The Happiness Connection  

Ordinary people are special

When people ask me what I do, I tell them I help ordinary people live extraordinary lives.

It flows off my tongue with grace and ease. That hasn’t always been the case.

When I first thought of this wording, I struggled with the idea of labelling people as ordinary. Isn’t that like saying you’re just average? Who wants to be ordinary when you could be special?

I’ve spent my life being addicted to specialness. I was sick with chronic bronchitis until I was seven, so my mom spent many nights sitting in an armchair, holding me upright so I could breathe.

It bonded us closely. I knew I held a special place in her heart. I’m sure by siblings did too, but I never thought about that. I knew my mom loved me, maybe even more than she loved my brother and sister.

This led to two problems.

  • I began to look to other people to tell me I was special and felt left out and lonely when no one did.
  • I compared myself to others to evaluate how I was doing. This started with my siblings. Was I doing as well in school as they did? Did I have more friends? Did people love me more.

My self-esteem has always been pretty good, but it was fragile. Without external validation to agree with how I felt about myself, I worried that I was wrong.

I loved being around people who openly told me how wonderful I was. This fed my specialness addiction. It’s not surprising that it had a huge influence on my choice of activities, friends, and romantic partners.

When you understand this about me, it makes more sense that I saw the word ordinary as possibly being offensive.

How do you feel about being called ordinary?

I decided to spend some time with the word to see if I could make peace with it.

Ordinary (noun): what is commonplace or standard. — Oxford Dictionaries

Being ordinary doesn’t involve being boring or insignificant. How had I got that so wrong?

What if being special was ordinary?

Believing you’re special may begin with your family’s belief that you are. Often parents think if they tell their children this often enough, they’ll believe it’s true. It doesn’t work that way.

It’s important for every individual to see themselves as special. It’s part of your self-esteem. If you need other people to remind you it’s true rather than holding the belief yourself, you’re in for a world of trouble. I know this from experience.

Being special involves comparison. This is always dangerous and has been proven to impede happiness in most situations.

Comparing yourself to people who appear to be less than you in some way is only useful if you use it as a gratitude exercise. It’s not helpful if you’re seeking validation.

When you use it for this purpose, you search for proof that you’re not as unworthy or badly off as someone else. It’s like doing poorly on a test but being soothed by the knowledge that you didn’t get the lowest mark.

Rather than defining yourself based on what other people think, or assuming that their opinion of you is more accurate than yours, develop internal validation.

Take time to examine what you believe about yourself and then trust that it’s true. No one knows you as well as you do.

  • Be honest with yourself.
  • Acknowledge all the things you are good at and that you enjoy.
  • Don’t compare yourself to anyone but yourself.
  • Look for growth and celebrate it.
  • Trust that you know yourself better than anyone else.
  • List everything that makes you the person you are. Include things you don’t like, are afraid of, or you view as weaknesses.
  • Understand that you are the sum of ALL your parts, not just the good things. They work together to make you the unique individual you are.
  • Don’t criticize yourself or think anything about you is shameful. It’s good to want to grow, but where you are today is perfect.
  • You are not your past, nor are you defined by any of the things you’ve done.
  • Love and value who you are at this moment.
  • Make self-care part of your regular routine.

By checking with yourself to see if you believe you are a good person and doing okay, regardless of what anyone else thinks, you’ll make yourself happier, and more resilient.

If you have children, introduce them to each of the items in the list above whenever the opportunity presents itself. Look for the teachable moment. It’s never too early to learn the art of internal validation.

It’s okay to be addicted to specialness as long as the person who thinks you’re special is you. When you believe this without needing comparison or external validation, you’ll have taken a big step toward being an ordinary person, living an extraordinary life.


Time for gratitude

Depending on what Thanksgiving traditionally looks like for you, this year’s gathering may be a little different.

I know mine will be.

I can’t blame everything on COVID, although sometimes I’d like to. For totally non-pandemic reasons, this is the first year I’ll be cooking a Thanksgiving dinner just for myself and my folks.

