The Happiness Connection  

You don't have to rely on others for your own happiness

Love yourself first

I’m not a huge fan of awards shows, but this year I tuned into the Grammys because I wanted to see Joni Mitchell.

What a performance. If you’re looking for an example of an empowered older person, she’s a good contender.

The other performance that really caught my attention was Miley Cyrus. She was nominated for, and won, record of the year with her song Flowers. I knew the song but hadn’t really listened closely to the words. As she performed it, I concentrated on the lyrics.

It’s about a breakup and the resulting realization that you don’t need to be in a relationship in order to enjoy things like receiving flowers or going dancing. Pretty much anything you can do when you have a partner, you can do when you’re single. If you want flowers, you can always buy them for yourself.

I was raised to believe that if I found the right person, they’d make me happy. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Everyone is responsible for their own happiness.

That’s a powerful statement, and not one I was ever introduced to by my parents. I don’t blame them for withholding this vital lesson from me. My mom and dad didn’t teach me this because they’d never been introduced to that principle either.

It’s not like I made a conscious decision to hand over the key to my happiness to someone else, I just copied the behaviour my parents modelled for me. I grew up thinking happiness came from a loving partner, the circumstances I encountered, and by living my life a certain way.

That strategy worked for me for many years. Honestly, I didn’t really stop to consider there might be a different way to view the subject. You may have had a similar upbringing and belief about happiness.

The problem is the happiness this strategy provides is fragile. Remove your partner, or other relationships, throw in some daunting challenges, and you may find your feelings of wellbeing slipping away. To make matters worse, if you don’t know how to make yourself happy, you may be like me and have no idea how to right the ship when it starts to sink.

One of the secrets to being happy regardless of what life throws at you is to love and care for yourself. If you’re waiting for other people to validate you, you’re putting yourself in a very vulnerable position. It may encourage you to stay in a less than satisfying relationship because you don’t think you can be happy on your own.

I’m not saying it isn’t wonderful to be spoiled with flowers, or to share romantic moments with a partner. But even if you’re in a relationship, there’s no guarantee that these things will be part of your experience. Rather than letting yourself feel resentful or dissatisfied if you adore flowers and never receive them, buy them for yourself.

Empowerment means you know what makes you feel good and you’re willing to provide those things for yourself. It may feel scary to go to a movie alone, or treat yourself to dinner in your favourite restaurant, but that feeling will subside the more you do it.

The stronger your loving connection to yourself is, the more your sense of wellbeing will grow. In the words of actor Robert Morley, “To fall in love with yourself is the first secret to happiness.”

So, don’t be afraid to show yourself a little love.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

To be happy learn to control what you can, not what you can't

Ways to find happiness

Happiness is a funny thing. We all know we want it in our life, but it can be a tricky thing to define and possibly even harder to conjure up.

Part of the problem comes from the fact happiness is an emotion. If you believe you have to feel joyful in order to be happy, you’re in for disappointment. Nobody feels happy all the time. Your negative emotions developed to help you survive.

Whenever your mind perceives you’re in a win-lose scenario, your negative emotions focus you on your primary goal—survival. In primitive times, winning meant surviving and that programming is still with us.

Instead of linking happiness to an emotion, I suggest you link it to a sense of peace and contentment. Happy people seem to find a way to accept the things life tosses at them. That doesn’t mean you have to like or agree with them. It’s about distinguishing between the things you can, and want, to change and those that are out of your control.

Living in Canada and worrying about the American election is futile. We are observers not participants, so save your energy for things you can change.

If you want to foster a greater sense of peace and therefore more happiness, the first step is self-awareness. Are you at war with your situation or people within it?

• Do you get angry at little things, like when a driver cuts in front of you?

• Do you fume when you can’t sleep because your partner is snoring too loudly, or they chew too vigorously when they eat?

• Do feel tired and discouraged with life in general?

Answering yes to any of those questions suggests you could benefit from a greater sense of Zen. Here are a few ways to help you get started.

