The Happiness Connection
When I tell people I specialize in helping the world to be happier, I get a wide variety of reactions.
For the most part, they fall into two camps: one that believes my work is important, and the other that thinks my vision is unachievable.
All lives experience light and shadow; no one can live in perpetual sunshine. For some reason, talking about being happier conjures visions of Cinderella skipping and singing among the forest animals.
In the minds of many, a happy life seems to equate with being free from worry and difficult times.
In truth, you can go through problems, challenges, and deep darkness and still be happy. You do not have to live in a fairytale, or have lots of money to feel great about your life.
Regardless of whether you are happy, or miserable, you will still have hills to climb, difficult people to deal with, and deep holes to navigate around.
Happy people recognize the benefits of climbing the hills, view challenging people as an opportunity to improve their people skills, and are willing to attempt to jump over deep holes, knowing they can always climb out of them if they fall in.
It isn’t what happens to you in your life that makes you happy, or unhappy, it is how you react to those things.
Happiness involves making a choice to be happy, and then taking small steps to achieve that goal.
If you are the impatient sort, you might think by taking huge strides, you can reach a state of happiness quicker.
Giant leaps have a place in your travels through life, but if that is all you take, you will soon exhaust yourself.
Small steps can get you farther in the long run.
Start by choosing one small action to add into your life to boost your happiness. Concentrate on turning this action into a habit, as that is the secret to lasting change.
If you don’t know where to start, try changing the way you look at life’s events. Attempt to view challenges from a more positive perspective.
When I was caught in the rain the other day, I didn’t bemoan the fact that I was soaking wet. I reminded myself that it could be worse; it could be snowing.
When I lost my car keys, I chose to be thankful that I had a car to lose the keys to, and was grateful that I had a spare set.
These may be small shifts in thinking, but they will build into a major change if practised consistently.
Does that mean I am always positive, and cheerful?
Far from it. I slide backward from time to time, just like everyone else, but sinking into negativity happens less often the more I practise maintaining a positive perspective.
When a shadow falls across your path, try to see a purpose for the darkness.
It might be an opportunity to learn something new about yourself, or a chance to take a break from wearing sunglasses. If you can find a positive reason for the challenge you are facing, you will feel better about the experience.
Your life will have ups and downs, whether you choose to be happy or not. It isn’t a change in your circumstances that make you happy; it’s a change in your perspective of the circumstances.
As I sit at my computer, I am looking out on snowy Kelowna, and wondering where spring has gone.
Doesn’t the weather realize it is the middle of March. Isn’t spring supposed to have sprung by now?
These are not unusual, or unique thoughts. In fact, they are downright common in the Okanagan these days. What is unusual, is that I’m not feeling frustrated, annoyed or any other negative emotion when I look at the snow, and tie up my snow boots one more time.
My lack of hostility toward the weather has me perplexed. I don’t ski, I don’t like cold weather, I love the summer. Why am I managing to be so calm about the length of winter? Did an alien invade my body when I wasn’t looking?
As it started to snow last night, I took the time to ponder this phenomenon. Why was I able to endure the cold season this year, when it has caused me so much angst in the past?
As an entrepreneur, with a husband, children, and aging parents, my life is always full, but this year I have increased clarity around what I want to accomplish in my business, and as a result work is occupying even more of my time than it has in the past.
Feeling depressed about the weather has to get in line behind all of the more pressing matters I need to deal with.
My home office window looks out on the weather, and I get out twice daily to walk my dog, but I have so much going on, that I don’t have time to give winter much more than a passing thought. My attention goes instead, to my business, family, business, friends, and business.
This is a good lesson to remember, and one I would recommend you tuck into your belt of wisdom. If there is something in your life that is causing negative emotions for you, don’t allow your thoughts to dwell on it.
If you are feeling desperate for better weather, and you can’t find the time, or money to jet off to a warmer climate for a few months, find a project to become absorbed in. Set yourself a goal that will challenge you enough that you don’t have time to think about the number of snow days we’ve had, or how cold it has been.
This strategy will work for any annoyance that is following you around, and is out of your control to change.
If you can’t do anything to make it better, and it is making you miserable, don’t think about it any more than is absolutely necessary. Let go of both it, and your depressed, and angry feelings.
If you pay attention to negative things, you will feel negative, so make it a habit to pay attention to positive things.
Of course, I am willing to accept that there are many winter sports enthusiasts who are loving this weather. For you, give the weather all the attention you can muster. Enjoy the snow and cold temperatures, for it will soon be spring.
Did you watch the Academy Awards last Sunday?
Do you agree with the winner, or would you have chosen a different movie to take the top honour?
Every year, as soon as the nominations for the Oscars are announced, I set myself the task of trying to watch each one of them before the ceremony happens. My husband joins me in this challenge.
