What would make you happy? A new wardrobe, a faster car, moving to a different city? People often think these things are the key to feeling good, but experts say only about 10% of a person's happiness is related to them.
Much more happiness -- 90% -- has to do with your general outlook on life. You can learn a lot about your own worldview by paying attention to "self-talk" -- the conversation you have in your head about yourself and the world around you. Even more important, changing how you talk to yourself can actually help shift your perspective, too. Here's how.
Accentuate the Positive
Martin Seligman, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, has studied the ways people explain the positive and negative events in their lives. Pessimists form worldviews around negative events and explain away anything good that happens to them, he says. Optimists tend to distance themselves from negative events and embrace the positive.
Say you stumble and spill your drink at a party. Was it because you were distracted or are you a total klutz? An optimist is more likely to tell himself it's temporary and fixable. A pessimist is more likely to say it's a reflection of his permanent state.
Which view you take is partly determined at birth. "There is a genetic component to pessimism, but it's not 100%," says Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. But it's also possible to raise your general level of happiness by shifting your perspective.
Make Self-Talk Work for You
Self-talk can affect your perspective. It can boost you up or take you down. Athletes use positive self-talk to reach their personal bests. Some people use negative self-talk to justify the ruts they find themselves in. Here are some examples of negative self-talk and ways to make conversations with yourself more positive.
When Something Bad Happens
Start with daily setbacks. If you miss your train or come down with the flu, don't treat it as a catastrophe. Instead, tell yourself it's an inconvenience to cope with and then get on with your life.
Instead of: Say:
“I'm going to be late and my boss “I'd better call work and let them know I missed the
will never forgive me.” train.”
“I'm always the first one to get sick “A lot of people are getting sick. I need to wash my
and the last one to get well.” hands often.”
“It takes too long to make a healthy “That recipe would take too long to cook on a