Be optimistic. Think happy feel good thoughts. Lots of happiness advice makes it sound as if you could flip a switch and fill your head with puppies and rainbows, wouldn’t that be great?

It turns out that positive thinking isn’t so easy. In 2014 a study took place where people had 15 minutes to mentally entertain themselves, 40 percent chose to help pass the time by receiving an electric shock!

An even more recent study found that only 13 percent of people’s thoughts are positive and inner-directed, and they enjoy those thoughts more when they arise spontaneously. (In other words, they prefer that happy thought come naturally rather than putting in the effort to “think positive.”)

Could this process be easier and more enjoyable? According to the researchers behind the new study, if people were better able to generate pleasant thoughts, they might rely less on technology for stimulation. It could help those who have trouble falling asleep, or who start getting anxiety in traffic (aka me)

The researchers didn’t find a magic switch. But they did discover a simple trick.


Plan for the Positive

Across four studies, more than 250 college undergraduates and 800 online participants started by listing eight topics they’d enjoy thinking about: memories, fantasies, and things they were looking forward to. People wrote down everything from their wedding day to Valentine’s Day, their family or the summer, eating cake, or living in the World of Warcraft universe.

Next, participants (alone in a room) were told to entertain themselves for four to six minutes with thoughts about the topics they had listed.

That was it, except for one small difference: Half of the participants had access to their list of topics, either written on notecards or displayed on a computer screen one by one. The other half didn’t.

Afterward, participants rated how pleasant the activity was (how enjoyable, entertaining, and boring) and how difficult it was (how hard it was to concentrate, how much their mind wandered, and how much time they devoted to irrelevant topics).

Ultimately, the researchers found that the group who could look at their list of topics found the experience more pleasant and less demanding. All the participants had made lists in the first part of the experiment, but having access to that “thinking aid” was key.

After reading this study, I challenge you to put up some type of “thinking aid” either at your desk at work, or in your home. Wherever you spend a fairly large amount of time. The goal for 2018 is to think better, clearer, more positive. Because a positive mind set is the KEY to happiness.

You can read more about the study here.