The Happiness Connection  

There are valuable benefits of fighting through challenges

Don't give up

This is the 257th column I’ve had published on Castanet.

Yes, I am sad enough to have taken the time to count.

To professional columnists, that may seem like a measly number, but I’m not one of them. I was approached by Ross Freake, who was the columns editor at the time, and asked if I’d like to contribute a weekly article about happiness. I was surprised at his suggestion. In those days I didn’t consider myself a writer.

I thought about it for several weeks before I agreed. I was concerned about all kinds of things, including not being able to come up with topic ideas. I decided I would commit myself for six months, and then re-evaluate. I guess I must have found value in what I was doing because this week’s column marks five years of The Happiness Connection. There’s no one more surprised by that fact than me.

It hasn’t always been easy. My initial concern about finding appropriate subject matter has indeed been the greatest challenge. I always want to give my readers something I hope they’ll find helpful and/or interesting.

I’ve sat down more than once with an hour or two until my deadline, without a single thought in my head or word on the document. But somehow, I’ve always managed to create a piece I was happy with.

The first time I received an unkind email about my column, I thought about quitting. It took some wise words from the then editor of the day, David Wylie, to keep me going. I’ve since learned how to accept all comments without taking the harsh ones personally.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary perseverance is the quality that allows someone to continue trying to do something even though it is difficult.

Everybody experiences times that are challenging, when it would be so easy just to throw in the towel. I’m not here to judge. There are times when the effort isn’t worth the outcome. It’s important to be able to recognize that fact and make a choice that’s good for you.

But it turns out there are some valuable benefits of fighting through challenges. So, if giving up has become a pattern in your life, here are a few things to ponder next time you feel tempted to quit.

• Perseverance encourages flexibility. If one strategy doesn’t work, you’ll probably have to try a different one. This promotes adaptability and improves resilience. That’s something everybody needs in today’s chaotic world.

• Research shows that people who persevere are less likely to develop depression and anxiety.

• Successful people don’t give up. Unless you have the ability to keep going, you’re unlikely to find triumph.

• People who persevere develop an ability to see life through a positive lens. They don’t see failure as a bad thing, or themselves as failures. This is an important skill to possess if you want to be happy.

If you tend to quit when things are hard, don’t feel discouraged. Perseverance is a learnable skill. You’re never too old or too young, to acquire it.

1. Set yourself a goal. Although SMART goals include creating a timeline for when you’ll have your goal completed, sometimes it’s better to set a date for how long you’ll stay focused and committed. When that day arrives, re-evaluate.

2. Reframe how you see failure. Sit with your disappointment for a few minutes, then invite your negative emotions to leave. Start looking for the hidden blessings that your unfortunate situation has given you. If you struggle doing this, get some help from a friend.

3. Don’t be afraid to come up with a new plan. Changing strategies doesn’t mean you’re giving up. You can come at the same goal from many different directions.

4. Take time to celebrate your accomplishments. Instead of moving onto a new goal the minute you achieve your objective, take time to enjoy your success. Whether it’s a night of celebration, or a moment of satisfied reflection, it’ll boost your happiness and get you ready for your next intention.

So, here’s to all your wins, large and small, and to all the things you learned along the way. Cheers.

Are you a "glass half-empty" or a glass half-full type of person?

All about how you spin it

Black Friday sale promotions began infiltrating my email a few weeks ago. Some people love this day of deals, others hate it.

I can’t remember there being a Black Friday when I was young, although the term has been used since the mid-1960s. I guess it hadn’t crossed the 49th parallel yet—at least not in B.C.

When the event came to my awareness, I heard about wild incidents like people being trampled and injured by crazed shoppers desperate to get to the best sale items, first. There has, in fact, been at least one death due to such actions.

Is that why it was called Black Friday? It would have been a fitting reason, but that isn’t the story I was first told. I asked an American friend who stated that the influx of sales meant businesses were finally operating in the black, rather than in the red—thus, Black Friday.

It wasn’t until years later that I discovered being profitable has nothing to do with the origin of its name.

In both Canada and the U.S., stores are encouraged to wait until a certain event happens before they jump full tilt into Christmas marketing. Here it’s Remembrance Day, In the United States, it’s Thanksgiving.

American Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. Black Friday is the following day and is when the Christmas shopping floodgates open in earnest. Prices are slashed to tempt shoppers to buy, buy, buy.

In Philadelphia, the day is even more hectic because it’s sandwiched between Thanksgiving and the traditional Army-Navy football game that’s played the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

If you’re dreaming of finding a wonderful bargain, Black Friday may fill you with excitement. If you’re trying to maintain a sense of peace and control, it isn’t likely to be a day you look forward to.

