Actually, there are two things I would do.
First of all, worry and happiness levels are greatly dependent on the quality of our thoughts. You can’t live a happy and positive life with a negative mind.
The problem is that you can’t just force yourself to think positive. You have to learn how to identify negative thoughts and disarm your inner critic. There are several crucial cognitive tools to achieve that.
As the first step, you need to learn to identify negative thoughts. We know 10 major types of negative thoughts, also called cognitive distortions: all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, mental filtering, discounting the positives, jumping to conclusions, magnifying the negative and minimizing the positive, emotional reasoning, should statements, labeling and self-labeling, blame, and personalization.
When you become aware of the forms in which negative thinking occurs, the next step is to count them.
The exercise is called mental biofeedback, and its goal is simply to become aware of how many negative thoughts pop up in your head every day and to connect how they arouse negative emotions in you. By counting the negative thoughts, you finally become aware of the extensive damage that negative thinking does.
Since negative thoughts come from your inner critic (internalized voice of over‑demanding parents), the final step is to disarm the inner critic. That can be done with emotional accounting and thought stopping.
The main goal of thought stopping is to simply say “No!” to your inner critic when you’re under attack. You stop your negative mind (a negative thought) and focus on the bright sides.
And the main point of emotional accounting is to practice talking back to your inner critic, with the goal of developing a more realistic self-evaluation system of situations that cause negative thoughts.
With emotional accounting, you simply perform an act of self-defense, a rational response to a negative thought. An example of defending yourself from the negative thought “I never do anything right” (overgeneralization) would be “There are many things I do right, for example …”.
Managing your mind is only one part of the happiness equation ... The other part are healthy, constructive and supportive relationships. You can only be as happy and worry-free as the quality of your relationships. The first step to improving your relationships is to understand different attachment styles. You can have a secure, anxious or avoidant attachment style.
Possessing the avoidant attachment style leads to you running away from real closeness. Every interaction in a relationship becomes a negotiation for personal space.
On the other hand, the anxious attachment style leads to you being very needy and insecure in relationships. In both cases, you can’t be very happy, because your capacity for love is quite low, and your relationship demands are unrealistic.
The best way to improve your attachment style is to first identify what kind of a style you have, and then strive to experience a close relationship with someone who has a secure attachment style.
It can be your intimate partner, a therapist or a safe person. By experiencing the secure attachment style, you get a new blueprint (at least to some extent) on how to act better in personal relationships.
Based on the new blueprint, you can dramatically improve all your relationships. You can understand what kind of an attachment style other people have, and consequently how to meet their relationship needs more easily.
You have the capacity to get closer to people, without being afraid of getting hurt. And the closer you are to people, and the greater capacity for love you have, the richer your life is.
These two are not quick fixes, but in the long term they absolutely lead to real improvement in personal happiness and to lower anxiety levels.
My Tuppence Worth
Wow, what superbly clear and detailed strategies to halve our worries and double our happiness, Blaz - thank you. I found your breakdown of the different types of negative thinking particularly interesting. I haven't spent much time identifying the separate types until now.
Strange that we need to work on our self-defense... against our self! Those pesky negative thoughts can be so consuming that to be armed and ready is essential. I have an easy one that works for me 'So what, you did your best' - this gets me back to happy as quickly as possible no matter how badly I've stuffed up 🙂