The Happiness Connection  

Negative emotions help

Welcome to the hot, smoky days of summer.

Although we should be getting used to life plagued by forest fires by now, every time it happens, I am disappointed.

I’m disappointed until I think about how this is affecting other people so much more than me.

As much as I don’t like the air quality, I’m grateful my neighbourhood is dealing with smoke and not flames. Things could be so much worse.

You may be one of the 14,000 plus people who have it worse, and have been evacuated from your home, or on alert. My heart goes out to every one of you.

This situation brings me to an interesting question. How can anyone who is caught up in the fires, be happy?

Horrible things happen to both happy and unhappy people. It isn’t the circumstances that dictate your happiness, it is how you deal with them.

When you think about happy people in terrible circumstances, you might picture them smiling as they grab their families and head for their vehicles. Happy people are not always smiling, nor are they always feeling positive.

The initial reaction for anybody who finds themselves threatened by the flames is likely to be similar, regardless of how positive their mindset is. The fight, or flight response will kick in. This is the unconscious reaction to danger.

‘What is the best way to survive? Should I fight the danger, or run away from it?’

This fight or flight response arrives, accompanied by negative emotions like worry, anger, and urgency. This is your brain’s way of taking care of you.

It doesn’t matter how happy a person you are, these negative emotions are necessary to get you moving. Without this sense of urgency, you are likely to move at a slower, more relaxed pace.

This isn’t in your best interest when it comes to survival.

It isn’t until you reach a place of safety and your negative emotions subside, that it becomes evident what type of emotional mindset you have.

Are you robustly happy, fragilely happy, or unhappy?

Unhappy people stay stuck in their negative feelings.

  • Why did this happen to me?
  • I will never be able to replace my things.
  • Life sucks!’

This isn’t a great place to be. When negative beliefs surround you, you are intent on surviving, but you can’t thrive.

If you are a pessimist and used to negativity, this place may feel comfortable, but that doesn’t make it good. Unhappy people are content to settle for this as it is what they know.

Fragilely happy people, find it extremely difficult to return to their pre-disaster level of positivity. They know how it feels to thrive, but they aren’t sure how to regain that level of happiness.

This happens when you are a natural optimist, and blessed with predominantly positive circumstances. You haven’t consciously made the decision to be happy, or collected strategies to boost your emotions, so you don’t like where you are, but aren’t sure how to get to a better place.

Robustly happy people, have chosen to be happy. They know what makes them happy, and actively make decisions, and choose strategies that allow them to recover their happiness, even when bad things happen in their life.

They are a little like plants that get flattened by the wind, but spring back up the minute the wind stops. Horrible things will bend them, but they won’t break them.

This is the mindset that will serve you best as you go through life.

If you have experienced an extremely challenging circumstance, here are some robust happiness ways to deal with it.

  • Allow yourself time to experience your emotions; lean into them. I’m not suggesting that you should wallow in self-pity for weeks on end, just give yourself some quiet time to accept and adjust to how you feel.
  • Share how you are feeling with someone else. A trouble shared really is a trouble halved. You will be amazed at how much lighter you feel once you’ve expressed your thoughts aloud.
  • Trust that you live in a good world, and that something positive will come out of this experience. The growth mindset is always looking for the lesson. It gives meaning to those difficult times. If you can’t think of a reason immediately, believe that it will reveal itself when the time is right; that may not be for weeks, months, or even years.
  • Be grateful for what you still have. Gratitude is scientifically proven to make us feel happier. This is the ‘It could be worse’ philosophy that happy people use frequently.
  • Take time to reflect, but let go of the emotions. Step out of the situation, and see it as an outsider would. This gives you the opportunity to see things from a different, happier perspective.
  • Take care of yourself. Self-care is the super power of robustly happy people. Your entire family may have been displaced, but you can’t spend all your time trying to help them adjust, unless you also take time to help yourself.

The length of time it takes to shift from negative to positive will vary, but the robustly happy person will make this transition sooner than others.

They know it doesn’t serve them to stay in a dark place, so they consciously decide to step into the light.

A robustly happy person doesn’t feel happy when horrible things happen, but they know happiness is a choice and they are prepared to do what it takes, to move on. 


