The Happiness Connection  

Telling your story honestly

I don’t like milk.

I have an ancient memory from when I was tiny. In it, my sister tells me not to like milk because it is good for me. In those days, I always did what my sister said.

She denies ever saying such a thing, and she might be right. Whether the memory is accurate or not, the fact remains. I have spent most of my life, disliking milk.

This would be a very short column if it weren’t for a recent discovery. I don’t hate milk as much as I thought I did.

Although Starbucks is the coffee shop of choice for many of my friends, I’ve struggled to find a hot drink there that I like. I tend to consume black coffee, but I don’t like theirs very much. Not drinking milk really limits my choices.

I went to visit a friend one day a few months ago and offered to bring her a drink. She sent me a complicated order for coffee that involved milk.

I don’t know what possessed me, but I decided to order the same for myself. To my surprise, I enjoyed the milky concoction.

A few weeks later, I found myself in a Starbucks in Arizona. When my friend ordered a chai latte, I found myself asking for the same. It was delicious.

Not liking milk was a story I had told myself for so long, that I believed it would always be true. I’m not sure if it was ever true, or if my tastes have simply changed.

It doesn’t really matter.

I had taken one thing and generalized it to include a multitude of things. I still wouldn’t choose to drink a glass of milk, but that doesn’t mean it will pollute my coffee or tea.

Not liking milk is just one story that I told myself about who I am. There are more.

  • I have no ability to play sports.
  • When I go to large networking events, I have nothing to say.
  • If I let people see the real me, they won’t like me.

I haven’t got any natural talent for sports, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn. My father-in-law proved this to me a quarter of a century ago when he taught me to play tennis.

I’ll never make it to Wimbledon, but I could play well enough to have fun at a club level.

Despite this experience, I still tell people that I can’t play sports.

I’m uncomfortable at large networking events, but it is more about an old, irrational fear of not being liked. I tell myself that I have nothing to say, but anyone who knows me will recognize the inaccuracy of that statement.

What would my experience be like if I told myself that it doesn’t matter what people think of me? Not everyone has to like me, but there are people there who will.

What stories do you tell yourself?

If they are positive ones that help you live a full life, then continue to tell them. If they are limiting you, take time to revisit your beliefs.

I’m examining my beliefs about food. Perhaps I’m missing out on some delicious options simply because I’m not used to them. I’m even working up the courage to try drinking a glass of frosty milk.

Imagine all the things you are missing out on, because of the stories you’ve been telling yourself. Maybe now is the time to rewrite some of them.

Don't wait to be pushed

I have an irrational fear of falling. I can stand on the edge of a cliff and enjoy looking down – if I don’t think I’m going to fall.

Ask me to jump over a narrow stream and I need to summon courage. I might fall into that six-inch depth of trickling water.

I knew this fear was going to be challenged, the first time I went on a zipwire.

I climbed up the tree trunk that lead to the platform high among the branches. I allowed myself to be hooked into the equipment, and I waited for it to be my turn.

I went to the edge of the wooden floor and sat down carefully with my legs dangling over the edge.

I could have sat there looking down for hours, without a moment of nervousness. The distance to the ground didn’t bother me at all. My issue was with the split second between sitting on the platform and sliding down the wire.

That moment when my brain questioned whether I would fall to the ground when I left the safety of where I was seated. I looked down.

My heart raced while my head told me to stop being so silly.

I believe that I would eventually have worked up the courage to propel myself off the edge, but there were people waiting behind me and I could sense their impatience.

I decided to take the easy way out. I looked up at the young man who was assisting each person to take the plunge.

“I think you are going to have to push me.”

Without a moment’s hesitation, he did as I asked. I was on my way through the trees before I had time to reconsider.

It was exhilarating.

Everyone has fears. I’ve been speaking with a lot of people recently who are making major life decisions. Their fear of the unknown is palpable.

What if it doesn’t work out?

Just like my zipline experience, mustering the courage to plunge into the unknown is much more challenging than being pushed into it.

If you are laid off from your job, you have no choice but to make a change. Deciding to leave because you want to work for yourself is much more challenging.

If your spouse finds someone new, you may be pushed into divorce.

Choosing to leave because you want something more means that making the decision and taking responsibility for it, are on your shoulders.

  • What if it doesn’t work out?
  • What if I can’t support myself?
  • What if I never find someone else to love me?
  • What if my new life is worse than my current one?

The number of what if questions you can create are endless.

