The Happiness Connection  

Spock wasn't always right

As I sat in my car waiting for the traffic light to change, the licence plate holder on the car in front of me caught my attention.

Service before Self.

I think I understand the message it was trying to communicate, but honestly, I didn’t like the wording. It turned my smile upside down and started me thinking.

In my head there are two very different meanings for service.

You serve because you believe it is your job, or duty.
You are of service because you want to help other people and the world.

People who have difficulty creating boundaries or saying no are frequently embracing the first definition. You feel it is expected of you. Even though you know it will launch you into the land of overwhelm and you will grumble about it, you still say yes.

Our society has perpetuated the idea that a good person puts everyone before themselves.

When I was young, my mom was involved with the Joy Club. Joy stood for Jesus, Others, Yourself. That was the order of priority you were supposed to live by.

This is a belief many people still hold.

I’m not suggesting you should be selfish and ignore the needs of others. There are times when, as Mr. Spock put it so eloquently, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

But that doesn’t happen every day.

Instead, you want to involve yourself in win-win-win activities. The things you choose to help with should serve you, serve others and contribute to the greater good.

If you are only concerned about the needs of others, you are likely to become exhausted and/or resentful. Not everybody has the same value or beliefs about serving.

It is easy to judge someone who can easily create boundaries and say no.

The more exhausted you get, the less helpful you become. You aren’t doing anyone any favours by taking on more than you can handle.

The second definition involves seeing the big picture and where you fit into it. You choose to help because it is the right thing for you and others, not because you feel you should.

Even more importantly, you recognize that sometimes saying no means that other people get an opportunity to say yes. Give that statement another read if it is something you haven’t considered before.

Sometimes saying no means that other people get an opportunity to say yes.

It’s easy to assume that no one can do what you do. In my experience, someone almost always steps up to help if you can’t. If they don’t, then maybe it is time for a change in how things are being done.

Service is important. It is one of the precepts for happiness that I teach. But be aware that being of service is not the same thing as being a servant.

This conversation is especially important as the holiday season approaches. If you are a person who feels compelled to do everything for everyone, remember that although service is important, so are you.

  • Carve out some self-care time.
  • Practice saying no to things that don’t serve you and that you don’t want to do.
  • Before you say yes, check to see if you have a win-win-win situation. If the answer is no, either say that, or see if you can tweak things enough to find a triple win.

The next time I notice the licence plate holder on the car in front of me, maybe it will say – Service as well as Self.


Are you still growing?

Whenever I see my friends’ young children and grandchildren, I find myself commenting on how much they’ve grown.

They tend to look at me with incredulous eyes. Of course, they’ve grown. What a weird thing to say.

The same thing happens when someone is sick or elderly. You don’t notice the decline or recovery as distinctly when you see them every day.

I remember looking at my son one day and suddenly noticing he was taller than me. How did that happen? I wasn’t conscious of how big he was getting until the alteration was too great to ignore.

Growth isn’t limited to physical changes. Mental, emotional, and spiritual expansion are happening, too. It’s unlikely you are the same person on the inside today, as you were 20 years ago.

Change happens at a slow, but steady pace. If you aren’t looking for it, you may believe it isn’t happening.

It’s a little like blowing up a balloon. You’re aware of the initial changes, but as it grows fuller the increase in size is less noticeable. Thinking it isn’t getting bigger is fine until you reach the breaking point and it bursts.

Perhaps you’ve been feeling that your life is maintaining a status quo, only to have your bubble burst. Without warning your significant other has morphed into an entirely different person.

There is a school of thought that believes if you marry young there is more chance that you will grow apart from your partner. That seems to suggest adults should come to a point when they stop growing and stay the same for the rest of their lives.

I don’t believe that is true.

That may have been easier to believe in the past because the world changed more slowly, and society had a bigger say in what life should look like.

Today change is a given, not a possibility and speaking out against traditional ideas is more acceptable.

I have friends who married in their late teens and early 20s and who are still happily married 35 or 40 years later.

You may have waited until you were established in a career and had a reasonably clear idea of who you were before you settled down with a partner. That doesn’t mean you will change any less than teenage brides or grooms do.

It wasn’t until my children were in their 20s that I took the time to discover me. That’s when I began to stop shoulding myself and began a conscious journey of personal development.

That journey had nothing to do with how old I was when I got married.

Personal growth is part of life, but it can create challenges for relationships.

Have you ever been on the giving or receiving end of statements such as:

  • you aren’t the person I married
  • the person I married would never have done/said that?

Cast your mind back to the opening paragraph of this column. When I tell children they’ve grown, they think I’m weird. That’s partly because they are aware of and welcome that growth.

The same is true for people who are consciously striving to become a more enlightened version of themselves. When someone tells them they’ve changed, they look at that person with disbelieving eyes. Are you only just figuring that out now?

Of course, they’ve changed. Isn’t that normal?

Do you ever consciously look for the tiny increments of progress that are happening within you and those you have regular contact with? If you don’t, you may live in ignorant bliss until one day when the balloon bursts and you are forced to confront it.

If you are living your life without conscious awareness, you may dismiss variations in the behaviour and attitudes of your significant other as hormonal irregularities or phases they are going through.

It isn’t until the growth becomes too great to ignore that you suddenly wake up and realize those changes are here to stay.

That moment can bring with it, feelings of shock, betrayal, and irritation for both the conscious grower and unconscious partner.

When this point is reached, you both have choices. Everyone is on their own journey. What do you want yours to look like and do you want to support your significant other while they are trekking on theirs?

