The Happiness Connection  

Coffee-shop wisdom

I do my best writing in coffee shops. I’m not sure what makes them such fertile environments for my thoughts, but they are.

Perhaps it is because I am separated from work and domestic distractions, or maybe it’s because they are a buzz of energy.

Regardless of the reason, when it is time to create my column, I grab my laptop and walk to my neighbourhood java joint. The walk is a good opportunity to think about possible topics, so I don’t spend my writing time, thinking.

I write on the same day each week, sitting at the same table.

For scheduling reasons, I had to write on a different day than usual this week. Writing about change seemed like an applicable topic, but I had one or two other thoughts that I was also mulling over.

When I walked in the door of the coffee shop, I found someone sitting at my table.

I felt off balance and momentarily wondered if I should just turn around and go home, but after a brief look of disbelief, I heaved a sigh of resignation and chose a different table.

As I settled myself with my coffee and muffin, I realized that I had indeed found my topic for the week.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you imagined a situation that didn’t pan out the way you expected?

Some people are born with a natural affinity for change. They look forward to it with anticipation, and are masters of going with the flow. 

Others are lovers of routine, and familiarity. When change comes their way, they try to avoid having eye contact with it, in the futile hope that it will pass them by.

I have spent most of my life in the latter category. I’m not sure if I was born this way, or learned it from my parents who love the comfort that familiarity brings.

You, too, may be one of these comfort-zone groupies, but one of the few things you can count on in life, is that nothing stays the same forever, even if you want it to.

Happy people may not love change, but they are accepting of it. If you want to increase the happiness in your life, take a few minutes to examine the relationship you have with new situations and experiences.

If you can honestly say you have no negative association with them, or try in any way to avoid them, all is good.

If you resist change, it may be time for you to take steps to become more comfortable with it. With practice, you may even learn to invite it in to your life. But let’s not get carried away.

At the very least, it is important to learn to accept change rather than resist it.

You can resist all you want, but you can rarely stop it from happening. All resistance does is keep you from feelings of positive well-being.

Change is harder for people who aren’t practised at stepping out of their comfort zones, so if you want to get better at new experiences, get better at stepping into the unfamiliar. Choose to venture into the unknown.

The more you do it, the more comfortable it will feel.

I used to imagine comfort zones as islands that we took a holiday from, but always returned to when we got tired of being uncomfortable.

This picture has changed since I started to imagine life as a continuous journey, or route that we travel.

Imagine a path with ever-changing terrain. Sometimes it is sandy, then it goes steeply up hill, only to become muddy as you reach the top.

By the time you get back to sand, the sensation feels new and strange. This time, you adjust quickly to the terrain, as it is something you have experienced before.

On your journey through life, the only way you can keep the surface under your feet the same is to stand still, or march on the spot. You may not feel the discomfort of new experiences, but life is likely to become boring, and monotonous.

Some of the best things in life come as the result of being forced out of your zone of comfort. You never know what may be around that unexpected corner.

Change becomes a natural part of life as you get used to experiencing new things.

As you learn to accept change, it becomes easier to navigate. If you can survive it once, your mind will rest easy that you can survive it a second time. The first time is often the most difficult. If you wait too long between unfamiliar experiences, every time you have one, it will feel like the first time.

Start by inviting change into your life on your own terms.

  • Change up your schedule.
  • Choose to do something habitual on a different day than usual.
  • Challenge yourself to sit at a different table in the coffee shop, until you have sat at them all.

When unexpected change presents itself, rather than greeting it with a doom-and-gloom attitude, find something positive in it. Happiness is a choice, and I choose to find a positive reason for sitting at a different table.

As I look across to my usual table, I see that two men have sat at a nearby one and are having a loud conversation.

My current table is much more peaceful.

I believe the universe has my back. It is sending me opportunities to change things up, so I can learn to be more adaptable, and less attached to familiarity.

Learn to be happier in your life by getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. 


It's none of your business

In primitive times, people discovered that they were stronger if they worked together as a team.

One person didn’t have the strength, or natural weapons of a sabre toothed tiger, or the size of a wooly mammoth, but if they worked together they could take on pretty much anything, and come out victorious.

I believe that this need to work together as a single unit fostered our belief that we have the right to judge the choices, decisions, and actions of other people. We feel this way because the choice of one might affect the survival of many, including ourselves. We are hardwired for survival.

We’ve all done it. We’ve observed another person and voiced our pleasure, or displeasure with what they are doing. There are times when we need to band together in unity, like when President Donald Trump decided to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement.

