My New Formula for Becoming Happier
My husband and I own an old house which was built in 1910 (see photo on right). When we bought it over five years ago, we had extensive renovations done including new light fixtures. We bought what we thought were the appropriate bulbs with the right wattage and suffered up until recently from extremely dim lighting in our bedroom and downstairs bathroom.
In the bedroom, we had trouble identifying the colours of clothing we were picking to wear each day and in the bathroom I couldn’t apply my lipstick properly because I couldn’t see well enough to do so. We complained to each other every day for five years about this problem until a ‘light bulb’ went off in my head (pun intended).
I wondered if it were possible to use higher wattage lightbulbs in either or both rooms so that we could see properly and solve this irritating problem once and for all. I got on a stool to read the impossibly small writing on the bedroom light fixture (with the help of a magnifying flashlight app) and to my great surprise, found out that the bulbs we were using were a much lower wattage than what was considered safe! Ditto for the bathroom light fixture!
I jumped on my bike and peddled quickly to our local hardware store, picked up the higher wattage bulbs, came home and hubby replaced them all and VOILA! We could see properly in both rooms! It felt like a small but significant miracle to both of us.
When Things Get Dark, Turn Up the Light
Both light fixtures have dimmer switches so now we can choose the brightness we desire easily- dimmer for evening and first thing in the morning and brighter for daytime when we need to see well. I love being able to adjust my lighting according to the mood I’m in.
This whole experience led me to ponder the following questions:
What if we could adjust our mood like we can our lighting?
Is there an internal ‘dimmer switch’ we can access somehow to turn our mood up or down when needed?
Being a therapist who helps clients shift their moods all the time, I had a “Eureka” moment when I realized that the ‘dimmer switches’ we have at our mental disposal are our THOUGHTS and IMPULSES.
Let me share a helpful acronym, F-I-S-T, which I have borrowed from Recovery International, a wonderful self-help organization for people who struggle with anxiety and depression, which will illustrate:
When we find ourself emotionally hijacked by our limbic system and can’t see a way out, we experience all of the above: feelings, impulses, sensations and thoughts.
Two of these we have no control over- feelings and sensations. They just arise of their own bidding and do their thing in our mind and body regardless of our attempts to control them.
Two of these we do have control over- our impulses (whether to move our muscles or keep our muscles still) and our thoughts. In essence, our impulses and thoughts are our emotional ‘dimmer switches’ and we can adjust them to find peace and relaxation when we find ourselves in fight/flight/freeze mode.
How to Turn Your Frown Upside Down
I will illustrate with an example:
Sharon woke up on her birthday and when she checked her phone, she noticed that her best friend hadn’t texted or emailed to say “happy birthday”.
- call her best friend and yell at her for not acknowledging her birthday
- cry and feel sorry for herself
- complain to her husband
- sinking feeling in her stomach
- tightness in her chest
- heaviness throughout her entire body
“My best friend forgot my birthday AGAIN. She’s so selfish and uncaring.”
Since she knew that she had no control over her feelings or sensations, Sharon just focused on her impulses and thoughts which she knew she did have control over.
Here’s how she turned the ‘dimmer switch’ on her mood:
In dealing with her impulses, she decided to control her speech muscles by not complaining to her husband and by resisting the impulse to call her friend and yell at her. This gave her a sense of self-control and mastery over her old knee-jerk reaction patterns and she felt immediately proud of herself and confident that she could do things differently now and in the future.
In the past, she would have acted on her impulses and ended up getting in fights with both her friend and her husband which would have made her feel even worse and extended her low mood for much longer.
When she examined her thoughts, she told herself that it was early in the day, and perhaps her friend hadn’t forgotten her birthday and would contact her later. She realized that her friend is anything but selfish and uncaring and made a mental list of all the ways that her friend bent over backwards to be there for Sharon and all of the thoughtful loving gestures she had made over the years.
She decided to drop the judgement against her friend and lower her standards as well for the sake of her mental health. Then she decided to celebrate herself on her special day by going for a beach walk and making herself a birthday cake with her favourite icing.
In short, she turned her mood switch from dim to bright just by acknowledging her feelings and sensations and allowing them to be there and working on managing her impulses and thoughts.
Here are some more articles I’ve written you may find helpful on successfully navigating mind states: