The Happiness Connection  

View from the middle

Everything looks like a failure in the middle. – Kanter’s Law

I stumbled upon this nugget of wisdom while I was searching for a topic for this week’s column. I don’t know how it found me, but it was just what I needed to see.

If you read my column last week, you will know that I left you with some great advice for those times when life threatens to drown you:

  • breathe
  • remember you are a survivor, not a super hero
  • be kind to yourself.

I woke up last Sunday morning and repeated all those things to myself.

Then, I ventured into the basement to see just how much still needed to be done before we listed our house that afternoon. It was worse than I remembered.

It didn’t help that I was still suffering from the flu and found breathing a challenge.

I’m not a quitter, but I was discouraged to the point of throwing in the de-cluttering towel. I seriously wondered how much the house would be worth if I didn’t do anything more to get it cleaned out and looking respectable.

Kanter’s Law described exactly how I felt. I had two floors looking good, but the final one seemed like one floor too many.

I was a long way from the optimism that comes at the beginning of a project, and completing it seemed like a fading hope.

I wanted to share how I felt last weekend, because I think there is a great deal of value in knowing what to expect when you tackle a big project. If you know that feeling defeated may creep into your psyche when you near the middle, you can prepare yourself for it.

I wasn’t consciously aware of these three tips until I looked back on my experience and realized that they built themselves into my project.

Build milestone celebrations into your plan

We took breaks throughout the weekend and even stopped early on Saturday.

This isn’t my normal way of approaching tough work. I like to power through. I simply wasn’t well enough to do that in this instance.

I think having to change my approach was a blessing in disguise. My husband doesn’t appreciate my philosophy of work before play. We sprinkled a lot more play – in my case rest – through the weekend.

Everything still got done, but it was less exhausting. I plan to build more mini celebrations into my work schedules in the future.

Give yourself some flexibility

Don’t create a plan that is too rigid. Course correction is the key to many projects getting completed successfully.

I had originally planned to list the house at the beginning of the weekend, but when I lost several days of work to illness, I chose to move the deadline to Sunday afternoon.

We also took a few short cuts and put a few things away to be dealt with at a future date.

This made very little difference in the grand scheme of things, but allowed us to complete our project instead of giving up.

Focus on what you’ve done not what you still have to do

Gratitude goes a long way when times are tough. Appreciate how far you’ve come.

I found it oddly reassuring when I happened upon Kanter’s Law. I guess misery really does love company.

I have several more, big projects ahead of me and knowing that I’m likely to feel discouraged in the middle will change how I approach them.


Don't let life drown you

Just when I thought I had everything under control ……

We are getting our house ready to go on the market. Anyone who has packed up a house, and isn’t a Marie Kondo disciple, knows you can accumulate a lot of stuff in 13 years.

I made a plan that seemed achievable. I had a trip booked, but I wasn’t worried. I knew if I rolled up my sleeves and dove in, I could have the important work done in the five days between my return and our chosen date to list the house.

What I didn’t know was that I would pick up a bug.

I don’t get sick often. I can’t remember the last time I had a cold. I would have been happy with a cold. I could power through one of those. This has been a flu-like chest problem that has taken me out at the knees.

I know I’m not the only one who has experienced illness or unfortunate circumstances striking at the worst possible moment. It happens to all of us.

I began to fantasize. If only this had happened a few weeks later. I would have treated myself to a few days on the couch, binge-watching Netflix.

Of course, that is unrealistic. Being sick is not like being on holidays. It isn’t fun regardless of whether you think you should be decluttering your house or don’t have a care in the world.

When you have your health, you truly do have everything. Perhaps I was overdue for a reminder.

It would have been easy to become overwhelmed by this situation. I’m pretty sure that would have been my go-to response a few years ago.

I wanted to share my experience this week because I know I’m not the only one who feels that they are in danger of being drowned by their life.

Being overwhelmed happens when you feel there is just too much happening for you to cope with. Some people are more easily overwhelmed than others, but everyone gets to choose how to react when it happens.

Your unconscious response when things begin to pile up may be like mine. You may default to panic and catastrophizing. Just because you have a learned response, doesn’t mean you can’t choose a different one.

That’s what I did this week. I chose not to be overwhelmed. Instead, I kept the following four pieces of advice in my mind.