Many voices criticized his decision, and individual states chose to make their own goals as if they were still part of it.

At time like this, working together and standing in judgment of a decision that someone else has made, makes perfect sense. We need our planet to continue to support us if we want to survive. Caring for Earth is everyone’s business.

There are, however, times when the actions of another person are none of our business.

When I decided to get engaged 10 weeks after meeting my husband, my family banded together to let me know how crazy they thought my action was. I felt judged and wasn’t very happy about it.

The first precept for robust happiness is to enjoy the journey you take through life.

To do that, you need to take ownership of the path you walk. You can’t travel a route that is determined by someone else if you want to be happy. It can be difficult to follow your own direction when you know other people believe you are making a mistake.

Let’s take parenthood as an example.

You may have gone straight from high school to college, and because if worked out for you, you feel your children should do the same thing. When your graduate decides to take a gap year, it goes against everything you believe, and you do your best to dissuade them from this lunacy.

You want to guide them, they want you to stop interfering.

Going straight to college may have worked for you, but you have no idea how things would have worked out if you had taken a gap year. Some incredible opportunity may have presented itself. There are no guarantees, or ‘written in stone’ results in any decision you make.

Your child isn’t you. What was right for you isn’t necessarily the best action for them. We each make decisions and then live with the results. If a gap year isn’t the success your offspring imagines, there will be other wisdom gained and lessons learned.

The personal path another person takes is none of your business. That statement may seem a little extreme, especially if their path is intricately intertwined with yours, but it is the best philosophy to have if you want to live a robustly happy life.

You can’t predict who will enter your life, or how long they will stay, so it is vital that you create a life that you love. This may involve some compromise and negotiation if you are in a relationship or family setting, but make sure you are content with the decisions you make that impact you.

If you take a direction that doesn’t feel right just to please someone else, whose fault is it when you decide you’ve had enough of being unhappy? Worse yet, if that person disappears out of your life, do you want to find yourself on this undesirable path all by yourself?

It is important to honour the path that others choose, and surround yourself with people who honor yours.

Does that mean you should you ignore Trump’s view of climate change, or ignore someone who is littering, or kicking a dog, to honour their journey?

When is it OK to voice opinions, and when is it a simply a case of interfering and being judgmental?

As a rule, if what people do is harmful to themselves, another living creature, nature, or society, then it is time speak up. Sometimes a single voice isn’t strong enough and we need to band together to take advantage of the power of team.

Note 1: Breaking someone’s heart is not the type of harm I am referring to. It is more the life or death type of harm.

Taking a gap year is unlikely to be dangerous for the person taking it, or the family and friends they leave behind. They aren’t harming themselves or others, unless you want to count those sleepless nights when you lie awake worrying, so let them make the decision and take responsibility for it.

There is nothing wrong with voicing your concerns, but try not to be emotionally attached to the outcome. Giving additional viewpoints and ideas to think about can be helpful, especially if you let them know you will accept whatever they decide to do.

That approach is very different from doing, everything you can to talk them out of their plan.

Humans have spent 200,000 years honing their ability to work together for the greater good. It is a skill that still serves us today. However, meddling in someone else’s life, or standing in judgment of their personal choices is not an appropriate time to use this skill.

It may be hard to watch someone you love make a decision you really hate, but look at the bright side. When circumstances are reversed, we hope they will do the same for you, even if they think you are crazy. 

Your mind's in your corner

When I got pregnant with my first child, I experienced a strange phenomenon. Suddenly, it was as if every woman on the planet was pregnant, or had recently given birth.

OK, perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration, but everywhere I looked there were either expecting moms, or newly created ones. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered the reason for this.

It wasn’t that there was a sudden wave of pregnancies. These women had always been there, I just hadn’t noticed them.

Your mind absorbs far more information than it processes. Anything that doesn’t get processed and sent to your consciousness, stays in your subconscious.

There are many different statistics about the amount of information your mind takes in, versus the amount that gets processed.

For the sake of argument, let’s use 40,000 bits per second get absorbed, but only 400 per second get processed. The numbers may vary depending on the study you read, but every source agrees that we take in far more information than we are ever aware of.

I hadn’t planned to get pregnant, so up until the moment the dot on the stick turned pink, anything that had to do with pregnancy and babies was filed away. I wasn’t interested in such things, so there was no reason to draw my attention to them.

Instead my mind processed the things I was focusing on like marriage, clothes, and school-aged children. The minute I started to think about being pregnant, my mind began to process everything that related to my thoughts.

What you think about is what you notice, but it is important to understand that there is so much more going on that you don’t notice, or become conscious of.

