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The Happiness Connection  

Times are changing

In 1921, Canadians lived, on average, 57.1 years.

In 2011, the average age of a Canadian was 81.7 years.

Let me save you from having to do the math. That is an increase of 24.6 years in nine decades.

Advancements in health and medicine mean people at either end of the age spectrum have a greater chance of surviving. The infant mortality rate has decreased, and adults live longer.

This trend of increased longevity is predicted to continue.

Canadians born in 2010 have an average life expectancy of 83.94 for females and 79.41 for males. This is expected to increase by over three years for girls born in 2030, and almost four and a half years for boys born in the same year.

I could continue to share statistics, but let’s get to the point of this week’s column. Times are changing.

Reaching 50 no longer indicates that your life is winding down. Reaching 70 doesn’t mean you are ready for a care home.

Retirement no longer means you are entering your twilight years, especially if you have taken advantage of early retirement.

The number of centenarians is predicted to continue to rise in Canada. By 2030 statistics predict there will be more than 17,000 and by 2061 close to 80,000. 

The idea of growing up, settling down with a job and family and then retiring to live out your final years may have made sense in 1911, but not so much anymore. More and more adults are reaching their senior years in a state of good health and vibrancy.

If you reached the age of retirement in 2011, you can expect to live on average for fifteen or more years. If you retire after that, you will have even more time.

That is a lot of years to be retired. What are you going to do with all that time?

Research shows that humans are happier when they have purpose. Retiring from your job to live the sort of life that has been portrayed by television shows and movies is fine, if you are finding ways to establish and work toward goals.

Travelling, helping with your grandchildren, and finding time for hobbies may be the first stage of your retirement, but what will your life look like when you are 75? Your grandchildren may not need so much of your time and you may be growing tired of your hobbies.

Instead of regretting the things you didn’t do when you were younger, find some new things to do now. Age is a state of mind.

I speak from experience when I say that. I had a plan for my life that shattered when I was in my late forties. I suddenly found myself needing to go back to work.

I can remember mourning the fact that I was so old. If only I was back at the beginning of my career. Okay, I can see the smiles on some of your faces from here. If age is a state of mind, mine needed changing. I had no room for reinvention in my thought process.

I didn’t want to be old with a minimum wage job where I was being supervised by someone young enough to be my child. I didn’t know any other way but climbing up a job ladder. That took time.

Being unprepared for this change in my life was challenging. Looking back, I wouldn’t swap the experience. It made me stronger and encouraged me to think about my future differently.

Now, I expect to work until I’m in my 90s. As I age, I will scale my work to match my energy, health, and desires. I love what I do, and I am my own boss. That puts an entirely new spin on working.

I have discovered an important distinction between retiring from your job and retiring to something new.

Research shows that humans are happier when they have purpose. Retiring from your job to live the sort of life that has been portrayed by television shows and movies is fine, if you are finding ways to establish and work toward goals.

Many people do this by travelling, helping with their grandchildren, and finding time for hobbies. That is all fine and well, but what will your life look like when you are 70 and your grandchildren don’t need so much of your time and you are growing tired of your hobbies?

Do you still have a reason to get up every morning that fills you will passion? Maybe you have never experienced this type of start to your day. There is still time for you to create a new vision for your life.

Your idea may positively impact your family, community, or the entire world. It’s your vision. You get to decide what it looks like. You are never too old to do something to help the world, or individuals within it.

Whether it is for now or some point in the future, start thinking about what you want to do next.

Look for purpose that lights you up. What are your skills? Who can you help? What do you want your life to look like? What do you love to do so much that it makes you happy to get out of bed?

Staying engaged with people, inspired by purpose, and knowing you are impacting the world will help you greet every day filled with positivity.

I receive a few curious looks and comments when people find out I am in the relatively early years of my newest career. I get even more stares when I say I hope to have another 30 years of writing, speaking and impacting the world. (With parents still going strong at 88 and 90, genetics are on my side.)

My attitude is not unique. I know many people who like me are venturing into something new at an age when traditionally they would be retiring. Some do it because they need to, but many are choosing to embrace this new idea of retirement because they want to.

I’m not talking about getting another job, I am suggesting you do something in line with your values, beliefs, and desires. This is a wonderful time to work for purpose and passion, not just for money.

If you are currently in the daily grind of work, you may think the idea of working until you are ninety preposterous, but you may feel differently as you approach your senior years.

Keep the idea simmering on the back burner and give it a stir from time to time. It might prove useful.

Whether you are nearing retirement or in the middle of it, you are never too old to reinvent yourself.



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Surfing your emotions

I am a clinically depressed happiness maven.

From this statement you can probably tell that emotions play a big part in my life. This does not make me unique. Emotions play a big part in your life too, although you may not be aware just how much.

How you feel is frequently instinctive. The emotions come without conscious choice.

Although it may seem like emotions are random, they are not. They are part of your brain’s strategy to ensure your survival.

When data is received by your brain, it is given meaning. Its interpretation is based on your values, past experiences, beliefs, intentions, and a myriad of other factors.

