internally by progressively rewiring the habit you have of automatic negative thoughts, you will see every aspect of your external life pick up almost without any extra effort.
I share this because this is a Journey I have gone through and am going through. I was a spotty, ugly, scrawny, thin, arrogant and entitled teenager. I was hugely lacking in self-confidence and self-worth. Are there people who have it worse, god yes! Have I become happier? Absolutely. I’d say I was a 4/10 happiness, I’m now a 7/10 or an 8/10 on an average day.
The added bonus on the end here is that by going through the process of actively making yourself happier, you learn what happiness is. You learn to control it. You completely know that whatever happens in life, you will always be able to take control of the thoughts in your brain and progressively change them into the thoughts you want to. Not quickly, not effortlessly, but effectively. You are ultimately in control of your underlying average emotional state. You are in control of your emotional responses to events.
This is ultimately just another habit. The habit of rewriting automatic negative thoughts. Take control of this habit and take control of your happiness.