This explains why teachers recommend to students that if they don’t know the answer on a multiple-choice test, to go with their first instinct. There may be relevant information in your subconscious mind that you aren’t aware of.

Your mind likes alignment between your thoughts and your reality, so it strives to give you evidence to support whatever you think about, or believe. The realization that what we focus on is what we notice around us, was such a game changer for me.

If you believe you are living a horrible life, your mind will process any information that supports those thoughts. Anything that might illustrate goodness in your life, will remain filed away.

If you are currently single and would like a relationship, don’t focus on not having a significant other. If you do, you will notice this fact repeatedly throughout your day.

If you don’t like your job and are desperate for a new one, don’t spend your time focusing on all the negative things about your work, and how much you hate it, unless you want to be reminded of this constantly.

Focus on anything, and your mind will work tirelessly to support you.

Now that you are aware of this fact, you can use it to your advantage. It doesn’t take very much to shift your focus just enough to be positive about the things you want to change, rather than negative.

If you want a new relationship, don’t focus on not having one, focus on being ready for one. Think about how perfect you are for the right person. Focus on the optimistic belief that he or she is looking for you too.

If you want a new job, focus on the type of job you are looking for, not the one you want to leave.

It is incredibly easy for us to say what we don’t want in life, but have you taken time to get clear on what you do?

If not, this is a good first step. Ensure your mind processes information that will help you create what you want, not find more of what you don’t want.

Awareness is necessary for transformation. If you want to feel happier about your life, decide what you want to be surrounded by, and let your mind help you prove it to be true.


It's OK for your kids to suffer

Several years ago, a friend told me that parents are never happier than their unhappiest child.

In my experience, this is true.

I was reminded of this fact recently, when I discovered that my daughter was going through something that caused her state of well-being to plummet.

I carried a heaviness in the pit of my stomach for the first 24 hours. I didn’t sleep well, and I felt that the shine had been rubbed off my life.

How do we boost our sense of well being when our children, other close friend, or family member is suffering?

When faced with a dip in happiness because you are taking on someone else’s situation, it is important to remind yourself of a few happiness principles.

  • Their journey isn’t your journey; you are an observer rather than a participant. You can give advice, and a different point of view, but what happens is solely up to the other person. I think this is one of the biggest reasons we are affected so strongly when people we love are suffering.
  • Feeling helpless isn’t a comfortable emotion for any of us, especially if we are the proactive type. You can encourage, push, bribe, or entice as much as you like, but you can’t make action happen unless the other person decides to co-operate with your plan.
  • Put the situation into perspective. You aren’t living this challenge, you are watching someone else live it.
  • Think about your own journey through life, and some of the difficult times you have experienced. When you came out of them, what did you learn? Perhaps you discovered that you were stronger than you thought, or ending one relationship led to a new and much better one.
  • Be confident in the knowledge that although your loved one is suffering now, they are being given an opportunity to learn more about themselves and the world around them. This type of personal growth can be horrible to experience, but when you come out the other side, there is always a gift in the situation if you look for it.

Whenever you are faced with a challenging, or downright disastrous life experience, rest assured that you will come out the other side stronger, and wiser.

I take comfort from the phrase, "Sometimes when things are falling apart, they are actually falling into place."

Robustly happy people understanding that life is an undulating path, and that looking for a learning opportunity is a matter of choice.

These are the two things I leaned into when I felt myself so affected by the sadness of my child.

I trusted that she would:

  • find her way through the negative experience
  • understood that she needed to be challenged if she was going to continue to grow as a person.

Growing pains are called that for a reason.

The No. 1 thing most parents want for their children is for them to be happy. Although it is never easy to see your children suffering, it offers them an opportunity to learn more about themselves.

As the observer, you are also being given an opportunity to learn more about yourself.

I’m learning how to trust that the young adults I raised have the skills they need to travel their path without me holding their hands. I also believe that these horrible experiences will leave them stronger, and wiser.

I am being reminded that I can’t control my children’s lives. They are on their own journeys, and I need to honour that. My role is to listen, console, and pass the Kleenex.

Lastly, I am learning to give advice without any emotional attachment to the outcome. There is no guarantee that the action I think they should take, is in fact the right action for them. They need to make that decision for themselves, and then take responsibility for the outcome.

I’m not going to lie; as I saw my baby put all her happiness skills, and strategies to work to learn from her situation and find a way to move forward, I felt incredibly proud of her.

She doesn’t need me to navigate her path, she is perfectly capable of doing that for herself, and that makes me happy.

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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