I already know that some days I just look better than other days. There really is a sparkle in the eyes that no amount of eye liner, eye shadow or other kinds of makeup can duplicate. The sparkle comes from within, from feeling really good. My favorite is the feeling of bliss for no reason. I’ll also take bliss that is due to a series of good stuff going on with family, friends, work, or spiritual practice, even though basing happiness on things external may cause spiritual advisors to wince!

How do we tap into blissful moments and string them together to form a more positive life-style? It turns out that the ability to find your own bliss at any given time can be learned. Recent research in cognitive behavioral therapy suggests that we can follow steps to unlearn self-defeating thinking patterns that lead to bad moods and depression. David Burns, M.D., in his book: Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (Avon Books, 1999,) points out 10 steps to break up negative thinking patterns that effect our moods.

  1. All-or-nothing thinking: In this thinking pattern, you’re either a hero or a failure. Each small negative is seen as a sign of failure. This pattern can lead to crippling perfectionism.
  2. Overgeneralization: Viewing something negative that happens as a sign that more bad things are sure to follow. For example, if you have a disjointed morning where things just go wrong — a long line at the bank when you’re already late, a dropped cell phone call right in the middle of a vital conversation — you feel sure that the rest of your day, even the rest of your life is slated to go the same way. Reminding yourself that these are simply incidents and not inter-related will help pull you out of a downward spiral on your day.
  3. The mental filler: You tend to dwell on the bad side of a situation and ignore the positive aspects. A tiny oversight outshines a job well-done. A pat on the back for good work is an antidote to this focus on the negative.
  4. Diminishing the positive: The tendency to down-play positive events and shape them into negatives. Let’s say you sell your first piece of work as an artist. Instead of feeling the joy of the achievement, thoughts dwell on the price. It could have been better or the gallery opening could have been better attended. That doesn’t mean it’s bad to be aware of aspects that aren’t entirely positive. It just means to let yourself bask in the good stuff.
  5. Jumping to Conclusions: You practice mind-reading or fortune telling. Either way, you smell trouble coming. If a friend appears distracted, you assume that the friend no longer likes you. If you get a promotion at work, you feel sure you’ll lose the job when the boss discovers how far over your head you feel. Trying not to stack negatives up in a pile will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  6. The binocular trick: Your emotional lenses morph situations so that the good parts are small and the bad parts loom. Ask yourself if your lens needs adjusting to a more balance perspective.
  7. Emotional Reasoning: Equating your bad mood with your self-image. You feel bad so you feel you are bad. Your mood is simply that — a mood. You don’t need to define your self based on a series of events.
  8. "Should" and "must" thoughts: Dr. Burns calls the tendency to constantly remind yourself of what you should or must be doing, "musturbation." You feel buried in guilt and shame for all those things not done. If you label yourself as a failure for the things you haven’t done, you’ll miss all the positives that you have already achieved.
  9. Labeling and mislabeling: You tend to define your self-image through what you do. Because everyone makes mistakes, over a period of time your self-image becomes based on those mistakes. Mistakes are simply mistakes. Your job is only a job, it is not you.
  10. Personalization: If you assume responsibility for anything that goes wrong, even if it’s not your fault, you’re stealing your own happiness. Do you find yourself constantly apologizing? It’s a habit that can be broken with just a little bit of attention.

It’s one thing to read a list of defeating behaviors and ways to overcome them. It’s another thing entirely to incorporate real changes in old behavior patterns. The first step to improving your mood is to notice a particular negative tendency. The next step is to choose an alternative behavior. Start small. Give yourself credit for trying a new approach. With a bit of attention to these details, you’ll see the results of your work shining back at you through the sparkle in your eyes.

- Pam Brooks