In the past, the Philadelphia police were caught in the latter camp. The influx of people has caused them huge headaches. In the mid-1960s, they began referring to this day of bedlam, as Black Friday to express how irritating it was.

Apparently, the store owners didn’t like one of the biggest shopping days of the year being thought of so negatively. So, they decided to spin a positive explanation for it.

They’re the ones who created the tale about stores having enough sales to become profitable on that day.

Spinning a new perspective is a skill frequently used by politicians to help them deal with negative press.

It’s also something that optimists and happy people take advantage of as it can make a massive difference to your level of satisfaction and wellbeing.

This is a very challenging time for many people. You may not be able to alter your circumstances, but you can change how you interpret them.

The same amount of water is in the glass, regardless of whether you think it is half-full, or half-empty.

• Try putting your focus on the good things that are happening in your world, not the bad ones.

• Limit the amount of negativity you surround yourself with. Be careful how much news you listen to.

• If you need to vent, cry, or complain, limit the time you let yourself indulge in this behaviour. Try setting a timer.

• See challenges through a lens of humour, or wisdom. What did you learn from the experience?

• Remind yourself that nothing lasts forever. These difficult times will pass.

The moral of this story? Changing your perspective can change your experience. You are in the driver’s seat.

Act like an extrovert and an introvert and see what happens

A pre-Christmas experiment

Before the Christmas season settles in and life becomes even more manic than normal, I’ve got a suggestion for you. It’s an experiment of sorts.

It may give you just the knowledge you need when the busy days of shopping, celebrating, and overindulging start in earnest.

The steps are easy and only require two weeks of your time. All you have to do is spend one week behaving as an extravert and one week as an introvert. At the end of the second week, compare your experiences.

Of course, one of these is likely to feel more natural than the other but read the two lists below and try your best to add as many of the suggested actions into the appropriate time frame.

Extraverted behaviours:

• Engage with people. Speak to anyone who serves you, like baristas and cashiers. Start conversations with strangers who are standing in line with you.

• Smile as often as possible. Grin and say hello to each and every person you walk by. This is more difficult with a mask on, but your eyes and voice will convey your smile none the less.

• Say yes to every social invitation you receive. Use your common sense with this one. Never put yourself in danger and of course there are things that just aren’t possible due to work and family commitments. But try as hard as possible not to refuse.

• Make more eye contact.

• Speak up when an idea comes into your head. Don’t pause to think about it before you share.

Introverted behaviours:

• Be reflective. Take time everyday to think about your day and your feelings. Journals can be a great way to do this. Use prompts if you aren’t sure what to write about. You’ll find these online.

• Spend time by yourself, doing what you want to do. If you usually go out, try staying at home.

• Think before you speak. Take time to consider what you want to say before you share. If you’re naturally extraverted and rarely do this, make yourself wait at least two minutes after a thought comes into your head before you express it verbally.

• Choose to communicate via written rather than spoken words. Use email or text, rather than the phone.

• Socialize with individuals or small groups. Opt for an intimate dinner over a big party.

In your regular life, you probably enjoy a mixture of the two lists but this is about taking each one to the extreme so you can compare the experiences. I recommend keeping a journal regardless of which week you’re in. Jot down how happy you were each day, and what things made you feel good or bad.

At the very least, stop to rate your level of happiness at the end of each of the weeks. I find using a scale between one and ten, an easy way to do this.

Which type of behaviours made you happier extraverted or introverted?

Psychologists asked subjects to do exactly what I’ve outlined for you to try. If you don’t want to know the results before you step into these behaviours come back in two weeks. If you prefer to know the findings now, read on.

This study was designed to see how human connection affects your sense of wellbeing.

After this simple two-week experiment, the findings showed that connection makes people happier. You may know that. But sometimes it’s good to have a reminder.

I’m not suggesting that introverts aren’t as happy as extraverts. But extraverted behaviours tend to encourage more interaction between people. Introverted ones are more about self. However, being in the same room as others, doesn’t guarantee connection. I’ve experienced loneliness more than once while being in a crowd —even a crowd where I knew a lot of people.

If you smile, make eye contact and spend time with one person, you’ll feel happier than someone who is surrounded by people but doesn’t connect with any of them.

Self-reflection and personal understanding will make you feel better than sitting mindlessly in front of the television. Knowing that humans love connection, isn’t new, nor is the fact that when you feel sad or depressed you’re more likely to avoid spending time around other people.