Maybe it’s time to dip your toe into the pool of conscious awareness or to invite your partner in for a swim?

The thing you can’t control is what your partner should do.

Don’t demand that they should stop growing and change back to the version of themselves that existed when you first met, or insist they live more consciously.

Invite safe conversation and new experiences and let your future unfold. Be open to seeing life in a new way with no expectation of outcome.

The key to individual growth within a committed relationship is to honour each other and the individual journeys you are here to take.

Consciously being aware of what is happening for you and for your partner will help you achieve this.

Stop shoulding yourself

How many times a day do you use the word should or some variation of it? 

The best way to get an accurate answer is to ask a few people to be your “should police.”

When I first started working with a coach, we talked about doing things because I felt they were important not because they were expected of me. During our discussions, she would stop me every time should crept into my vocabulary.

There were some very halting conversations in those first few months.

I have lived much of my life doing things that I felt were expected of me even though I hated them. For example, when I lived in England, there was a regular social calendar of dinner parties to host and attend.

Cooking is something I have never really liked or felt confident about. I do it to combat the sound of gurgling stomachs, not because it is enjoyable. I’m fine preparing meals for my family, but when other people are involved, I get really nervous.

Whenever I was hosting, I would spend a week or so experimenting with recipes. The day before the event involved cleaning the house, grocery shopping, and dreading what was looming.

The day after involved cleaning the house, grocery shopping for food that wouldn’t fit in the fridge because of the dinner party provisions, and relief that it was over – for a month or two.

In case you are thinking that despite my worry these dinner parties were probably a huge success, let me stop you in your thoughts.

One time there wasn’t enough food, and another time my guests enjoyed pie with a burnt topping.

If you have ever watched the first Bridget Jones’ Diary movie, you will get the idea of what might be in your future if you came to my house for dinner.

Why did I do it?

Because I thought I should. If you are invited to someone’s house for a home-cooked meal, you should invite them back to your place to sample your culinary delights – even if you don’t have any.

If you get asked to help with an activity or event, you should say yes.

If someone offers you a cookie to go with your coffee, you should take one.

When my daughter was 10 weeks old, my doctor, and midwife suggested it would be best for my unsettled baby to have bottle supplements. I agreed, but if I was in public, I would hide in a corner somewhere because I was ashamed.

I should be able to produce enough milk.

I feel like there were more shoulds in England than here, but that might just be my perception. I moved there when I got married, and it’s where I became a mom. I am also thinking back several decades, so things have undoubtedly changed.

  • Can you relate to these stories?
  • Have you done things because you thought you should?
  • Are you unconsciously still letting that word have power in your life?

The time has come to stop shoulding yourself.

The best way to do that is to consciously discover who you are and accept that you are the perfect version of you for today. Don’t hide your areas of challenge, readily admit them, but work on growing and developing them.

The best version of you will probably look nothing like the best version of your best friend, or family members.

You will never reach perfection. There is no such thing. Concentrate on growing every day, not achieving a level you think you should be aiming for.

I no longer consider my lack of culinary skills to be a weakness. I have lots of interests and talents, they just don’t happen to be gastronomic ones.

Today, when I entertain family and friends, I freely admit that there is no guarantee that the food will be edible, or that I will have made it myself. I doubt that they care.

Once you know, accept and love yourself fully, you can share your authentic self with the rest of the world. This is where confidence and freedom live.

I would like you to like me, but if you don’t, I can live with that.

Trust me when I say, the best thing I ever did was to stop shoulding myself.


Dive into the new

I have many friends of all ages who have left long-term relationships in the past year or two.

As an observer of people, I am fascinated by the different attitudes they adopt as they move forward in their personal lives.

Who knew there could be so many different approaches to dating or finding connection with someone new? It ranges from avoidance, through on-line dating, to rekindling old relationships, and chance encounters.

I listen to their stories with a mixture of curiosity, amusement, and concern. It’s a different world to the one I inhabited when I was a young woman.

I admire their willingness and courage to go into the world and try something different; to create new stories.

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

For those of us who are a little longer in the tooth, when was the last time you did something for the first time in over a decade?

Creating new life stories is an important part of keeping your life vibrant and living consciously. There is nothing quite like the feeling that arise when you make your way through an unfamiliar experience and come out the other side.

When you are young, your life is full of opportunities to do things for the first time. Getting your first job, travelling without your family, or moving into your own home are common first-time experiences that present themselves naturally.

Depending on the choices you make, new experiences can surface less often as you age. Perhaps it is more accurate to say, it is easier to avert your gaze and avoid doing things that you are unfamiliar with as you get older.

You may have learned to play a very good game of risk avoidance. But just because that is the easy option, doesn’t mean it’s the best one. If you don’t want your life to get stale, it is time to create some new stories.

When an opportunity presents itself to make new friends, or do something that isn’t typical of you, say yes. If what you do doesn’t cause harm to you, another person, or the environment, why not?

Conscious living includes being mindful and living in the moment. This is easier to do when you are standing outside your comfort zone.

It is very difficult to be on auto-pilot when you are challenging your fear of heights or confronting your anxiety about going for a meal at the Keg by yourself.

If you are feeling terrified, explore that. Where in your body does that emotions live? What sensations are you feeling? Describe the emotions bubbling up inside of you?

What should you remember to include when you share this new story?

I’m not suggesting you have to seek out a daring adventure, although I would never discourage anyone from doing this. Get out into the world and be curious and observant. Opportunities will present themselves.

Creating new life stories is important if you want to live a vibrant and conscious life. It's never too late to start. The time is now.

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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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