I’ll admit, I’m a little apprehensive about the experience. Not only will I be cooking dinner, I will be chauffeuring, hosting, cleaning up, and making sure everyone has a good time. Just thinking about it tires me out.

There’s a certain irony having these thoughts arise for a Thanksgiving celebration. I seem to have forgotten the purpose behind having a national holiday on the second Monday of October.

I’ve slipped from an energy of gratitude, into one of obligation. You might be able to relate. Are you hosting or attending a Thanksgiving dinner because you should, or because you want to?

To help you not just this weekend, but for times to come, readjust your attitude by adding a liberal splash of thankfulness.

Gratitude often arises when you think about the people and situations that have contributed to good things in your life. It’s has been studied extensively and the results reveal a bevy of benefits.

It’s been shown to

  • Strengthens relationships
  • Boosts happiness
  • Fosters physical health
  • Combat depression
  • Reduce pain, stress, and insomnia
  • Strengthen immune systems
  • Improve academic and professional performance
  • Increase overall mental and physical health

When you receive a kindness from another person you may experience the soft warmth of appreciation and gratefulness. Often, these emotions wash over you without warning.

Some people are naturally more appreciative and find it easier to lean into gratitude. It’s part of their genetic makeup. If you aren’t one of these people, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.

Consciously looking for reasons to be thankful is just as beneficial as spontaneously being immersed in grateful emotions. Try establishing a daily habit of counting your blessings.

Here are a few tips, tricks, and strategies to get you started.

  • Keep a gratitude journal. Some people find this a helpful step when establishing a ritual. It keeps you from pretending you did the work and can act as a helpful reminder.
  • Gratitude rarely has anything to do with monetary worth. How you feel and how something has contributed to the good things in your life is the place to focus.
  • Think of something that’s gone well for you. Identify everything and everyone that’s helped make that happen.
  • Think about people who’ve inspired you and why.
  • Send thank you notes to people you appreciate. I think this strategy is even more amazing if you mail handwritten cards rather than sending an email or text.
  • Try mental subtraction. Think about what your life would be like if you removed something or someone important from it. How would it be different? What would you miss?
  • Reframe challenges as gifts. What did you learn from your experience? How has it helped you grow? What would be different if the difficulty hadn’t arisen?
  • Share your gratitude. Research found this can strengthen relationships and explains why the ritual of saying something you’re thankful for while having a family dinner, is so popular.
  • Think outside the box. Look for new and creative reasons to be thankful. What good things may be disguised as bad?
  • Practice looking at life through a lens of gratitude. Whenever you think about something good in your life, pause for a moment of appreciation. Whenever you encounter a challenge, stop to see how it’s serving you.

The more you practise, the easier it becomes.

Brain scans show a lasting change in the prefrontal cortex for subjects who practiced thankfulness regularly. They became more sensitive to feelings of appreciation and experienced them more often.

I’m grateful that at my age, I still have two living parents who are together in their own home and who enjoy spending time with me. With all the long-distance relationships I’ve had and still have, I am happy I’m here to spend quality time with my folks, rather than just talking to them on the phone.

I don’t know what our Thanksgiving celebration will be like or how I’ll feel when it’s over, but I’m grateful that I can find out.

Your brain is a spin doctor

One of the biggest adjustments I had to make when I moved into my current home was getting used to the road noise.

The sounds were distracting, and my dog was exhausted by all the extra barking he felt compelled to do.

In a very short time, we adjusted. Now, we barely notice the cars, unless there’s a siren or loud screeching of brakes. This is true even when we’re outside.

Has the traffic become quieter, or less frequent?

Not at all. If anything, at certain times of the day, it’s busier than ever.

If the noise is still there, why don’t we notice it?

Your brain is bombarded 24-7 with signals from your senses.

