The Power of Happy Thoughts

Happy thoughts. They’re like a spark of electricity that rejuvenates a stopping heart. A sip of water to a parched mouth. A bite of food to a famished stomach.

A happy thought can be anything that brings a feeling of happiness. It’s a chemical reaction that happens in the brain. I learned this in school, specifically psychology classes. Smells, sights, sounds, emotions. They are all stored in special places of your brain. And like a piano, when the right keys are pressed in unison, it results in a distinct and consistent sound. Memories, like a piano, are the result of several keys being pressed at the same time. Smell, sight, sound, emotion.

That’s why you can step outside on a fall day, smell the crisp leaves, feel the cool breeze and blood running to our cheeks, and immediately be reminded of a moment in childhood. A time in childhood when you kicked leaves with brown boots. In that moment, in that very narrow slice of a memory, you feel nostalgic. You feel happiness. Despite whatever else is going on in your life at the time, a memory can make you feel good. And it’s all because of how the brain releases specific chemicals when those areas of the brain are activated. It’s instantaneous.

The environment around us can bring a memory to attention that physically makes us feel happy (or sad). How beautiful is that?

Even more beautiful is that the sights, smells, and sounds that bring one person good memories can bring another person bad memories. It’s a completely personalized coding of the brain.

Today, I had to use happy thoughts.

So, I remembered that it was fall. With fall comes pumpkins, cool weather, red, yellow, purple, orange leaves. The crisp smell of winter blowing in the wind. The crunch of dry foliage under my shoes.

The cabin. I remember being at this cabin on a military base we would go to when I was ten and younger. It was surrounded by very tall trees. A porch wrapped around the two-bedroom, white-painted house. A narrow and dark-colored concrete driveway. Wet, yellow leaves. They covered the ground. Slugs. They’d come out of hiding after the rain. The sound of car tires spewing water off the road. I looked down, watching myself kick the leaves with brown boots. The boots were new. So was my shirt and jeans. They smell like new things do. Shoulder-length hair blew in my face. Birds were singing.

What’s another memory? Quick. Before the tears come again.

I remember more about winter. I remember sitting on the floor in front of the Christmas tree. I had a bowl of Kix cereal sitting on the coffee table. The taste of crunchy sugar. Dad had the house lights wound in big knots on the front porch. I watched him from where I ate my cereal. Boxes surrounded the undecorated Christmas tree. Dadfinished the indoor balcony on the second floor. The garland wrapped around the banister. A large wreath hung at the top.

Bright, white snow several inches thick on the ground. The white contrast against the dark evergreen leaves.The birdseed-speckled snow under the bird feeders. The tiny prints of small paws. The smell of frozen water. The coldness in my lungs. The fog from my breath. Blood rushing to my cheeks. The blue and gray sky. Birds singing. Leaf-less tree branches toppled with white powder.

The sound of mom’s laugh. The movie lights reflecting in Dad’s glasses.

What’s another memory?

Sitting at the fireplace hearth. The heat from the flame warming my back. The softness of the cushion on my legs. Red containers of cookies and fudge. A warm kitchen that smells of butter and salt. The ice crystals in the corners of the windows. The howl of the wind in the chimney. The softness of Toby’s fur under my palm. The tickle of Marshmallows on my lips when I sip hot chocolate.

Another happy thought?

I need one right now.

It’s good to have those on hand. Just little happy thoughts that you can keep in your back pocket for emergencies. A spark to the heart that reminds it that life is worth it. Life is beautiful.