How do you make a big decision when you have no guarantee that it will lead you to success or happiness?

You can’t.

But you don’t want to stifle yourself by being afraid to shoot for something greater. If you don’t try, you will never know what you can achieve.

Choosing not to change is also a decision. Staying where you are now comes with no greater guarantee of success than choosing to move on.

When I find myself faced with a choice that I want to make, but I’m nervous about the unknown, I approach it from two different angles.

What’s the worst that can happen?

I don’t look at this side to catastrophize and worry. I do it for clarity.

In the case of my zipwire experience, I could plummet to the ground and be paralyzed or killed.

What’s the chance of that happening?

Very unlikely.

If the chance of something horrific happening was high, my decision to back out would be an easy one.

If I wanted to leave my job, my worst-case scenario might be not getting another position where I made as much money. Is that something I could survive?

Remember, the primary drive of all humans is to survive, so I expect the answer would be yes. You could learn to live with less.

Taking public transit or riding your bike instead of having a car might be difficult, but not impossible.

What good things might be possible?

Let your mind dream big. Spend time visualizing the wonderful future that may lie ahead. Leaving your current work could make way for your dream job, or something totally different that you’ve never considered.

Weigh up the answers to these questions. Do the possibilities outweigh potential risks?

Listen to your intuition and take time to decide.

I often find it useful to examine both sides of my choice and then put it to the back of my mind for a while. Sleeping on it is more than just an expression.

Often, when I wake up, I know what the right decision for me is. Some unknown part of my brain has worked it out for me.

Once you reach this point, try not to regret the past or worry about the future. Put your energy into making the present the best it can be.

Live in the moment, not in the space of what might have been, or what could happen.

Even if things don’t work out the way you hoped they would, there are always lessons to learn and new decisions to be made.

Updating your beliefs

New environments are always full of surprise sounds and noises.

The first time someone rang my doorbell, I was surprised by how loud it was. That may be because I had been living in a house with a broken bell.

It didn’t unduly bother me when I awoke on the seventh morning in my new home, to hear a beeping sound. I thought it might be a low battery in the smoke alarm. That wasn’t the case.

I walked into every room and even went outside to see if the beep was coming from somewhere else. It wasn’t.

As I stood in my laundry room wondering where else to look, I spied the trap door to the crawlspace.

The minute I opened the door, the noise increased in volume. As I peered down, I could see that the floor was wet.

After a camera inspection of the pipe and consultation with a specialist, I discovered that the waste pipe that leads from my house had been blocked up by the roots of a massive maple tree in my front yard.

I decided that my best action was to remove the tree that was causing the problem. I figured that I might as well take out the two behind my house as well.

I love mature trees, but the massive canopies were keeping my patio shaded and the grass from growing. The leaves and keys were constantly falling into my coffee, and the roots were snaking over the ground toward my foundation.

Because my home is in a gated community, I need permission from the strata to make changes even though the land is mine.

I hadn’t met many of my neighbours yet, but it only took a conversation with one of them for everyone in the vicinity to know the situation.

If you read my column regularly, you will know how much I love people watching. As I discussed my dilemma with neighbours and community members, I was fascinated by the wide range of reactions and advice I got.

Some of them shook their heads and assured me that the strata council would never give me permission to remove the trees. They thought I was wasting my time and should get used to having my pipe cleaned out regularly.

One person suggested I take the trees down first and ask for forgiveness later.

Another neighbour assured me that if there was a good reason for cutting them down, I would have no problem getting permission.

The estimated price of removal also varied significantly depending on which neighbour I was talking with. Some informed me that it would cost a few hundred dollars a tree including stump grinding.

On the other end of the extreme, I was told I would be looking at $7,000 a tree.

How can there be so many different opinions and beliefs by people who live in the same strata?

I thought about that question for a while. I suspect the advice anyone gives relies heavily on perspective and experiences.

Apparently at one time, the strata for my community was reluctant to give people permission to remove trees or make changes of any kind. Residents who applied during this time and had their requests turned down, may think nothing has changed.

If you’ve developed a tendency to believe what people tell you as being true without questioning it, you might well decide it isn’t worth asking for something you don’t think there is any chance of getting.

People who are rule breakers do what they feel is right and then deal with the fallout later. If the trees have already been taken down, there isn’t much anyone can do to put them back.

I wanted to share this situation, because it started me thinking about beliefs. Too often we hold on to them forever, without questioning whether what was true ten years ago, is still true today.