  • Your eyes take in everything they see.
  • Your skin feels anything it meets and continues to feel it until the connection is removed.
  • Your nose registers the strong and subtle scents that surround you.
  • Your ears detect every sound that comes within range.
  • If you’re eating or drinking, your tongue is assaulted by a myriad of tastes and textures.

Your brain receives all these sensations. It knows that your clothes are touching specific parts of your skin, and that your eyes see the spider scuttling across the floor.

Why does your conscious mind miss so many things that your brain is aware of?

If your brain shared every message it received, you’d be overwhelmed. Being overwhelmed isn’t much fun. It’s like drowning or being buried under more than you believe you can handle. You wouldn’t be able to sleep, or focus.

To prevent this from happening, your brain uses selective filtering. This is also known as selective attention.

If you read The Happiness Connection last week, you may have watched this process in action. If not, it isn’t too late. Click here to experience the Selective Attention Test video.

Your brain processes only a small portion of the stimuli it receives. Your attention is drawn to the things your mind believes will help you survive, or that support your conscious or subconscious beliefs.

Your brain likes consistency. It wants to support you in whatever you believe. It has no interest in confusing you, or sending you mixed signals.

If you think money is hard to come by and only a lucky few get to acquire it, your brain will work hard to find evidence that strengthens that idea. It’s the ultimate spin doctor.

It will scan through the stimuli it has received to see what’s appropriate to send you. It will add an extra layer of support by interpreting these messages in whatever way helps strengthen your existing beliefs.

In Dr. Richard Wiseman’s research on luck, he put his unwitting subjects into a situation where they walked past a five-pound note that was lying on the ground.

The people who self-identified as lucky, noticed it. Those who believed they were unlucky, didn’t.

Each brain received a message alerting it to the existence of the money. The difference wasn’t in the stimulus, but in the selective filtering processes. A desire to provide evidence to prove a belief in luck or lack of it, determined who received conscious awareness of the money.

It brings a whole new meaning to creating your own reality.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written on the topic of selective information processing, but this time I want to throw a twist into the mix.

Let’s get proactive with this knowledge.

If you want to change your outer life, you have to start by changing your inner one.

Regardless of what happens in their environment and circumstances, pessimists are going to see negativity. Optimists will see positivity. Possibility-ists will see possibility.

Do you want to be richer or in a loving relationship? Maybe you want to work less but maintain your current lifestyle.

Taking on a second job, joining more dating apps, or transitioning to a part-time position isn’t going to help until you adjust your inner beliefs.

If you don’t think you’re beautiful, because you aren’t thin, ripped, or pretty enough, then going to the gym every day, or having plastic surgery isn’t going to change that. Until you believe, in your soul, that you are gorgeous, you will never see it.

How much money do you need to feel rich? The answer will vary from person to person. It isn’t about a specific amount, it’s about whether you believe you have abundance or not.

I’ve spoken with many people who set a specific amount of savings that they thought would make them feel safe. When they reached their goal, they moved the goalpost. Each time they saved their target amount, they realized it still wasn’t enough.

It was never going to be enough, until they developed an inner belief that they were safe.

Changing the internal habits and beliefs of a lifetime isn’t easy, but the payoff is limitless.

Decide what you want to change in your life.

Money, satisfaction, or relationships are all common choices.

What do you believe about your chosen topic?

You need to be brutally honest with yourself. Think about your parents’ beliefs. It’s likely they passed these on to you without you realizing it. That’s how so many subconscious beliefs get their beginnings.

  • Do these beliefs support the life you want?
  • Tweak your existing beliefs or create new ones, so they align with the life you want to manifest.
  • Consciously look for evidence that supports your new beliefs.

This often involves changing your initial perspective about your environment and circumstances.

Paying a bill doesn’t have to make you feel poor. Focus on the fact that you have the resources to pay it and that your money will help other people live their best lives.

Celebrate every step forward.

Gratitude is one of the best ways to do this. Be grateful that you recognized your date wasn’t a good fit before you got too far into a relationship.

