Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Overthinking: How to trick yourself into being happy ó or maybe, how to be happy for real

Friday, December 9, 2022
Graphic by Emma Kratky

For my last column of the semester, Iíd like to pay a special tribute to the name of my column, Overthinking.

If there is one thread that runs through every column Iíve ever written, itís overthinking. I literally cannot stop my brain from constantly thinking, which is both one of my favorite and least favorite things about myself.

Itís not just overthinking, though. My brain sees most situations through a negative filter, and usually interprets unknowns in the worst way possible. It probably goes without saying, but thinking this way sucks.

If youíre an overthinker and a catastrophizer like me, I know this mindset may seem inescapable. But ó probably unsurprisingly at this point ó I have a psychology related solution!

Let me tell you about positive psychology.

Researchers Shelly Gable and Jonathan Haidt wrote an article in a scientific journal describing positive psychology as ďthe study of the conditions and processes that contribute to the optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions.Ē The importance of positive psychology, in their eyes, is to counterbalance a field which overwhelmingly focuses on illnesses and problems.

I think this goal is also very applicable on an individual level. Your life doesnít have to be sunshine and rainbows all the time to increase your overall happiness, and itís very possible to make small, realistic changes to your patterns of thought which create real, significant effects.

So hereís a quick crash course on positive psychology. Harvard health research recommends focusing on what is happening in the moment and accepting it without judgment. Recognizing any negative spin youíre putting on a situation and doing your best to realize itís not reflective of reality is a great first step.

Seeking out and enjoying pleasurable experiences while practicing gratitude is another core component of positive psychology. The way you view positive aspects of your life ó big or small ó might seem trivial, but being consistently intentional about valuing positive experiences, however small they may be, is a great way to build a more positive outlook over time.

Another way to practice positive psychology is to stay involved in your interests and community and actively strive to meet your goals. Making progress towards the things you care about is satisfying, as is doing things that benefit people other than yourself.

Lastly, positive psychology recommends practicing grace and acceptance towards yourself when things donít go well. Itís easy to be hard on yourself (trust me, I know), but beating yourself up about your shortcomings is like drinking poison and expecting a positive result.

For me, itís helpful to approach how I talk to myself through less-than-optimal situations as I would with a good friend; I would never be intentionally cruel or unkind to a friend, so why should it be any different with myself?

So, cheers to overthinking, to things you love and hate simultaneously, to exploring room for improvement, and to embracing and making the best of hard experiences. I hope everyone has a wonderful winter break, and as always, I love you and believe in you.

This column was written as the final installment of an honors project for my abnormal psychology class. I hope you all enjoyed it and learned a little something! In my opinion, psychology is worth nothing if itís not being used to help people, and I hope this series and my column in general can be of some help. :)