Bluffing Your Way to a Better Life

Probably one of the hardest things for us to understand and act on is that life genuinely cooperates with us when we smile our way through it. All we need to do to join the happy conspiracy is to put our minds to it.

Once you get the hang of it, approaching life with a pleasant outlook is easy, and like any habit, the more you practice it, the more natural it becomes. I know, because deciding to be positive about life—and actually behaving that way—helped pull me out of a 30-year depression.

Along the way, I learned a few tricks about enlisting life’s cooperation in creating my own happiness. You may not suffer depression, but I know that there are moments, hours or even days when you could use some insight on how to bootstrap yourself out of the doldrums.

Here are three pointers for you:

First, our brains can’t distinguish between reality and fantasy. Decades after watching the horrifying shower death scene in the movie Psycho when I was 15, I still check behind the shower curtain before stepping into a hotel tub!

When you feel less than chipper, you can just as easily fool your brain into thinking you’re in a good mood as in a cold sweat. You simply smile; or grin from ear to ear; or laugh. You can dance, sing or whistle. You might even close your eyes and remember the last time you felt really great.

Any of these tactics will convince your brain that you actually do feel positive, and in response it will release a flood of salutary neurotransmitters that will put you in a better frame of mind indeed. This is the old “fake it ‘til you make it” technique.

Second, learn your “tells.” My dad was a poker player and a good one. He taught me that everyone displays physical cues that betray their moods. Learn to read a player’s tells, and you will know if he holds a good or a bad hand, and you can play against him accordingly.

It’s important to understand your own tells because they can wake you up to the fact that you are in a bad mood or stressed, even if you are unaware of feeling so. Once alerted, you can make a play to trump your negativity.

In my depression years, it felt so natural to be down that I never perceived just how low my spirits really were. Recovery came in part because I began to learn to recognize my tells. Now, when I notice my fists or my jaw clinching, or I catch myself sighing a lot, I understand that for some time beforehand I have been upset about something. Knowing this allows me to tease out the reason for my negativity so that I can counteract or remedy it.

Third and last, make it a priority to cultivate an upbeat outlook on life. If you’re successful at anything positive—anything at all—that means you have learned how to set and achieve goals. Pull out your list of goals and put at the top: “be consistently affirmative.” This will make reaching your other goals faster and easier.

The Law of Attraction says that you get what you focus on. When you direct your focus so that you wear a smile and feel that things are going well, you will be stunned at how quickly life conspires to deal you ace after ace.

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