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The Happiness Connection  

Do you think you can?

I wonder what life would be like if we believed we could do anything we put our minds to.

I just came across a reference to the story The Little Engine That Could by Arnold Munk. My mind immediately flashed back to my childhood. I could see myself sitting in our living room in Saskatchewan as my mom read this story to us.

I can still hear her voice in my head as she repeated, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” This is a vivid memory considering I was only six when we left the prairies.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, it is about a train trying to get to the town on the other side of the mountain. Unfortunately, it breaks down before it gets there. A steep incline is between it and its destination.

Large engines are asked to pull the train to the town, but for one reason or another, they all refuse. The last hope of getting the cars to the other side rests with a small engine used to moving cars around the train station tracks.

When asked, instead of saying no like all the others, it agrees to attempt the task.

All the way up the mountain it repeats to itself, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” When it reaches the top and starts its descent, the mantra changes to “I thought I could. I thought I could.”

This little engine did what none of the bigger and more powerful ones would even attempt.

This may be a children’s book, but the message applies equally to people of all ages. Imagine living a life where you aren’t afraid to challenge yourself, and you believe in your ability to do anything you choose?

I can think of many times in my life when I was afraid that I wouldn’t measure up, so I didn’t even try.

My two siblings were thought to be the smart ones in the family. I was the social one. The last thing I wanted to do was prove everyone right by trying my hardest in school and not doing as well as my brother and sister.

I worked hard enough to get respectable grades, but I certainly didn’t do more than that. I chose the mantra, “I’m afraid I can’t, so I won’t bother trying.”

I was just like the big engines in the story.

I passionately believe that the limitations that stop you are of your own making.

I was speaking with a friend who recounted how she tried out for the cheerleading squad when she was a teenager. She made it through the first round of selection, but decided to drop out because she didn’t think she’d be able to afford everything that went along with it.

Rather than believing in herself and her ability to find a way to make it work, she gave up.

I could relate to her story. I’ve done the same thing myself. I’ve created the limitations and then stopped trying.

Those days are gone. I know that I can do anything I choose to do.

  • I’ve learned not to pay too much attention to what other people think of my endeavours.
  • I’ve found people who believe in me when I’m struggling to believe in myself.
  • I remind myself of Kanter’s Law. Things always look like a failure in the middle.

It is never too late to create a life of possibilities rather than limitations. You are a survivor. If you set your mind on something, you can make it happen. The only one that can stop you is you.

If you aren’t used to living a life of possibilities, that might seem preposterous. But stop for a minute and think about it. You are human. Humans are survivors. If you need to make something work, you will figure it out.

That doesn’t mean it will be easy, or without challenges, but you can make it happen if you want it badly enough. Instead of limiting yourself, adopt the attitude of the little engine in the story.

Repeat to yourself, “I think I can.”

If you want to be bold, change it to “I know I can.” You might even want to throw in a few train noises to give yourself encouragement.

If you think you can do it, you can.John Burroughs





'None as queer as folk'

Have you ever been in a gathering and watched one person behaving in a different way from everyone else?

My Toastmasters group (Kelowna AM Toastmasters) hosted an open house this week. It was an opportunity for people who are thinking of joining Toastmasters to see what our meeting is like. It also gives people who don’t really know what the organization is about, to experience a meeting.

All the guests were offered coffee and cookies. When the time came for the meeting to begin, everyone sat down. That’s where they remained for the next 75 minutes.

At least, that’s where most of them remained.

One gentleman accidentally discovered the open house. He was welcomed in as warmly as all the other guests.

The meeting had only just started, when this person got up to get a stir stick for his coffee. It was a little unusual, because, when someone is speaking, it is courteous to give them your full attention.

He was quiet about it, but it was out of the ordinary, so it caught my attention. It did the same thing when he got up for more coffee, and then to go to the washroom, and then to go to the washroom again.

I was one of the speakers that morning. It’s a good thing I am an experienced presenter and not easily thrown off my game.