You can only do what you can do

Get your thoughts away from what might be, and back into the present moment. Worrying about what might happen if you don’t get everything done, isn’t going to help you and is likely to hinder.

Negative emotions will push you into a fight/flight response. This isn’t helpful if you need to find creative ways to solve your problems. It will contract your vision rather than expand it.

Don’t suppress your feelings

It is okay to feel overwhelmed. Pretending you aren’t stressed or unhappy takes a tremendous amount of energy. Acknowledging how you feel will allow those emotions to pass more quickly.

Accept all your feelings, but don’t let them slow you down.

Believe in yourself

You are designed to survive. If you get started, you will probably accomplish more than you expect. Prioritize and then look at individual steps not the big picture.

When I look around my basement, I am overwhelmed. Instead I have chosen one thing to start with. I have a list of fifty small tasks, rather than one huge mess.

Be kind to yourself

The older I get, the more powerful the word kindness becomes. It involves being friendly, generous, and considerate. Too many people forget that we should not only act this way toward others, we should also be kind to ourselves.

Don’t berate yourself for not being able to find the perfect answer to a problem, or get your house decluttered quickly enough. If you need to take a short break, or promise yourself a treat when you finish, do it.

This is the advice that I intend to keep in my head and my heart when I get up tomorrow. I may need to squeeze five days of work into two, but I will work hard not to let that thought overwhelm me.

None of us are finished projects. We are all works in progress. I am learning to deal with life when it seems hard and perhaps a little unkind. It makes me feel good to see personal growth.

When life starts to get on top of you, breathe, remember that you are not a super hero, but you are a survivor, and be kind to yourself.

A plea for help

Have you ever found yourself in a situation you can’t deal with by yourself?

I’m sure you all have.

How did you feel about asking for help?

This is easier for some than others, but most people struggle to some degree. I’ve been thinking of favours a lot lately. I mostly try to see if I can figure it out for myself, so I don’t have to impose on anyone else.

When I was in my 20s, I found myself needing to ask for a favour that was an extreme imposition.

On the night of this memory, I had gone to bed early because I wanted to be well rested for the next day. It was opening night for a play I had a lead role in.

About 3 a.m., I woke up from a particularly vivid dream about being in the ocean.

As I came to consciousness, I realized why my dream had seemed so real. My bedding was soaked, and I could hear the fast drip of water.

It wasn’t a leaking roof. It wasn’t a burst pipe. It wasn’t an intense night-sweat.

My water bed that had sprung a leak.

Depending on your age, having a waterbed may seem unusual. At the time of this incident, they were both common and inexpensive.

The company I bought the bed from had set it up for me. The only thing they had been concerned with, was getting the water into the mattress. No one had enlightened me on how to get it out, or what to do if it leaked.

Remember, it is 3 am. I needed help, but who do you call at that time when you need to ask a favor? I did the only thing I could think of.

“Dad? My waterbed is leaking.”

My dad was such a star. He was more than happy to have his sleep disturbed if it meant helping me out. I’m sure he would have jumped in the car and come straight over if he had been closer. As he was in Kelowna and I was on the Island, that wasn’t a practical option.

He started by telling me I needed a hose. I didn’t have a hose. I lived on the top floor of my building. Why would I have a hose?

It had been hard enough to phone my dad at 3 a.m.; he was family. What non-family person could I phone at 3.05 a.m. to ask for a hose?

Carol, I will love you forever.

As I approached her house, I saw a nightgown clad Carol standing at the end of her driveway. In her hands was a hose.

It took a few more calls to my dad to figure out how to get the water flowing from my bed onto the grass below. He stayed up until I finally called to give him the good news that everything was under control.

This story illustrates how it can feel to both ask and grant favours.

If there had been any way for me to get out of my predicament without asking for help, I would have.

Like many people, I hesitated to ask for help because:

I didn’t want to impose

be considered needy

be considered unable to care for myself.

When I needed help at 3 a.m., I chose my dad first. I knew he would love me, even if he thought I was crazy not to know how to empty my bed. He’s my dad. It is his duty to endure my neediness.

What I didn’t stop to consider was how much he valued being the person I felt most comfortable reaching out to. He didn’t go straight back to sleep after my initial call. He stayed awake and alert to be there for me.

I’m sure he also enjoys being one of the super heroes of my story. It continues to bond us in a shared experience.

