A secret to happiness: re-frame something that’s making you unhappy.

One technique for happiness is to “re-frame” – that is, to change your attitude or your thinking about something that’s making you unhappy.

This sounds Pollyanna-ish, but I’ve been surprised by just how often it’s quite possible, and extremely effective.

For example, I’m writing this post at 4:15 a.m. I woke up at 3:30, and was so wide awake that I knew I’d never get back to sleep. Instead of lying in bed, fuming about the lost hours of sleep (which I really need), I hopped out of bed and headed to my office.

Instead of feeling that I lost that time, I feel like I’ve gained precious time. I cleared out some emails, I took some notes (zoikes, I love to take notes), I cleaned off my desk, and I got a jump on my day by drafting this post.

(Because I knew I’d be up until morning, I’m doing mental work. If it were 1:00 a.m., and I thought I might be able to go back to sleep, I wouldn’t do any thinking – I’d be tidying up the apartment instead, a task that doesn’t roil the brain.)

A friend told me that when his kids were younger, he and his wife would try desperately to sleep late on the weekends, but their kids were up by 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. After months of frustration, he decided to give up the dream of extra sleep. He’d get up, get the kids dressed, and take them to the park so his wife, at least, could stay in bed.

Those mornings turned into a highlight of that time of his life – the early morning light, the quiet streets and empty playground, the time alone with his sons.

I suppose “re-framing” is a more scientific way of saying, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” But just because a piece of advice can be found on a Snoopy poster doesn’t mean that it’s not worth trying.

Another fun thing I’m doing, up in the middle of the night, is cruising around the Internet and stopping at sites I’ve never explored before. I don’t have any particular reason to be reading the Deception Blog, but what a treat to feel like I have the time to explore all the interesting material there.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • I think it goes deeper than the Snoopy poster. It’s like observer error in physics: changing the observer (and/or her point of reference) changes the experiment. Having a different attitude doesn’t merely change how you look at a situation; it often changes the situation itself.
    Reframing is a technique in cognitive therapy. It helps people change their lives for the better. The change starts within, but it spreads.
    All the best,

  • Beany

    How timely! I have an exam later today and I have been at home studying (except for few bits of procrastination). And my neighbor, like he/she always has, began playing music extremely loudly just as I was starting to get into the groove of studying. I fumed. Looked up online what my options were. Went for a walk around the block trying to figure out which neighbor was causing the racket.
    Looked up if I had any legal options.
    Since Philly doesn’t actually enforce any noise pollution ordinances that have been passed, I got even angrier and thought bad thoughts.
    Then it occured to me, that the house with the loud music has a teenage daughter living there. I thought back to the time when I was around her age, and I played the worst music exceedingly loud. And my next door neighbors had tenants that were college students (like I am today). And I never once received a complaint – although I can’t imagine they were pleased to hear some of the music I thought was fabulous. But I did grow out of that phase and become more civilized. And thinking about these thoughts made me less mad.
    I also downloaded some nature sound albums through my subscription at emusic and cranked up the volume of white noise to block out Eminem and movie soundtracks. Relief!
    Apologies for the long post. 🙂

  • Beany, that’s an inspiring story!
    We live in an area with tons of students, and the music blares day and night. I enjoy it (most of the time) because it makes me feel like I’m in a real city.
    We’re one of a few families living in a single-family residence on the block. I have friends who are neighbors on the block, too. They spend so much time on the phone to the police, trying to reign in the music/party/parking habits of the many students. I’m lucky it doesn’t bother me, and that we’re a family of heavy sleepers.
    There was an article on this post’s theme today at Ian’s Messy Desk that might be of interest:

  • Judy

    Just wondering what you do with all your notes. I love to take notes too, but never know what to do with them. Judy

  • At least you got some stuff done. Kinda.
    I, too, obsess over notes and I have books and books of ’em.
    Just wanted to say hi since I recently discovered your site. Hello!

  • Here’s a post from the “Brazen Careerist” about how she changed her boss from bad to good by changing her attitude:

  • Great post Gretchen, thanks. I was feeling a bit down today but this gives me something to think about and perhaps help to get a groove on 🙂

  • I’m so happy to discover that there are so many note-takers out there. Why did I think this was peculiar behavior? Just knowing the term “commonplace book” shows that it is not uncommon.
    Sometimes my notes have turned into my books. That’s enormously satisfying. Sometimes I just pore over them. I find that it really gives a boost to my memory and my imagination to have these notes.
    Because I take notes on computer, I was THRILLED to discover that for about $30, I could get a proper, attractive, hardback book of my notes printed. I love seeing those one-of-a-kind books on a shelf next to my other books. I don’t really read them much, however, because I do rely so heavily on the “search” function to help me find what I’m looking for. But it seems safer to have a hard copy of my precious, irreplaceable notes.
    I will never listen to a teenager’s music in the same way again! I’ve been permanently re-framed.

  • “Roil the brain”! That reminded me of this interesting discussion of the word roil from some months back that I thought you might enjoy:

  • I love the mornings. It’s my most productive part of the day. I enjoy waking up at 4 a.m. but it means that I need a nap at maybe 10 or 11 if I can get it.
    My husband and I are reading a book called “The Relationship Handbook” and the point is being made that we should not let a mood identify us but recognize it as a mood that will pass. I’m working to incorporate this in everything where I react. I breathe, think about what I’m feeling and recognize it is a fleeting mood that will go away if I focus elsewhere.
    The only reality is the one we perceive and it is driven by our mood of the moment.