You can’t fake it till you make it in this work. Your brain is driven to support your true intentions, not the pretend ones.

If you believe you will always have enough money, it doesn’t matter if you have $10 in you bank or $10,000.

When it comes to psychology, it’s all about what you believe, not what other people believe about you. How you perceive yourself, is your reality.

Choose the experience you want to have in life, and then start creating it.

  • If you want more money, believe you are already rich and deserve to be richer.
  • If you want to be happier, see happiness in your current life and know that more is available.
  • If you want more love, start by loving yourself and believing you deserve to be loved.

It’s your life. Choose your own adventure.


Watch for the gorilla

I’ve always been fascinated by the human mind.

I can recall a psychology class from university when we were shown a short video of people throwing basketballs. We were asked to count how many passes the participants in white shirts made.

If you’ve never done this, watch the Selective Attention Test video before reading the spoiler in the next paragraph.

When it ended, instead of being asked for our answers, the prof wanted to know if we had noticed the person in the gorilla suit.

I had no idea what he was talking about until he showed the video a second time. Sure enough, a person dressed as an ape walked through the shot. I was so busy counting that I didn’t even see it.

This is a great example of how your brain deals with the myriad of signals it receives from your senses. There are simply too many to process, so you need a filtration system.

How does your brain choose what to send to your conscious mind and what to store in your subconscious? It uses your beliefs, experiences, and current focus to decide which things are most important for you to be aware of.

You will undoubtedly have experienced this phenomenon, although you may not have realized what was happening.

  • You decide to buy a specific car and suddenly you notice they’re everywhere.
  • You choose an unusual name for your child, only to discover several other children with the same name.
  • You book a holiday to Mexico and then everyone you talk to seems to being going to the same place.

When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I began to think something bizarre had happened. Everywhere I looked there were baby bumps and infants. I’d never noticed them before because I wasn’t consciously thinking about babies.

Your brain doesn’t just collect and filter the messages it receives, it also interprets them.

A tingling in your stomach could be illness, nerves, fear, excitement, or hunger. Without consulting you, your brain uses your past experiences, current focus, values, beliefs, and everything it knows about you, to create what it believes is the best explanation for those tingles.

The meaning it attaches is rarely the only way you could translate the sensation. It might not even be the right way.

Often feeling thirsty or bored is misinterpreted as hunger. If you are being careful of your calorie intake, you may learn to question hunger pangs before you reach for food.

If you believe your co-worker is horrible, anything they do will be interpreted in a negative light. If you love them, the translations will be positive.

This helps to explain why two people who’ve had the same experience remember it so differently. No two minds are likely to filter and interpret signals exactly the same way.

This is valuable information if you want to have more control over how you view your life.

Just because you don’t see something, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Your eyes see many things that your brain chooses not to share with you.

You don’t have to accept the first interpretation your mind sends you. There is no guarantee it is the right or only way to see things. You get to choose whether to accept or reject your initial thoughts and reactions. If it doesn’t make you happy, try looking for an alternate explanation.

You may never know why something happened the way it did, or why another person reacted to you in a certain way. Consciously decide to give them the benefit of the doubt or choose a viewpoint that gives you peace.

Imagine you see someone crying? Rather than assuming you know the reason for their tears, take a minute and think of all the reasons that could explain them.

Some questions you might want to ask yourself include:

  • Are they happy tears or sad ones?
  • Does ugly crying mean grief?
  • If they explain why they’re crying, will they always tell you the truth?
  • Is it possible to cry without understanding why?

Your initial interpretation of the situation is likely to tie in with your own emotions, beliefs, and recent experiences. If you’ve just had an argument with your partner, you are more likely to see the tears as arising from negative emotions.

Start to notice your reactions to other people, and situations. If you don’t like the emotions that arise, see if you can change your perspective. Choose a different interpretation.

The brain is an amazing and often mysterious entity. The more you understand it, the easier it is to choose a viewpoint that supports happiness.

More The Happiness Connection articles

About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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