The Happiness Connection  

Memory is a survival tool

Remember: to bring to mind or think again Mirriam-Webster

You remember things for a reason. This ability isn’t designed to torment you, it is a tool for survival.

Your memories allow you to:

  • recognize skills that helped you, so you can hone them.
  • identify problems to you can create solutions.
  • detect behaviours that no longer serve you, so you can let them go.
  • shape the action you will take tomorrow.

That seems straightforward, but things are often not what they seem.

When your day revolved around finding food and outsmarting other predators, your memories gave you the information you needed to increase your chance of survival: â€‹

  • recall
  • learn
  • adjust
  • repeat.

Your memories serve the same purpose today as they did thousands of years ago, but the complexity of our modern world has changed their clear-cut usefulness.

Because learning from your past isn’t required for survival the way it once was, you can skip this step and still live to see another day. However, if you don’t learn you won’t adjust either. This puts you into the possible cycle of recall, resent, repeat.

This changes the result of remembering from learning to feeling victimized.

When I was a Microsoft Office trainer, I used to thank my students when they made mistakes. You learn more from your mistakes than you ever will when everything works out without a hitch.

You are more likely to learn from your mistakes because they often come with heightened emotions. Tremendous highs and extreme lows stick in your memory more than things that happen when you are ticking along in a moderate emotion.

This is one of the reasons you remember events that are traumatic. The heightened emotions ensure the memories stay firmly planted.

I am fortunate to have lived a reasonably trauma-free life, but let me share one of my most challenging experiences.

When I was in my twenties, I went to Egypt. This was the first solo adventure I had ever taken to an exotic location. It was a bucket list destination that could not be missed.

I decided my best course of action would be to take a bus tour. I expected to join other tourists hungry to see the pyramids and tombs.

When I arrived in Cairo, I discovered I was the only person on my tour. I was as an extremely young-looking single woman in a very foreign land. It was the 1980s, so there were no cell phones or internet.

I was on my own in every sense of the word.

The thought of spending 10 days there all by myself was terrifying. All I wanted to do was go home, but I didn’t have the money to buy another ticket.

It took every ounce of courage I could muster to leave my hotel room. To this day, it remains one of the most challenging periods of my life.

I got through it and returned to London unscathed.

The memories of my adventure are unlikely to ever fade because the experience had such a profound effect on me.

I had no control over the situation, although I kicked myself repeatedly at the time for not asking the travel agent how many people were booked on the tour. If I had known, I believed I would have made a different choice.

The point to this story is not that it happened, but what I did and continue to do with the memories.

I learned that I was much stronger and more resilient that I thought possible. For that reason I am thankful for the experience.

I don’t blame the travel agent. Sure things could have turned out differently, but they didn’t. There was no use me worrying about what might have happened or being afraid to travel in the future.

You may have memories that arise from deep trauma. When this happens, reach out to a professional for help. Don’t think you need to find the learning by yourself. It can be very deeply buried.

Your life is yours to live. Choose whether you want to learn from your memories or turn them into the mud of victimization.

Victim: one that is injured, destroyed, or sacrificed

Student: an attentive and systematic observer Mirriam-Webster

Stop lamenting your experiences. They are part of your life. Embrace them, be compassionate, and find the lessons.

Your story shaped you and turned you into the person you are today.

Remember that and honour the being you have become. Your past is here to help you, not to hurt you.


Are you happy?

Are you happy?

That is not a rhetorical question. I want you to answer honestly to yourself.

Pause, but don’t overthink it. Go with your gut reaction. This will be your most accurate response. This is when your feelings haven’t had time to be affected by your thoughts.

Being happy does not mean everything you experience will be wonderful. Being happy has nothing to do with having a perfect life.

I don’t believe perfect lives exist. If someone seems to have one, either they aren’t sharing the truth, or you aren’t seeing the truth.

I’m not asking whether everything in your life makes you happy, I want to know if in the grand scheme of things, you are satisfied with your life.

Unacceptable answers include:

  • life could be worse
  • there are lots of people suffering more than me.

These sorts of responses are common, because you have been conditioned to evaluate yourself through comparison.

That’s how evaluation happens at school. The traditional bell curve and the letter grades attached are all about your performance in relation to everyone else in the class.

You will always be able to find someone better or worse off than you. Knowing this has nothing to do with how you feel about your life. How you feel is not being evaluated on a bell curve.

The only one to consider here is yourself. How do you feel about your life?

Where do you fall on a scale of one to 10? One is a resounding no and 10 is an enthusiastic yes.

Someone recently asked me if I was happy. I wasn’t expecting the question, but without a moment’s hesitation I said yes. My answer wasn’t based on a perfect life. Heaven knows I have my share of frustrations and challenges.

I am happy because I believe I am responsible for my life and that I am moving in the direction of my goals.

Let me draw your attention to the word believe in that sentence.

Life is one big game of perception. The half-full glass is also half empty. The way you perceive the glass is correct regardless of which perception you choose.

Will you feel happier if you believe you still have half a glass of your favourite beverage left or that you have already consumed half?

There is no right or wrong answer. You should choose the viewpoint that serves you best.

For most people, that means selecting the perspective that makes them feel happiest. Worrying that you won’t have enough is unlikely to benefit you, unless rationing is necessary.