The fun of this task is that we go to movies we otherwise wouldn’t have chosen. Too much violence will keep me away, and too much dialogue will stop my husband. We take the viewpoint that if the movie is good enough to be nominated, it is good enough to invest our time and money in.
If possible, I like to see these movies on the big screen, the way they were designed to be seen. Watching the movies in the theatre has a strange advantage. I get to sit among other people and listen to their conversations.
Many times, I hear people mention all the great things they have heard about a movie – before they watch it, and then how it didn’t live up to their expectations when it is finished.
Sometimes it is the other way around. People have low expectations about a movie and then are pleasantly surprised at how good it is.
My husband often quizzes me on what the movie is about as we are on our way to the cinema. More often that not, I can only give him a vague idea.
I’ve stopped paying much attention to whether other people love, hate, or are indifferent to movies that I want to see. I used to do that, but I discovered that too often I’d get so excited to see a movie that everyone was raving about, only to be disappointed.
Some of the best movies I’ve ever seen, I didn’t think I’d enjoy before I watched them. Hacksaw Ridge fell into that category for me this year. I had heard how bloody and violent it was, which was true, but I enjoyed the story behind it, and it was beautifully crafted.
Do you ever find yourself disappointed in a movie that you heard was the best ever, or go to a party full of anticipation about how great it would be, only to find it wasn’t as good, or as much fun as you had imagined? If so, you are not alone.
When your expectations are high, they have no where to go but down.
If you are ready to increase your happiness, try lowering your pre-event expectations.
I’m not suggesting that you should go around thinking that everything is going to suck, but don’t let your imagination go wild, and build expectations up to unrealistic heights.
Use this information to your advantage. Going someplace when you don’t expect to have much enjoyment, may well mean you are pleasantly surprised. This gives a little kick of unexpected happiness.
Being disappointed isn’t always a bad thing, but it can really create havoc with your level of well-being.
The next time you have a trip of a life-time planned, give your imagination some time off. Go into it feeling excited about the adventure, but axe the more detailed expectations.
Being in a rainy Dubai when you had been dreaming about lying in the sun will do nothing for your enjoyment of the holiday. Hoping for sun, but realizing you can’t control the weather is a better approach.
Next year, if you want to see all the best picture nominations before the Academy Awards, go into them with no expectation, good or bad. Just appreciate them for what they are. Ignore what others have to say.
A blank slate can contribute to a happy state.
More The Happiness Connection articles
Perhaps because we recently celebrated Valentine’s and Family days, I’ve been thinking about hearts and the part they play in our desire to be happy. What makes your heart sing and your senses tingle?
My heart sings every time I look at one of our three cats, Sadie. We fostered her for the SPCA when she was young and pregnant. She was the lone cat in our home for several weeks, until we became the proud foster family for her six kittens. We cared for all seven of them until the young ones were old enough to be adopted.
After much negotiation, we agreed on two kittens to keep and returned Sadie and the others. The kittens were snapped up quickly, but no one wanted their mom. That didn’t surprise us as she was pretty anti-social. Even when she had her litter, she only did what was absolutely necessary to care for them.
One day when our kittens were about a year old, I glanced at a page in a local paper and saw Sadie’s face staring back at me. Almost a year after we had returned her to the SPCA, she was still there.
I started with a stealthy lone visit to the SPCA see what was going on. I then began to take each family member in turn to see her. Every time it was the same. She refused to acknowledge us, and simply stood on a table and stared out of a window.
No wonder no one had taken her home.
On my daughter’s visit, she spent her entire time playing with a gorgeous cat called Joey. But we didn’t want a third cat, and we weren’t there to find one; we were there to see Sadie.
She was unkempt and dangerously thin. No matter how much my husband and I didn’t want another feline, we knew that we had to write a third cheque and take her home. Her state wasn’t because she wasn’t being looked after, it was because she was so unhappy; she had stopped eating and looking after herself.
We didn’t want a third cat, but her need for a home was more important than the amount of fur we had to vacuum up every week. Within minutes of arriving back at our house, she stretched and began to wash herself. It was as if she was saying, “What took you so long?”
Sadie is now glossy, sociable (with us) and healthy, and every time I see her, my heart sings. Because we gave her a forever home, she is alive and well.
Knowing that you have done something good for someone else, without any reward for yourself, is guaranteed to boost your level of happiness.
If you aren’t sure where to start, here are some tips.
1. How can you share your strengths and interests with others to make a difference in their lives?
2. What are your values? How can you promote these during your work day, and in your personal life?
3. Stop spending time thinking about what your job, family and friends offer you, and think about what you can give to them.
Knowing that you are part of a bigger picture, and that you are making a positive difference, is a sure way to let your heart sing.