As I delivered my speech, I noticed that he had closed his eyes. I may have sent him to sleep, but I prefer to think he wanted to give more attention to what I was saying and not be distracted.

None of this is typical behaviour for someone at a Toastmasters meeting.

It isn’t the behaviour of this person I want to focus on, but the behaviour of everyone else. No one said anything or rolled their eyes. There were a few looks exchanged across the room, but they were more about sharing the observation than they were about judgment.

In the few minutes after the meeting when people were taking time to chit chat, not one conversation within my hearing mentioned this unusual behaviour.

To me that says a lot about our group. It is a safe space. You can be your authentic self and still be accepted without judgment.

A-typical behaviour can be seen in all corners of life. Even at an early morning Toastmasters meeting. This is one of the reasons people watching is one of my favourite past-times. “There’s none as queer as folk.”

If you can observe others without attaching judgment, there is a lot you can learn.

On this occasion I learned that there are people who live without worrying about what other people think.They are courageous enough to be authentic.

I learned that people watching is an activity that can exist free from judgment.

I learned that no matter where you are, if you are mindful of your environment and the other people in it, there is always something worth noticing.



You're looking fertile

With beach season approaching, magazines covers are trying to entice you to buy them with promises of weight loss and toning secrets you can’t live without.

It is a common theme for this time of year.

Body image is a problem many people face daily. It doesn’t just raise its ugly head when you think about donning a bathing suit.

For most of my life, the person I saw in the mirror looked drastically different than the person other people saw. I believed I was much bigger than I was. It didn’t matter how much I weighed, I thought I was drastically heavier.

This was my pattern, even when I was slim. Twiggy was the image of perfection shown by the media when I was growing up. My skeleton doesn’t look like Twiggy did in her heyday.

The point of this column isn’t to talk about self-image, although there is a lot I could say on that subject. Instead, I want to share the findings of a recent study that looked at whether facial or bodily traits were more important when choosing an opposite-sex partner.

Carin Perilloux and Jaime Cloud asked 250 people to imagine they were single and then design an ideal mate. They were then given a list of traits. Half of them were facial and half were body related. They were instructed to give each characteristic a value between zero (worst possible) and 10 (best possible.)

To avoid people creating the perfect person who was a 10 in every category, each person was given a budget, or number of total points they could use. Some participants were given a large budget of 70 points while others were given only 30.

Each person was randomly placed into one of two groups. The first was asked to design a partner for a long-term relationship and the other for a short-term one like a holiday fling or one-night stand.

Regardless of their budget or whether they were thinking about a long or short-term partner, women gave more points to facial characteristics.

It might surprise you to find that men in the study did the same thing. They gave more points to facial traits - with one exception. Those men with a lower point budget who were designing an opposite-sex partner for a fling, allocated more points to bodily traits than facial ones.

As I’m writing, I am aware that this could seem like a very shallow conversation. What you look like isn’t and shouldn’t be the basis for choosing a mate, and yet it is - subconsciously.

Humans are programmed for survival. To survive as a species, you need to create strong, healthy children. You are unconsciously choosing a mate who will provide you the best chance of doing that.

Evolutionary psychology is a fascinating branch of science that studies how the programming that kept humans alive thousands of years ago is still with you today. Your environment has changed, but your programming hasn’t.

Men see long-term reproductive potential best by looking at a woman’s face. Is her complexion good, does she have deep wrinkles? Short-term fertility is better judged by her body. You may not be conscious of this programming, but if you are male it strongly influences who you are attracted to.

These findings are consistent with what has already been discovered by previous research, but something new was uncovered as well.

Why did men with a larger points budget who were looking for a short-term partner give more points to facial traits? Aren’t they all programmed to concentrate on body characteristics if they are looking for a fling?

The points budgets simulated whether the person was a good catch or not. Those with more points, represented males who found it easy to attract a mate. Once her body was thought of as able to reproduce, their attention turned to facial traits.