Having this knowledge can be a huge help as the holiday season looms. If you feel your mood sink, reach out and connect with a friend or close family member. Even chatting with a total stranger will help you feel better.

Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts. Act like an extravert and express them without premeditation or judgement. You may be surprised at how much better you feel, and the feedback you receive.

After you’ve spent time with the two different lists, feel free to make a hybrid one that’s perfect for you. Keep it somewhere easy to find. Refer to it whenever you notice your mood dipping.

Right now, the approaching holiday season seems shiny and new. That may not be the case in a month or so.

You have the power to make yourself happy. Don’t ever forget that.


There's nothing wrong with caring about how you look

Loving the body you're in

I saw a social media post recently, where the writer compared the relationship she has with her body to her marriage. Sometimes she loves it, other times she detests it.

It’s like my mother used to say to me and my siblings, she always loved us but sometimes she didn’t like us very much.

In August, I wrote about the destructiveness of shame and explained how I felt about my body as an example. Although I wasn’t specifically addressing body image, I received a strongly worded email, about how shallow people were, specifically women, for caring about their looks.

I appreciate all the feedback I receive from my readers, whether it’s positive or negative. I’m genuinely curious about how people react to my column. It’s a writer’s version of people-watching.

The comments made in the email I’m referring to, are not unique. It’s an attitude I’ve encountered before, although more by baby boomers than millennials.

For whatever reason, this email came to mind as I started this week’s article—probably because I was thinking about body perception. I encourage myself and others to develop a loving relationship with their bodies. The last thing I want anyone to experience is shame around their physical appearance or the fact that they care about what they look like.

Being told you are shallow if you wear makeup, should have better things to do than care about your appearance or that a man who marries you for your looks will cheat on you as you age, is not beneficial, or even likely to be true.

A relationship shouldn’t be based solely on looks, but it’s likely to contribute to the attraction you and your partner feel for each other.

I worry that women who hear sentiments like the ones included in the email I received, will develop a sense of shame around caring what they look like. This is especially true if these ideas are expressed by a parent or significant other. Suggesting you should attract a man with your cooking or homemaking skills and not your looks is a very old-fashioned way of viewing the world, and the people who live in it. It suggests the only reason anyone wants to look their best is so they can attract a mate.

Of course, there are many types of people in the world and not all of them will look out for your best interests. That’s why it’s so important to be able to do that for yourself. There are many positive reasons for caring about your appearance, including the boost of confidence it gives you. When you believe you look good, you also feel good. And feeling good makes you happy.

I wear makeup because I enjoy applying it. Often, I put it on when I’m the only one who’ll get to appreciate it.

I love seeing Olympic athletes who’ve found the time to do their nails and makeup before taking their position on the starting line. To me, that says they’re willing to find time for themselves, even when they have a job to do.

If you dress or adorn yourself to make someone else happy, then perhaps your intention is flawed. But if you care for your body and physical appearance because it makes you feel good, don’t let anyone tell you that’s wrong. Your skin is your largest organ. It needs to be pampered. Your physical appearance is what people see first when you walk into a room. It’s the only first impression you’ll get.

With that being said, let me return to the idea of being in a relationship with your body. In my experience, no relationship is ever the way fairytales lead us to believe. Sure, there are good times but there are also challenging ones.You will not always be smiling or singing with forest animals.

Going through life knowing this relationship truth makes it easier to accept difficulties when they arise.

I doubt many people would argue with the statement, “no one’s perfect.” After all, what is perfect? Who decides what the perfect person looks like?

Yet often we expect ourselves, especially our bodies to be perfect, or at least different than they are.

The bottom line (excuse the pun) is that everyone should be working towards creating an attitude of unconditional love for their physical self. You get to decide what that looks like.

You may not like the extra pounds that always seem to go straight to your stomach but that’s no reason to ignore all the good things about the way you look. You’re the only one who sees your flaws under the brightness of a microscope. No one else does. Focus instead on the parts of your appearance that make you feel good.

Allowing your personality to shine through, will do wonders to hide many of the things you consider to be shortcomings. There is nothing like a smile to cast a glow over your entire being.

It’s often said that confidence is the most attractive feature anyone can display. So, stand tall, be unashamed of who you are and what you look like. If makeup is your jam, wear it proudly. And don’t let anyone tell you that you should be ashamed of being concerned about your physical appearance. It’s your body and you can cry if you want to.

Just remember that even if it disappoints you, it’s the only body you’ll ever have.

Like a marriage, loving your appearance doesn’t mean you think it’s perfect. And that’s OK.

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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