Is it possible that the reason we fail to be happy is that we can’t imagine ourselves being so? Here’s how to be happy using the power of the imagination.
Recently, I watched a TV program about stress. In it, a psychologist said. ‘We cannot exceed our vision of ourselves”. This statement blew me away. Is it true that I could only be as good as I could imagine myself being? If I couldn’t, in my mind’s eye, see myself as abundant, successful and loved, was it the case that I couldn’t be these things?
The idea that we create what we envision isn’t new in the fields of psychology and self-help. It’s why we are instructed to create vision boards, practice positive thinking, repeat mantras and creatively visualize success.
Ultimately, we all want to know how to be happy. Aristotle pointed out that people desire things, such as power and wealth because they believe they will make them happier. But their true goal is always happiness. So instead of visualizing wealth, success, and love, what would happen if we visualized happiness? And is our failure to do so the reason why we are not as happy as we could be?
If it is true that we cannot exceed our vision of ourselves, then failing to imagine ourselves as happy could be blocking our joy and contentment. This seems pretty easy to solve. We can learn how to be happy by simply imagining ourselves so. But this isn’t as easily said as done. It can be hard to imagine ourselves happy in the future. Creative visualization can be tricky at the best of times, but using it to try to imagine something as amorphous as happiness is particularly difficult.
Luckily there are some techniques that we can use to help us
How to be happy, by remembering past happy times
The first step in this process is to remember a few times when you felt totally happy. The best memories are simple ones, without ambiguous feelings. Big things like getting married, receiving a promotion or giving birth usually have many mixed emotions. So, instead choose a simple, happy moment.
For example, I remember being happy sitting on a sandy beach in the sunshine and writing in my journal while my husband and children paddled in the sea. Another happy memory is a New Years Eve when I was surrounded by my family and a tiny bit tipsy. Swimming in the sea while the sunlight glittered on the water also springs to mind, as does an unexpected boat trip with my family and beloved dog, Tess, across Lake Coniston.
Think of a few of these kinds of memories and write them down.
Spend some time in these happy memories
Now set a few minutes aside every day to imagine yourself back in this happy time. Use all of your senses. Imagine a warm sun, or frosty air, the touch of a loved one’s hand or a kiss. Remember the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of that happy time. Most importantly, feel how happy, contented and peaceful you felt.
One of the problems I have with creative visualization is that I find it difficult to really feel the emotions. When I think about something I want in the future I can’t really feel what it would be like. I can’t imagine how it would feel to live in my dream house or become a bestselling author. But when I re-enact small scenes from the past these feelings come more easily. I can really immerse myself in that sense of happiness and wellbeing.
How to be happy in the future
Now that you have practiced being happy by remembering a past situation its time to practice imagining yourself as happy in the future.
First, plan something nice that you can do in a few minutes time. Perhaps you will make a delicious drink or snack, light a scented candle, sit and watch the leaves of a tree flutter in the breeze or listen to an uplifting piece of music. Now, close your eyes and imagine yourself in that moment, sipping the tea or watching the candle flame and breathing in its scent. Spend a few moments imagining yourself happily doing this activity.
When you have done this go and do the activity. Light the candle, watch the leaves or do whatever else you had planned. Take the time to savor this activity. Try to stay in the moment, feeling as happy as you imagined yourself to be or happier! When you have drunk the tea or listened to the piece of music then spend another few moments feeling grateful for the activity and the moment of happiness it brought. After practicing on these small things you can gradually extend the scale of what you envision.
This technique helps you to learn to imagine yourself as happy in the future.
Incorporating this practice into your life
Spend some time each day imagining yourself happy in the past and future. Soon, you will start to see yourself as a happier person. You will easily be able to imagine a happy future for yourself and will no longer be blocking your happiness by failing to envision it.
Of, course, there will still be times when you are sad, disappointed, grieving or afraid. These are normal human emotions. I don’t think we should even try to be happy all the time! But being in contact with the happy part of yourself will help you to focus on what is good in your life and open you up to experiencing real joy.