If your brain believes you are in danger, it will release chemicals that among other things, heighten your senses, increase your focus, and help you accurately assess your abilities and skills. These physical changes are all designed to help you either out-run, or out-muscle your attacker.

In contrast, if the signals your brain receives are interpreted as non-threatening, it will help you survive in a very different way. Your brain provides you with positive emotions, increased creativity, a more tolerant attitude, greater likability, and a belief that you are more skilful than you really are.

Humans are stronger together, so social connection was vital for survival in more primitive times. Like-ability and tolerance are traits that make it easier to bond with others and creativity helps with invention and problem solving.

If you are wondering why times of danger encourage an accurate assessment of your skills and non-threatening ones invite an over-estimation of them, it won’t surprise you to discover that the reason revolves around survival.

When you are in the fight-or-flight response, it is important that you know exactly what you are capable of. Having an inflated idea of what you can do is not helpful if you want to live to see another day.

On the other hand, thinking you are good at something, regardless of whether you are, encourages practice and perseverance. It is human nature to spend time doing things you are already reasonably competent at and to avoid activities you struggle with.

Which children spend their time playing basketball in their breaks at school? The ones who are already on the team. The ones who would really benefit from practising are doing something they believe is more suited to their natural talents.

Our society and living conditions have evolved dramatically in the western world, but your brain hasn’t. If your brain hears an unexpected sound or sees a snake-shaped twig lying on the ground, even if you are in your own home, it will respond the same way it would if you were a nomad in the Serengeti.

I was getting an item out of our storage room recently and caught sight of something in my peripheral vision. I jumped, my muscles tensed, and my heart began to pound.

It only took a moment to identify the unknown object as an empty box, but the split second before that was all my brain needed to prepare me for fight, or flight.

Instinctive emotion is beyond your control, but what you do next isn’t.

In the case of the mystery cardboard, I shook my head and took a deep breath before continuing with my errand. The fright was over and quickly forgotten.

Not all negative reactions are so easy to let go of. If you are under pressure at work, or someone shouts at you, you may find yourself caught in undesirable feelings for longer than is good for you.

Negative emotions are designed to be short-lived. They are meant to help you survive and then be released. The pressure of today’s world makes that increasingly difficult for some people to do.

Living in a constant state of stress is harmful to your heath. You can help yourself by becoming more conscious of your emotions and choosing to work towards emotional mastery. This is the process of detaching from the feelings you don’t want and re-establishing a sense of peace.

Emotional mastery is a four-step process.

Awareness

When those instinctive emotions appear, take time to identify them. Spend a few minutes on this step and be as specific as possible. Do not judge your feelings, just name them.

Acceptance

There is a tendency to want to deny feelings that you don’t deem as honourable. There is no such thing as a bad emotion. They are what they are. Feeling jealous, or envious does not make you a bad person.

Sit with the emotion you identified without judgment, denial, or excuses. Simply accept that it exists.

Consider

There is always more than one way to translate the same data. Just because your brain interpreted the situation in a certain way doesn’t mean it is the only or best interpretation, or that it even makes sense.

Step back and look at the situation as an observer rather than as a participant. How else could you interpret the information? Is the emotion you are feeling, serving you? Is it helping you create peace and tranquility?

Release or Embrace

This is the moment of empowerment. Do you want to embrace the initial feeling, or release it?

The latter option is best if you want a life of peace and tranquility rather than stress and dissatisfaction.

When I release feelings, I like to visualize them as helium balloons or balls. I let go of the strings holding the balloons and watch them float away, or I throw the balls with all my might and watch them disappear into the distance.

Close you eyes and take some deep breaths, imagining you are filling yourself with calm. If your negative emotions begin to resurface, repeat step four.

Like anything that is worth developing, mastering your emotions takes time and needs continued practice.

You can’t stop negative emotions from being present in your life, but you can choose how long they hang around for.



Be a drama-free zone

Are you one of those people, who like me have declared an end to drama in your life?

Drama is the cornerstone of many books, television shows, and movies. The popularity of these forms of storytelling attests to our enjoyment of watching others navigate larger than life situations and challenges.

But drama doesn’t always stay in the pages of a book or digital file of a television show or movie. When events get blown out of proportion, or given more attention than they deserve, you have real life drama.

Do you know any drama queens or kings?

These are people who don’t just get a flat tire, they get a blowout in the middle of rush hour when they are already late for work.

Both the above statements are describing the same event. The biggest difference of the two descriptions is the level of emotion that is attached.

When your world if full of drama, your positive and negative emotions are intensified, even if the circumstances don’t warrant it.

Most of us have been caught up in drama of one sort of another. Even if the drama isn’t yours, you can be pulled into that of another person.

Think back to your teenage years. Trivial words and actions became major events to be dissected, judged, and gossiped about. Although drama may be more common in middle school than in a corporate office, it still exists in the lives of plenty of mature adults.

Why do we get caught up in drama?