What's your mindset?

Are you in competition, or in collaboration with the world? Do you try to be better than others, or do you work with them to create something more amazing than you could create by yourself?

Your answer to this question is probably linked to your mindset, those values and beliefs that affect how you view yourself and the world around you.

Do you believe that you were born with abilities and intelligence levels that never change, or do you believe that with work and perseverance you can get smarter and more skilful?

If you read my column on a regular basis, you will have read about mindsets before. I believe they are one of the most important characteristics of robustly happy people.

If you believe that natural ability is fixed from birth, you have a fixed mindset.

If you believe that natural ability is the starting point, but you can grow your abilities and intelligences with effort and perseverance, you have a growth mindset.

It is easier to live a happy life if you develop a growth mindset, because you don’t feel attached to where you are now, you can always get better. You are more willing to take calculated risks, because if they don’t work out, you won’t have failed, you will have been given an opportunity to learn and grow.

With the fixed mindset, you feel pressured to live up to the expectations of those around you, and the ones you place on yourself. You compare yourself to others to prove you are smarter, and more talented than they are.

You live your life in competition.

The fixed mindset sees the world in the context of winning and losing. We are programmed to believe that winning is linked to survival, which it was in more primitive times. Put any human into a win-lose situation, and they will do whatever it takes to make sure they come out on top.

The outcome is all important. Not winning means you failed, and for someone with this mindset, failing means you are a failure.

Negative emotions assist you when you are in a win-lose situation; they give you a better chance to win. This is one of the reasons why people with a fixed mindset aren’t as robustly happy, as those with a growth mindset.

With a growth mindset, you can concentrate on the journey you are taking throughout your life, knowing that you are the master of your own fate. You decide what you want, and then put all your energy and resources into achieving it.

You aren’t trying to prove yourself to other people, nor do you feel you are in competition with them. There isn’t any pressure to measure up to others, only a desire to improve and become better today than you were yesterday.

If you have a fixed mindset, you will probably think you have a growth one. You can see the advantages of it, and because you want to win, that’s the mindset you think will help you come out on top. Let me give you some characteristics of the fixed mindset to help you make an honest evaluation.

If you have a fixed mindset you are more likely to:

  • See life in terms of right and wrong
  • Have difficulty making decisions, because you want to get it right
  • Always want to be right, and usually think you are
  • Defend your intelligence and natural ability, and get upset if you think someone is suggesting that you are lacking
  • Be motivated to be better than other people, and find reasons to justify why you are
  • Avoid taking risks if you aren’t sure you will be successful
  • Blame other people, or things when you think you’ve failed
  • Be more interested in the outcome than the process
  • Give up if something doesn’t come easily

Breathe deeply and read the list again. Most of us display the fixed mindset in some areas of our lives. Rarely are you all fixed, or all growth.

You may view things in your work life one way, and in your personal life see things with the other mindset.

I was raised with a fixed mindset. It wasn’t until I read Mindset by Carol Dweck that I realized there was another way to view the world. Since then, I’ve worked hard to develop a growth mindset.

The best way to shift your viewpoint, is to become aware of your fixed mindset thoughts and statement, and then reframe them into a growth mindset perspective.

Fixed: If I can’t do it right the first time, I am going to quit.

Growth: I’m not very good at that YET, but I want to get better, so I will keep practising.

Fixed: You didn’t get a single A on your report card. What have you been doing at school?

Growth: How do you feel about your marks? Did you try your hardest? What can you do to improve? If you have done your best, then that’s all you can do.

Fixed: We lost the game because the ref was useless. His calls always went against our team.

Growth: We did our best, but the other team was better on the day. Some of the calls didn’t go our way, but that happens in games. Sometimes they go your way, and sometimes they don’t.

Fixed: I hope he falls, so I can win.

Growth: I want to win against the best.

As I mentioned, I was raised with a fixed mindset and have put a lot of time and energy into developing a growth one. I thought I’d done a pretty good job of shifting how I see the world, until earlier this week.

I was learning a new skill, when I suddenly found myself right back in the clutches of a fixed mindset. I began to measure myself against everyone else in this group, and then began to think about quitting.