Calling Carol was more challenging. She was a friend, not family.

I was dying as I made the call, but she wasn’t angry or annoyed. She didn’t hesitate to help me.

It was a compliment in a weird way. I felt comfortable enough with our friendship to reach out to her at that insane hour. She is the other super hero of my story. I will be eternally grateful for her help.

Asking for help may make you squirm, but it is likely to make the person you reach out to feel needed, competent, and helpful.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve been needing some favorus lately.

I been asked to host a show on the Transformational TV platform, an online subscription service being launched in a few months. It will contain a wealth of shows on all sorts of different topics.

My show is called The Practice of Living. I intend to use it as a platform to talk about common problems and challenges and offer advice and strategies to help.

What I need are real-life problems that are being experienced by real people. I am reaching out to you to ask a favour.

If you have an experience you aren’t sure how to handle, want some suggestions on how to find happiness in difficult situation’s or just want to practice living a happier life, please send me a Dear Reen Rose email.

If your letter is chosen for one of my shows, you will receive my advice in an email response.

All contact details will be treated with the utmost respect and privacy. You are free to sign your email with any name you want. The contact/email address information will be for my eyes only.

Thank you for your time and help with this project.

I got the idea because one of you has done this already. That email for advice sparked this idea. Thank you to every one of you who takes time to read my column.

If I can help, please email [email protected].

Date-night with yourself

I recently attended a beautiful, traditional wedding.

The occasion was joyful. The setting was magnificent. Many things were worthy of remembering for how perfect and beautiful they were.

Some of the words spoken by the vicar also made an impression on me. Not because of their beauty, but because they jarred.

She talked about the importance of sacrificing for each other and how the needs of the couple were now more important than their needs as individuals.

I struggle with this concept, which probably explains why my ears perked up with her words.

I have a friend who I’ve known since I was a teenager. When her children were young, she and her husband made weekly date-night a priority. Their reasoning was that without their relationship as a couple, there wouldn’t be a healthy family unit for their four children to grow up in.

I know that date-night is commonplace for many today. She and her husband were doing this at a time when the concept was novel.

I think individuals should also be having date-nights, date-days, or even date-weekends. This could be by yourself, or with close friends.

Having this time for yourself is especially important if you are in a long-term relationship. Without two strong individuals, you won’t be a healthy couple.

What happens when your date with yourself means putting your own needs ahead of the needs of your partner, or family? You may be accused, by others or yourself, of being selfish.

I’ve been known to moan about the reaction I get when I talk to businesses about happiness. Not enough people take me seriously. They see happiness as a fluffy emotion that is a bonus, not a necessity.

Oh, how wrong they are.

The second word on my list of misunderstood vocabulary, is selfishness.

I was sure I would find an online dictionary that gave the word a positive definition as well as the typical negative one. I was disappointed. The one from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is typical.

Selfish: concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself

Isn’t it possible to be concerned about yourself without tromping on the needs of others? If not, what word has that definition?

Try as I might, I couldn’t find one.

I decided to look at synonyms for selfish. Did they all have bad connotations, too?

Synonyms include self-concerned, self-interested, self-involved, self-loving, self-oriented, and self-serving.

What’s wrong with being concerned, interested, or involved with yourself? Surely that is important, especially when you consider that you are responsible for your own happiness.

How can you look after your own welfare, without spending some time knowing and taking care of yourself?

I agree that there will be times when the needs of the couple outweigh the needs of the individuals. There are also times when the needs of the individuals outweigh the needs of the couple.

Sometimes being selfish is a poor choice, but there are just as many times when it is the best option.

I think we are focusing on the wrong aspect of selfishness. When you want to do something that serves you, don’t worry about whose needs are most important. Instead stop to examine whether your actions are going to hurt anyone.

Choosing to go away with your best friend for a weekend may not serve your partner, but is it going to harm them? Only you can answer that.

Being aware of how your actions affect others is vital, but that doesn’t mean their needs are more important.

The only person who can make you happy is you. This takes time energy and a certain level of selfishness.

I suggest that dictionaries update their definitions.

Let’s change

  • Selfish: concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself, to
  • Selfish: concerned with oneself, sometimes excessively, or exclusively.

It is time to put an end to the idea that being selfish is always a bad thing.

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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