If you tend to like to be in control, stop

I come from many generations of controllers. I’m not sure if it’s in our DNA, or we’ve just copied our elders. Either way we’re masters of overt and covert control. I speak from experience when I say, controllers live in humongous war zones.

No one will ever do things exactly the way you envision, so you’re bound to be disappointed and frustrated if you think they will. Remember that people rarely set out to upset you, it’s just they aren’t you. They do things differently and have their own opinions.

It’s also tempting to believe you can control the world around you if you behave in a certain way or follow a specific list of tasks. Sadly, there are far too many variables involved in any action to ever be positive things will turn out the way you expect.

I don’t care who you are, the chance of you controlling the weather is slim to none, and yet how often do people melt into puddles of anger, frustration and despair when it rains on the day of their big outside party.

Learn to recognize the things you can’t control and let them go. Be at peace with them.

Be a cheerleader for other people’s journeys, not the director

This point is related to the one above. Everyone’s on their own journey through life. Even your partner and children are taking their own trek. Share your wisdom and viewpoints, be there to cheer, comfort and console, but let them choose their path and overcome their challenges.

Parents find this particularly difficult, but if your children don’t learn to be responsible for their own lives, how will they manage when you’re no longer there to make the decisions. Accept that they’re not mini versions of you. They’re individuals, with visions and lessons of their own.


Trust is the key to finding peace, but adopting this principle is often easier said than done.

Choose to trust that what happens in your life, happens for you, not to you. There’s always a lesson, or opportunity to grow in every circumstance you encounter, both the good and the bad.

Remind yourself of the difficult times you’ve weathered, and all the ways they’ve made you stronger. Listen to your gut and believe in your ability to conquer whatever comes your way. You’ve done it before, so why should this time be any different.

Trust that your loved ones are learning from their own paths and will learn more by being in control of their decisions and accepting responsibility. If you encourage your children to make their own decisions when they are young, it’ll be easier for them to trust themselves as they get older.


This may seem like a strange piece of advice, but when times get tough you may find yourself forgetting. Gritting your teeth, losing your temper or holding your breath won’t help you establish a sense of peace. Take a minute for a few deep, conscious breaths.

Happy people don’t expect their lives to be constantly smooth or endlessly joyful. Instead, they work to discover their Zen so they can be at peace with whatever they encounter.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

How do you handle change in your life?

Dealing with change

I do some of my best writing in coffee shops.

I’m not sure what makes them such fertile environments for my thoughts, but they are. Perhaps it’s because I’m separated from other work and domestic distractions, or maybe it’s because they’re a buzz of energy. Regardless of the reason, when I want to create some great content, I grab my laptop and walk to my neighbourhood java joint. The walk is a great opportunity to organize my thoughts, so I can get writing as soon as I’m settled with my coffee.

On one particular occasion, I purchased my beverage and made my way to my favourite corner and its comfy chair. But there was an unexpected problem. Someone was sitting in my place. I felt off balance and momentarily wondered if I should just turn around and go home. But I had work to do.

So, after a brief look of disbelief, I heaved a sigh of resignation and chose a different spot.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you imagined a situation that didn’t pan out the way you expected?

Some people are born with a natural affinity for change. They look forward to it with anticipation. They’re masters of going with the flow. Others are lovers of routine, and familiarity. When change comes their way, they try to avoid making eye contact with it, in the futile hope that it’ll pass them by.

You might fall into a third category and enjoy new experiences, but only when you choose them. That’s where I tend to hang out. From this vantage point, you fool yourself into thinking you’re somehow in control of what’s happening. It took me a long time to realize that’s just an illusion.

Regardless of your relationship with change, you can’t escape it. It’s one of the few things you can count on. Nothing stays the same forever no matter how much you may want it to. You can resist all you want, but you can rarely stop it from happening.

Happy people may not love change, but they’re accepting of it. Regardless of how they feel about what’s happening, they allow their life to shift without trying to hold it in place. They recognize that would be futile.

I used to imagine comfort zones as islands. You might leave yours for a while but could always return to it when you got tired of being uncomfortable. With age and wisdom, that picture has changed.

