Your words pack power. Your words can heal, your words can wound. Your words can be the cause of happiness or the cause of suffering.
It’s easy to go about your day with little thought to the words you express because you’re busy, busy, busy. Often, words will tumble out of one’s mouth impulsively in response to what you hear, see, think or feel.
If you don’t take control of your speech, however, it may take control over you.
According to research in the area of neuroscience, negative speech can change neural pathways in a person’s brain and the expression of positive words that express kindness can help build a happier brain.
Therefore, if you truly want to be happy and to make others happy too, take charge of your words.
4 Ways of Speaking to Avoid At All Costs
Here are four ways of speaking to avoid at all costs if happiness is your aim.
Lying makes you untrustworthy, unreliable, and unpredictable. Once you start lying, you enclose yourself in a cocoon that shrinks smaller with each distrustful word. Fewer and fewer people will want to be close to you until you don’t have any friends at all.
Instead: Be honest and truthful, but not to a painful point. Some things are better left unsaid. For example, don’t blurt out hurtful words like, “You’re ugly.” It’s only your opinion, after all.
- Encouraging Discord
It’s tempting to take sides when people are in dispute, but generally this will inflame the discord further. It may even separate two people, two families, two groups, or two countries for good, possibly leading to more animosity, distrust, and revenge.
Instead: Be a peacemaker. Reconcile disputes. Help sparring parties see each other’s point of view. Encourage them to come together on common ground, compromise, and find agreement.
- Harsh Speech
Avoid criticism, complaints, rude remarks, and offensive words of all types. And don’t bind on about the faults of others when you know you have plenty yourself.
Mean words are like arrows that pierce another’s heart. Your rants could turn their day into a wholly unpleasant one.
That doesn’t mean you should never file a valid complaint. Just do so with a positive intention and kindness, plus a dose of humor to boot. It’s far more likely you’ll be heard.
Instead: Always speak lovingly, with the intention to encourage, soothe, and uplift others. Praise others. Instead of recounting their faults, look within at your own and attempt to correct them.
- Pointless Talk
Pointless chatter consumes your own energy, which could be put to much better use. Don’t go on endlessly speaking for no purpose at all.
Unnecessary words often stir up attachment or aversion. Attachment refers to the feeling that you must have a particular possession, person, or circumstance in order to be happy. Aversion describes the times when you shrink away, believing your unhappiness stems from externals as well. Attachment and aversion only lead to discontentment and suffering.
For example, the more you talk about wanting a beautiful new dress, the more likely you’ll excite that desire in another person. But if this new possession is out of reach, you’ll both end up feeling despondent from prattling on about it.
In particular, avoid gossiping. Gossiping might temporarily make you feel superior, but what you’re saying may not be true at all. It could actually seriously damage another person.
Even though the third party might not be present to hear your words, you’re still sending negativity out into the world and allowing it to infiltrate your own mind, body, and heart at the same time. The more you speak like that, the more you’ll be like that: petty, arrogant, and insensitive.
Instead: Speak briefly. The human brain can only absorb a few things at a time. If you go on and on, most of your words will dissolve into the void. Avoid pointless conversation that enflames attachment and aversion. Use your words carefully to expand happiness instead.
Train Yourself to Speak Positively
Does all this mean you should suppress your emotions? No, not at all. Be aware of the emotions that arise, but also know you don’t have to act on them. Don’t let bad habits rule and ruin your life.
- You can transform anger into love or patience.
- You can transform envy into joy for another’s accomplishments.
- You can transform fear into understanding, tolerance, and courage.
Any negative emotion can be transformed into a positive one.
As a first step, learn to be aware of what arises in your mind. Then replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
It’s that simple, but don’t expect yourself to get this down overnight. It takes training to break an old habit and acquire a new skill, so be patient and gentle with yourself as you learn to speak thoughtfully.
Also, be careful of your self-talk. You might find it easy to express kindness to others, but then turn around and criticize yourself. You may have internalized a critical parent voice from childhood that constantly reminds you of your weakness, shortcomings, and failures. That certainly won’t bring you happiness at all. Use the same approach as above and replace self-recrimination with self-love.
Another tricky area, are the times when people criticize you. It takes strength and confidence to stay centered and not react impetuously to other peoples’ stated opinions, beliefs, criticism, and judgments about you. Remember, often what people say is more about them than about you. Keep your ground. Be willing to examine criticism to see if it applies. If not, let it disperse into the wind.
How to Remember Loving Words
This is a helpful acronym found in multiple places on the web, which will help you remember to speak lovingly.
Before you speak, THINK:
- T = is it true?
- H = is it helpful?
- I = is it inspiring?
- N = is it necessary?
- K = is it kind?
Although there are some guesses, no one knows the exact origin of this meme.
Sri Sathya Sai Baba offers similar, but expanded advice:
“Before you speak, think: Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?”
In the Buddhist sutras, five guidelines for speech are recommended; speech should be:
- Conducive to harmony
- Spoken at the right time
Whichever guideline appeals to you, write it on an index card and look at it several times a day at first. This simple method will help you remember these principles and apply them to each syllable you utter.
A loving heart expresses itself through positive, loving words. In the same manner, expressing positive, loving words can further open your heart. This is an enriching circle of goodness, which can’t be beat. Fully indulge in loving speech, and you’ll find your happiness growing in leaps and bounds. Now, that’s something to celebrate.
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With Immense Love, Light & Gratitude,