Answer this question in your head right now: “What else could have gone wrong today?”
I’m hoping you were able to come up with 1-2 things, for your own benefit. (car could have broken down, kids could have been sick, I could have tripped and fell, I could have been fired, etc.)
It has been scientifically proven that thinking of those hypothetical worse “alternate realities” can actually bring you more happiness. Let me explain.
Last week, my little family of 4 traveled to Northern Minnesota to experience a true family lake camp-type resort full of non-stop toddler interaction, fun lake water sports, and plenty of dirty humid outdoor fun.
On our very last night, a terrifying storm destroyed our beautiful lake haven. It hit so quickly and so suddenly we had no time to prepare. At one point we were hiding from a tornado in a bathtub in a little cabin, praying that we would live. Trees were uprooted, power lines were destroyed, cars were crushed… all in a matter of a few minutes. After trees fell on both the cabin and rental car, then we camped for a night with no power or water… we all came out of it dirty but alive.
It was terrible, but I am honestly lucky to be writing this post right now. And by saying and believing that, I’m actually making myself happier. How?
Over time, people are actually able to train their brains to be a bit happier by focusing on alternate realities that are worse than their own. True science.
Over time you can train your brain to be happier in little doses, simply by altering HOW you choose to view the negative events in your life.
They are called “counterfacts”: The hypothetical situations we create in our mind after an event to help us understand what really happened.
Here’s an example with my tornado situation:
After the storm was over and we took stock of damage, we were in the position of creating counterfacts to make sense of it. If we create a counterfact on how the situation could have been better (“Why did we have to get hit with a tornado, out of everyone?!” or “It’s terrible that our rental car is ruined and we will owe a lot of money!”) we actually create a pattern in our head that reminds us that we are unlucky. Good things don’t happen to us, and we drew the “bad hand.”
When we instead create a counterfact focused on how much worse a situation could have been (“My family might have died!” or “I can’t believe we were able to sleep in a bed that night, and we were didn’t lose any of our things or each other.”), we start training our brains to see our situations as lucky, or having drawn the “good hand.”
And after practicing, it becomes easier. We then do it more often, and our brains shift into a happier space.
Imagine that- we have control over shifting our brains in little baby steps. Who doesn’t want to feel lucky, or even just a tad bit happier??
WE are in control of creating the counterfact. The terrible situation happening is most likely out of our control, but the way in which we view it after the fact is.
Next time something bad happens, take a moment to take stock of your counterfacts, and try to shift them in a way that works for you or your loved ones – you deserve to be happy.
P.S. The concepts in this blog are pulled from “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor. Good research, my friends.