If I wasn’t as good as everyone else, then what was the point?

The point was that I couldn’t rest on my laurels and assume that I had exercised my fixed mindset demons. As I digested the situation, I found myself wishing I had been raised with a growth view of the world.

If that was my natural mind, I wouldn’t have to worry about falling into old habits.

Starting with a good habit is so much better than having to break an undesirable one. You may think the old habit has been buried, but when you least expect it, it crawls out of its grave to haunt you.

If you have young children at home, I urge you to develop a growth mindset in all areas of your life. Do this for your children. They learn by copying the significant adults in their life.

It is never to late to change your mindset, and if your children are teenagers, your efforts will still be worthwhile. But if your children are young, or you haven’t started a family yet, but plan to, this is the perfect time to become growth minded.

Give your children a huge boost of happiness in life, and model a growth mindset for them to copy. 

Happy to be Canadian

"You are a big country. You are the kindest country in the world. You are like a really nice apartment over a meth lab." — Robin Williams on Canada

It is impossible to be a Canadian, and not appreciate quotes like this one from the wonderful Robin Williams.

We love our country and there is no time like July 1 for us to unite proudly, and celebrate who we are.

With all the advertising and special deals that have sprung up, I was in no doubt that we were celebrating our 150th birthday – until I went onto the CBC website and watched a video called How old is Canada, really?

Is it possible that we might not be turning 150 this year?

The indigenous people arrived thousands of years ago, so you might argue that this was the start of Canada. I appreciate that it is hard to have a national holiday with such a vague date, so let’s move on to the next possibility.

The Act of the Union July 1840

This is when the British parliament united Upper and Lower Canada into the province of Canada. That sounds like the start of a nation to me. It even has the right name. If that is our birthday, we are 177 years old this year.

The act wasn’t proclaimed law until February 1841, so perhaps we are only 176.

The British North America Act – July 1, 1867

We are taught in school that this date marks the birth of our nation. This is when Britain created the dominion of Canada. The province of Canada joined with two other provinces to become Canada.

That sounds suspiciously like the events of 1840/41.

Yes, I know there are political differences, but you might argue that the BNA Act of 1867 didn’t do anything different that the Act of the Union in 1840.

Newfoundland joins confederation – March 31, 1949

The other provinces were added over a period of years, but Newfoundland didn’t join until 1949. This is when Canada assumed the footprint it has today. If you wanted to choose this as the day Canada became a nation, we are only 68 years old.

The Constitution Act - 1982

We weren’t completely independent until 1982. Before then, any constitutional changes Canada wanted to make, had to be approved by Britain.

If you use complete independence as your marker for our birth year, we are only 35 years old.

Nunavut becomes a Territory – April 1, 1999

When Nunavut separated from the Northwest Territories, we took on the look we have today with ten provinces and three territories. If you choose to see this as the start of Canada, we are turning 18 this year.

So how old are we, really?

I have no idea, and I don’t think it matters.

Having more than one option, for any question, decision, or belief is a common occurrence. There is rarely one choice, or viewpoint for anything.

Your opinion depends on your past experiences, the situation you are in at that moment, and your mindset.

Is the decision to celebrate Canada being 150 on July 1 the right choice? No.

Is it the wrong choice? No.

Is it simply a choice? Yes

There are numerous ways to view most situations. That is why we have differences in opinions. Is one opinion right and the others wrong?

Occasionally, but not usually.

Happy people recognize there are many ways of viewing the same thing. Rather than fighting to prove their opinion is the right one, they accept that other views have validity, and don’t take these differences personally.

Life is full of choice. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking there is always a right, and wrong answer.

How old is Canada? That depends on which date you like best.

Regardless of how old we are this year, Happy Birthday, Canada.


Assume power position

Ten weeks ago, I wrote an article called Finding Your Sweet Spot.

It addressed the idea that it isn’t what happens to you that determines how happy you feel, it is how you react to the things that happen to you.

Happiness is a choice and if you want to be happy, you should choose to view your circumstances in a positive light.

For anyone who missed my April 16 column, let me give you a quick recap.