As far as women are concerned, there is no reason to assume that a man’s body will determine how fertile he is, so we are not programmed to give it as much attention. We tend to focus on facial characteristics.

I am not sharing this so you can now worry about whether your face is pretty or virile enough to find a partner or keep the one you have.

Good health shines out of your skin and your eyes. Don’t worry about carrying extra weight, or whether you are an apple or a pear. Instead put your efforts into being healthy.

Your face is the thing most people are attracted to, so make it shine with wellness. Just like you’ve been hearing for years:

  • drink lots of water
  • eat well
  • exercise regularly
  • take time for good grooming and self-care.


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For whom the doorbell rings

A conversation this week left me wondering whether the doorbell will soon go the way of cassette tapes and typewriters.

At a breakfast meeting, my table somehow got onto the subject of how we react when someone unexpectantly comes to our front door.

One person shared a recent experience of being alone with his niece and nephews when the doorbell rang.

In times gone by, a knock on the door or ringing of the bell was greeted with the same universal action. Someone, often everyone, got up to answer it.

In my childhood home, there was a flurry of activity before the door opened. My mother wanted to make sure the living room and entrance didn’t look like a disaster. The expectation was that someone would be coming in.

I can’t remember ever being cautioned not to answer the door, or even to look out of the window to see who was there. It didn’t matter how much you disliked being disturbed, you answered the door.

Go back a little further in time and you will find houses with rooms dedicated to the possibility that someone might show up on your doorstep unexpectedly. Every respectable household kept the parlour in pristine condition just in case someone dropped by.

In contrast, when the doorbell rang in this modern situation, the adolescent children went in search of their uncle to let him know that someone was at the door. His puzzled response was to tell them to answer it.

They weren’t keen to do that, so he went to the door with them.

It turned out to be friends picking the kids up to go somewhere.

Why do we regard a knock on the door with such suspicion? For one thing, it is rarely a friend just dropping in for a visit.

Nowadays, your doorbell is more likely to announce the arrival of someone trying to sell you something or collect for a school or charity. That isn’t great incentive to stop what you are doing to answer the bell.

When was the last time a friend came to your door unannounced? There may be an age distinction on how you answer that.

Most people with mobile phones text or phone to see if you are home and let you know their intention to stop by. This is a win-win in my mind. You don’t drive somewhere only to discover no one is home, or that it isn’t a convenient time.

I’m of the opinion that texting to announce you are outside someone’s house is the way of the future. This means when someone comes to your door, they are likely to be a stranger. But remember, not all strangers are trying to sell or collect.

A few years ago, I answered the door to find a lady in distress. She was out for a walk and was still several blocks from home. As they say in the U.K., she had been caught short. She had an urgent need for a bathroom.

This is an uncomfortable situation for any adult. You know you must find a bathroom, but who do you ask? She chose to knock on my door because she had seen me working in my front yard over the years. She got the impression that I was friendly. I was happy to help.

Fifty years ago, people who pretended they weren’t home when the doorbell rang were thought to be strange and possibly mentally unbalanced.

Today, not answering is the norm. Entire families freeze and look nervously at each other in total silence. It’s as if they know nothing good is going to come from an unexpected ringing of the bell.

A decade or so ago, we used to get teenagers from the nearby park ringing our doorbell at all hours of the day and night and then running away. When the doorbell broke, I decided not to replace it. I haven’t had a doorbell in many years and haven’t missed it.

Anyone who knows us is aware of the situation and knocks. If they are persistent enough to knock as well as press the bell, I usually answer, but not always.

If I’ve washed my hair in the early evening and am sitting cozily in my nightie, I ignore unexpected people wanting my attention.

Times have changed and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I wonder if a time will come when knocking on a front door without prior notice will be bad etiquette? This may seem sad if you enjoy having people just drop by.

You can’t stop change from happening, so don’t waste your energy mourning what was, especially if there is nothing you can do about it.

As Bob Dylan put it, “The times they are a changing.’” This is something you can know for sure.



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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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