This is something everyone is prone to doing. Do you always shop at the same stores, or stop at the same coffee shop?


Maybe you feel the products are better quality, or that the clothes fit you better. Perhaps you like the ethos of the company or believe that the coffee is superior.

If you came to these conclusions a few years ago, are they still true today? The longer you’ve held a belief, the more chance things have changed.

Don’t let your opinions fall into a rut. Be aware that nothing stands still. Your experience five years ago may not be an accurate reflection on the way things are today.

Be aware of longstanding beliefs and values. Give them a fresh look with your 2019 eyes. What might have been true in the past, may not be accurate today?

Take time to reassess your beliefs on a regular basis. They may not have changed, but there is every chance that they have morphed as you’ve matured; especially if you are a life-long learner.

Beliefs and values don’t have to be forever; often they are only for now.


People-watching lessons

I have spent the last two weeks around more people than usual. It gave me the opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new connections.

I did a lot of conversing, but I also spent time observing. It was interesting to sit back and see how people communicate.

People watching provides so much information and is an invaluable learning source. I’m constantly trying to glean new insights and understanding about myself and others.

Communication is something most of us do on a regular basis, so you may not think much about it.

Imagine what life would be like if you couldn’t communicate, or there was no one to communicate with.

It makes me think of Helen Keller. She contracted an illness when she was 19 months old that left her both deaf and blind. Without these senses, she didn’t learn to speak, read, or write the way most people do.

In her autobiography, she describes the years when she couldn’t communicate like being “at sea in a dense fog.”

Fortunately, with the help of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, she overcame those obstacles and was the first blind-deaf person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Her story has always amazed and moved me. She understood the value of communication and mastered it by becoming a prolific author and university lecturer.

For those people who learn to read, write, and talk in a more conventional way, you may not take much notice of how well you communicate. Things that come easily are often taken for granted and given little conscious thought.

I’ve learned through experience that communication is far too precious to be treated so dismissively.

Not everyone is naturally eloquent, or able to present their ideas without being emotionally attached to them. You only need to watch a political debate to witness that.

If you interact with people regularly, spending time to improve your communication skills is well worth it. You will avoid a lot of frustration and wasted energy.

Here are some areas to concentrate on.

Understand your thoughts and beliefs before you share them with others

You may need to be conscious and deliberate about this step, because according to the Myers Briggs Assessment Tool, 75% of all people process their ideas verbally. You may need to vocalize your thoughts to organize and make sense of them.

You may not notice yourself doing this, but be aware that it is possible, and statistically quite likely.

Preface your thoughts. Tell others that you are sharing a new thought or start with the phrase “Is it possible that …….?” or “I’m just thinking out loud.”

I love to talk to myself. I have learned how important it is to vocalize my ideas, so I can hear and make sense of them. My mirror and I have shared many moments of clarity.

Detach from your emotions

Feeling passionate about your thoughts doesn’t mean you have to be emotional about them. Remember that everyone has their own values and unique experiences.

When you find yourself feeling frustrated or angry that the other person can’t see your point of view, it is probably because you need them to agree with you.

You are programmed to seek approval from others. This evolutionary behaviour supported humans in primitive times. The tribe was stronger if they stuck together with the same behaviours and beliefs.

It isn’t as vital today that everyone be on the same page. You will experience a greater level of satisfaction if you come to your own beliefs and ideas instead of just mindlessly agreeing with everyone else.

Don’t communicate believing that your main goal is to make other people agree with you. Detaching from your emotions when you communicate will help you achieve that.

Listening is just as important as speaking

Communication is a two-way process. This is a major reason why it can be so challenging.

When you speak, it is likely that you understand what you are trying to say, especially if you have embraced my first point. Be aware that the people who hear your words may not interpret them the way you intended them to.

This is why being an eloquent speaker is so valuable, especially if you interact with lots of people. The clearer and more concise you are, the greater the chance others will understand the intended meaning behind your words.

It also illustrates why it is important to be an active and attentive listener. Don’t spend the time when others are speaking, creating your response. Try your best to understand the meaning behind their words.

Ask for clarity rather than assuming you know what they are saying. This is especially valuable if you don’t agree with them.

You are never too old to become a better communicator.

Get clear about your thoughts; process before you share them. Leave your emotions behind and concentrate just as much on listening as speaking.

You may be surprised by the value that clear, unemotional communication has on every aspect of your life.

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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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