I shared the sad story of the death of my iPad.

Because my iPad had been struggling to work properly for some time, my husband had offered to buy me a new one for my birthday. I liked that idea, and babied my ailing one along, hoping it would last until June.

Sadly, it stopped functioning 67 days before my birthday.

I was distraught, and sure that I couldn’t manage without it.

My first thought was, ‘How can this happen to me?’

Rather than staying in that place, and wallowing in my grief, I took control of the situation. I wasn’t powerless. I had choices.

  • I could get my birthday gift early – although I prefer to get my gifts on the day.
  • I could wait 67 days and get my present on my birthday.
  • I could be in a bad mood until my new iPad appeared, whenever that might be.

I went for option two, and chose to view the unfortunate circumstance as an opportunity to try something new. If my children could manage with just a phone, then so could I.

That’s where the column stopped, but because hearing a story that doesn’t have an ending is very unsatisfactory, I am going to share the final chapter of my iPad tale.

I was convinced the love for my iPad would never wane, so I began to look for a replacement, immediately. I found, and purchased one, brought it home and put it on my bookshelf where I looked at it daily.

Although I was tempted on several occasions to give in to my longing, and rip open the package, I stayed strong. I didn’t open the box until my birthday, which was on Wednesday.

Was I happy for those 67 days? I wasn’t happy about not having a tablet, but I also wasn’t unhappy about it. I viewed the situation as an experiment, a time to try something new.

Let me share what I learned during those 67 days.

Knowing that I was the owner of my decision made it easier to accept.

If my husband had told me I had to wait until my birthday for a new iPad, I may have been more negative and resentful about the situation. I mention this, not because my husband is likely to say that to me, but because this is something that parents often do.

It is important for everyone, including children, to be given a level of control over decisions that directly affect them. Decision making takes practice. Start small when they are small, and let the importance of their decisions grow as your offspring do.

They are likely to feel less resentful about a tough decision, if they make the choice, rather than you.

It was comforting to know that I could change my mind if I wanted to.

Knowing your decisions can be changed, or tweaked gives a level of comfort to the situation. It isn’t always possible to change your mind, but it is almost always possible to course correct if you feel your initial decision is no longer serving you.

Having this knowledge is especially good in the early days of decision making.

This challenge gave me an opportunity to discover if my belief that I needed a tablet was true or not.

There are times when we hold a belief that may have been true at one point, but is no longer the case.

I believed that I couldn’t live without an iPad. I proved to myself that I can, but I also discovered that I have needs that cannot be met with a cell phone alone.

I’m not just the owner of a tablet because I want to look like a tech nerd, I have one because the big screen is advantageous for my aging eyes.

Anticipation is agonizing, but it made the moment of receipt so much sweeter.

I haven’t looked forward to a birthday this much in decades. It was a special day, because I knew the wait would end. I appreciate my iPad more now than I would have if I hadn’t seen what life was like without it.

I developed some new and improved habits.

I used to tell people that if they phoned my cell when I was home, I probably wouldn’t answer, because it would be downstairs in my purse, and I wouldn’t hear it.

Things have changed.

I am used to carrying my phone with me wherever I go. This not only makes me look trendy and younger, it means I am quicker about communicating with people. Because this is the primary communication tool for my business, that’s a good thing.

There is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment to boost your positive well-being. That’s how I felt at the end of this experiment.

Don’t let challenging circumstances knock you off your perch of happiness. Once they strike, dust yourself off and take charge. List all the possible ways you can deal with a difficult situation, and then choose the one that makes the most sense for you.

Assume the position of power. After all, it is your life.

More The Happiness Connection articles

About the Author

Reen Rose is an educator, speaker and author who specializes in positive psychology and success. She has been teaching children and adults for over three decades and is a passionate lifelong learner. 

Currently, Reen is helping schools create cultures that foster mental well-being, growth mindsets and robust happiness. She encourages teachers and parents to model this behaviour for their students and children. This is also a good strategy for business and community leaders.

Reen offers presentations and workshops that are a blend of research-based expertise, storytelling, humour and practical strategies.

Reen 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 website at www.ReenRose.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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