My friend Kate was coming back from lunch when her co-worker Brad walked in, sighing his tie off.
"I have had the worst day," he said. "I was backing out of the parking garage and smashed into someone's car!" The he huffed off.
Five minutes later, Kate's friend Emma walked in, beaming. "Oh man, I've had the best day so far," she said. "I finally got to meet your friend Brad! In fact, it's the funniest story. I was pulling into the parking lot when he backed into my car..."
Ah, perspective. What a perfect example of the power we have over our own experiences, right? Because our happiness is not necessarily about what happens to us, but about how we see what happens to us. The fact that two people can walk away from the same fender bender -- or conversation or meeting or dating state of the union -- with entirely opposite impressions of it is proof. Our experience is relative. And while we may not have a choice about the matter, we do have a choice about the mindset. And this is great news, because it means you don't necessarily have to change a single thing in your life to be happier! You don't need to make more money or have a bigger kitchen or have a perfect relationship to be happy -- you just need to start seeing what you have from a brighter perspective. And the more you do it, the happier you'll feel.
Want to be happier without changing a single thing? Here are seven ways to do that just by looking on the bright side of your next situation.
1. Thank the lemons
Why does it always take dating fifty nuh-uhs and interviewing twelve nannies before finding one that doesn't leave a bad taste in your mouth? Because seeing the bad ones is the only way to appreciate the good. If you haven't tasted some sour lemons, you'd never be able to appreciate the sweet stuff. So thank the bad dates, the boring jobs, the drafty houses and the dull knives, because they're the things making you see how lucky you are when you get your hands on the gold.
2. Say, "Well, at least I'm not..."
If you lost your wallet, at least you didn't lose your phone along with it. If you lost your phone, at least your numbers are backed up on your computer. Oh, they're not? Well ... at least you TiVo'd "Parenthood" so you can cry it out with the Bravermans and get one good thing outta this dang day. The point is, whether you choose to see your glass as half full or half-empty, at least you have something in it at all.
3. Do the can-can
Okay. So now you can't eat gluten and you can't afford a Caribbean vacation this year, and for some reason, you can't stop thinking about how you can't do either one! It's no wonder: A 2007 study by James Erskine pitting hungry humans against yummy chocolate found that subjects who attempted to suppress their thoughts about chocolate ended up thinking about it more! So instead of thinking about what you can't have or do, focus on what you can. No, you can't have gluten; but you can have grilled artichokes, juicy New York Strip, sweet peaches, corn tortillas, and a glass of Cabernet Franc. (Well, check the label first ... you know how these things go.) And while you can't have the Caribbean, you can afford a fun road trip along the coast that has plenty of its own charms. Go head, look at your lists and see: What you can do is so much bigger than what you can't.
4. Plan your party story
When one thing goes wrong in a day, it stinks. When three things go wrong? Now you've got the makings of a really funny story. So take notes: When there's no hot water for your shower, you have a wardrobe malfunction and your credit card is rejected at the restaurant, then stop groaning and start building the hilarious tale you can tell tomorrow.
5. See life as a see-saw
Some days, you'll be the one stuck in the slow line at Whole Foods, losing the parking pass, or let go from your job. But some days? You'll get plucked to join the brand new line, find a pair of Ray Bans on a park bench and win the promotion! We split our time on both ends of life's see-saw. So, to make the bump you feel on the bottom a little less bad, remember that your upswing is coming soon.
6. Re-word it more positively
Are you having a "nightmare" week? Is your boss putting you through "hell?" Are you "never" going to meet the right person? Well, if you spend all your time focusing on what's wrong, you leave no room for what's right. So frame your life in a more positive way -- literally -- and things will feel more doable, bearable and possible. Try saying, "This is a tough week I'll soon get through," and "My boss is a way for me to practice my patience," and "There are great people out there if I keep my eyes and heart open to see them."
7. Put a bow on it for your future self
Huge life changes like job loss and heartbreak don't always have a bright side when your in the midst of them. And that's okay, because expressing your anger and getting out your grief is emotionally healthy, too. But when you're wiping off the salty stains from your cheeks and want something positive to focus on? Think this: Your future self called and has a message for you about this bad experience: "Thank you." Because you're becoming a smarter, stronger, more empathetic and more resilient a person with every hurdle you leap. If you can't see the benefit of a bad day in your present, then at least you're giving a present to your future.
You don't have to change your whole life to be happier. Just start by changing how you see the good life you already have.
WATCH: How To Help Your Kids Get Through Their Negative Streaks
For more ways to see life's silver linings, check out Bright Side Up: 100 Ways to Be Happier Right Now, get the companion iPad and iPhone Bright Side App, sign up for Amy's weekly Vitamin Optimism email and visit her blog TheLifeOptimist.com. Follow Amy at twitter.com/datingoptimist.
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