For those of you who want to talk about being a realist, you create your reality. I choose my reality to be a happy one.

The above situation would turn on its head if the glass was full of castor oil or some equally disgusting liquid. In that case you would probably feel much better

if the glass was already half empty instead of thinking the glass still had half of its contents needing to be consumed.

It is all about perception.

If you fall lower on the scale of one to 10 than you wanted, I have two questions that may help you.

What is one thing you want to achieve in the next five years?

You can choose a different time frame, but make sure that your goal is something you have control over.

Your answer might be paying off your mortgage, being healthier, or finishing your university degree. Your goal can relate to any part of your life.

Let’s take paying off your mortgage as an example.

If you only just chose this goal, you will need to wait a few weeks or months before proceeding to the next question.

Have you made progress toward your goal? In the case of our example, you want to know if your mortgage is smaller today than it was six months ago?

You can adjust the time frame depending on your goal. It could be a daily, weekly, or monthly check.

If the answer is yes, you will have evidence to prove you are making progress. Humans like to see movement and growth. It helps you perceive your life in a positive light.

If the answer is no, stop to think why not.

Perhaps you were offered a higher paying job, but needed to invest in some additional courses. Your mortgage may not be smaller, but if you are moving towards the goal of financial improvement, taking a small detour won’t stop you from believing you are making progress.

If you chose to ignore your goal in favour of new clothes, a better car, or a holiday to Mexico the evidence of progress may not be visible. Don’t let that stop you from vowing to do better next month.

Your aim is to move yourself up the happiness scale until you are at 10.

Remember, it isn’t about having the perfect life or settling for average. Regardless of the life you have, you can achieve a 10.

This practice of setting goals and looking for evidence to prove you are moving toward them is just one technique to move you up the happy life scale. I have focused on it because it is a tool that works amazingly well for me.

It’s OK to have more than one goal, but don’t get carried away. Too many will feel overwhelming and are harder to maintain. I would recommend choosing between one and three.

Examine your goals at least once a year. Adjust or replace them as necessary. Set big goals and then create smaller goals to support them.

The key here is to set yourself up to see progress. Don’t worry what other people are achieving, this is private road that only you are on. Comparison will not serve you.

This may seem like a topic that is better suited to the beginning of the new year, but you are probably already thinking about 2019. Take advantage of those thoughts and don’t waste time getting started.

Set your intentions today and evaluate them on Jan. 1.

Put yourself into a better position to give a resounding yes, the next time someone asks you if you are happy. Better yet, ask yourself regularly

if you are happy. If you aren’t you have the power to do something about it.

Trump make you happy?

Does Donald Trump make you happy?

Reading that statement probably creates an emotional response in you. It doesn’t matter what the response is, most people have opinions and feelings when it comes to Trump.

Let me assure you, this article isn’t about the 45th American president, nor is it a political pitch. 

Personally, I have difficulty respecting his attitudes and opinions, but I see something good coming from his appearance on the world’s stage. He is serving a purpose that he and much of the world is probably unaware of.

Donald Trump is an interrupter.

If you are a regular reader of this column, you might remember when I wrote about falling and breaking my beautiful, purple Versace sunglasses. If not, let me give you a quick recap.

I was in deep thought as I walked the familiar route to my parent’s house. I was paying little if no attention to my surroundings, until I caught the toe of my shoe on an uneven piece of pavement. As if in slow motion, I watched the sidewalk move closer and closer to my face.

It only took a split second for me to be shifted away from my thoughts and back into the moment. I was instantly aware of the blood dripping down my face and the state of my sunglasses. 

My fall was an interrupter.

So many of the things you do regularly, stop needing your full attention as they become engrained habits. Without consciously choosing to be mindful, you may find yourself moving through your day on autopilot. 

It happens to all of us and can be helpful when you are involved in a mindless task. The problem comes if you live too much of your life on autopilot.

A great example of this unconscious living is travelling a route you take regularly, like to and from work.

Have you ever pulled into your driveway without any memory of getting there? If you ride the bus, have you ever suddenly realized you should have gotten off three stops earlier? 

Perhaps you’ve found yourself driving towards your work place when you intended to go to Costco. Both destinations require you to go in the same direction initially, and without conscious thought you slipped into the route that was habitual.

When your mind stops being aware of your surroundings, you may experience an interrupter. Something that grabs your attention and pulls you back into the present serves this purpose. It can be something minor, or something huge.

The benefit of being shifted out of autopilot probably has to do with your drive to survive. In more primitive times, if you weren’t paying attention you were in danger of being sprung upon by a predator.

This may explain why research continues to support mindfulness as a skill that increases happiness. Your brain rewards you for a behavior that benefits your survival.

I’m not a political person, although I am a regular voter. When it comes to the politics of our southern neighbours, it is easy for me to tune out.

For the first time ever, I took a real interest in the last American election. Surely someone like Trump would never become the head of state. The presidential race had suddenly become reality TV. 

Donald Trump running for president was something different and it grabbed the attention of many people like me. Now that he is in power, his words and actions continue to captivate. Both positive and negative feelings can capture your attention in an equally powerful way. 

Whether you love him or hate him, Trump is an interrupter in the world. This conscious awakening has caused people to re-examine their values and beliefs. In my books, that is a good thing.

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.

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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