  • Humans are driven to fit in with their tribe. Supporting the school or corporate drama queen or king provides an opportunity to feel you belong.
  • If you are involved in drama, you might feel like you are the centre of attention.
  • If you feel powerless, drama gives you a certain sense of control. When it is your drama, you get to drive the bus.

The problem with drama is that it can be exhausting.

Humans are not designed to stay in intense emotional states for more than a brief time. If you are there repeatedly or for extended periods, it will take its toll on your energy.

Your resting place for emotion is mild to moderate positivity. This state provides a sense of peace.

Like so many aspects of life, you don’t have to accept drama as part of your world. You can choose to remove it.

Start by refusing to let events in your life take a more prominent role than they deserve. By declining to blow situations out of proportion, you can preserve a comforting level of tranquility.

Let go of intense emotions if they aren’t serving you. Practice stepping into the role of an observer and learn to appreciate neutrality. It isn’t good or bad, it simply IS. This attitude will support your desire for peace.

Spend less or no time with people who are involved in drama. This is difficult if the person is a family member, office colleague, or close friend, but you still have choices.

Choose not to participate in their drama. Listen to what they say, but don’t give them any response. Try to steer the conversation to other less dramatic topics. Drama isn’t nearly as entertaining if the conversation is one sided.

Be an advocate for people who aren’t there to represent themselves. Present a different and kinder perspective. The person who cut in front of you may have been experiencing an emergency or crisis.

Be honest and share your decision to cut drama out of your life. Hopefully others will respect your choice enough to at least attempt to cut out the drama when you are together.

Since becoming a drama-free zone, my life has been calmer, and I have been happier.

Humans are designed to spend most of their time in the peace and tranquility of mild to moderate positivity.

Don’t take my word for it. Test it out for yourself by making your world a drama free zone.



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Paper flowers for wedding

My newest hobby is weather-forecast watching.

This involves a daily perusal of what the meteorologists predict the conditions will be like in the upcoming two weeks.

I am certain that many of you can relate to this activity.

Think about an outdoor event that would benefit from good weather. If it is important enough to you, you might, like me, indulge in weather-forecast watching. I am looking for confirmation that my weather wish for no rain will come true.

The problem with weather forecasting is its unpredictability. There is rarely any guarantee, even on the day of the event. Just because the morning is gloriously sunny, doesn’t mean the afternoon will be.

I believe I am being given this situation, so I can practise what I preach. I am working hard to be mindful and not to worry about things I can’t change.

When I was in a thrift store recently looking for champagne glasses for my daughter's wedding reception, I overheard the last statement of a conversation. “They say you shouldn’t worry about the future, but that is easier said than done.”

Such wise words. Worrying about something you can’t do anything about is not a good use of your time, but it isn’t easy to let those thoughts go. This is especially true if you are a natural worrier, or if it is a behaviour you have been honing for years.

But just because it is hard doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort.

My desire for dry weather over the Thanksgiving weekend isn’t simply to improve the wedding ceremony and photographs. There are other reasons that I have my fingers crossed for dry weather.

Our daughter is a lover of books. She has been writing creatively since she was tiny, is a voracious reader, and works in a law library. In honour of her passion, I offered to make all flowers for the wedding out of book pages.

The bride and bridesmaid bouquets are beautiful, but I cringe to think what they might look like if they get caught in the rain. This goes for the flowers I have created to go in their hair, as well as the button holes and corsages.

As if that isn’t bad enough, the reception is also at risk if we get a deluge of rain.

The sunroom that was added to the back of our house just before we bought it, is the location of the sit-down dinner. Sadly the roof leaks. The table centre pieces are made from paper flowers, as are the decorations for the room.

I may not be able to see your faces, but I can imagine the look on them as you read the last paragraph. Why didn’t we get the roof fixed before deciding to hold an October wedding reception under it?

We had our house re-roofed a year ago and thought the problem had been addressed. It wasn’t until a recent prolonged downpour that the problem re-presented itself. A small amount of precipitation doesn’t seem to be problematic, but that can’t be said if it rains long and hard.

Although it is nice to have some sympathetic eyes to share my plight with, that isn’t why I disclosed my predicament.

There is a lot that I could be stressed about just now, but I am mindfully choosing not to go there.

I am trusting that whatever happens, we will find a way to make the occasion special.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about plan Bs.

I will position family members in the section of the room that is most at risk. Thank you to all those people. You will find towels and buckets under your chairs.

I won’t set up and decorate the room until the day before, to minimize the risk of things getting damp. Even if the air is humid, the paper will be affected.

I meditate daily. This is an ancient practice that has been proven to make the biggest impact to mindful living. It helps me stay in the present and not worry about what might be.

I exercise daily. This is also proven to calm the mind and create a sense of peace.

My husband asked me a few days ago if I was regretting having offered to host the reception and to make the flowers out of book pages.

My immediate and honest answer was no.

It is a labour or love and a chance to peacefully create a special day for my daughter and her fiancé.

It wasn’t until that moment that I realized just how far I have come in my personal development.

You are not at the mercy of life, you are at the mercy of yourself. I choose to be kind to myself.

What will you choose?



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



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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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