Now I see life as a continuous journey, or route with ever-changing terrain. Sometimes it’s sandy, then it goes steeply up hill, only to become muddy as you reach the top. Eventually it becomes sandy again. Although the sensation feels weird after the rocky path you’ve been travelling, you adjust more quickly because it’s something you’ve experienced before.

The only way you can keep the surface under your feet the same is to stand still, or march on the spot. You may not feel the discomfort of new sensation by doing this, but a different problem may arise. Staying in the same place is likely to become boring, and monotonous. It’s why walking outside is usually more interesting than being on a treadmill.

As you learn to accept change, it becomes easier to navigate. It becomes a natural part of your life. If learning to accept change is something you want to practice, here are a few things to consider.

Think of times in your life when you’ve found yourself out of your comfort zone and survived. If you did it once, you can do it again. The first time is often the most challenging. It gets easier with subsequent experiences.

Some of the best things in life come as the result of being forced out of your zone of comfort. Humans may enjoy routine, but they also love unexpected surprises. Not knowing what’s around the next corner is one of life’s greatest gifts.

Don’t leave too much time between your ventures into the unknown. If you wait too long between unfamiliar experiences, it will feel like the first time over and over again. Begin by inviting change into your life on your own terms. You can do this by changing your schedule or choosing a different route to work, the store, or for a walk. Instead of doing your laundry on Tuesday, try completing it on Friday. Challenge yourself to sit at a different table in the coffee shop, until you’ve sat at them all.

When unexpected change presents itself, rather than greeting it with a doom-and-gloom attitude, find something positive in it. Optimism might not be your first response, and that’s OK as long as you get there in the end.

My first response to this particular change was negative, but that didn’t stop me from trying to turn my emotions around. At one point, I looked over at my usual chair and noticed the two men sitting at the table beside it were having an unusually loud conversation. I realized that if I’d been sitting beside them, it would have been much harder to concentrate. Having to sit in a different place turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Every time an opportunity for change presents itself, remind yourself that it’s gifting you with the chance to practice being more adaptable and flexible. These are important skills to develop if you want your life to be a happy one. Maybe it’s time to consciously get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Ancient words for a modern age

Studying philosophy

When I was in university, several of my friends were philosophy majors.

Their reason for choosing a degree in philosophy was a complete mystery to me. Why would you study the words of ancient wisdom when you could be taking a degree that would lead to a profession like education, law or engineering?

It’s only with age that I’ve come to appreciate the positive influence the words and practices these ancient philosophers had to offer, and how timeless their thoughts were. Philosophy literally means “love of wisdom.”

As a new calendar year starts, many of us take time to reflect. We want to find wisdom in the year that’s finished so we can enjoy a better life in the year to come.

With that thought in mind, I want to share some ancient wisdom that feels as relevant today as it did hundreds of years ago.

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”

Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD)
Advisor to Roman Emperor Nero.

My mom used to tell me to “cross that bridge when you come to it.” It was her way of advising me not to worry about stuff that might never happen.

When challenges happen, you deal with them. For the most part you have no other choice. If your dishwasher breaks, you get it fixed or start doing your dishes by hand. Worrying that it’s old and might break serves no useful purpose. It could keep running for years.

Reminding yourself of Seneca’s words may be just what you need if you want to worry a little less in the year ahead.

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.”

Epictetus (50 AD – 135 AD)
Born a slave. Lived in Rome until he was banished.

Your brain receives information from your senses. Because it likes the world around you to make sense, it assigns meaning to the things you’ve seen, heard, smelled, touched, or felt. Smelling smoke doesn’t necessarily mean danger, although that may be the first thought that comes into your mind.

If you see a friend scowling at you, your brain may jump to the conclusion that they’re mad at you. But just because that’s the first story your brain creates, it doesn’t mean it’s accurate. You get to choose a different perspective if you want.

Maybe they had a disagreement with their partner or received annoying news from their boss. There’s every chance that the look on their face has absolutely nothing to do with you.

Just because your brain quickly assigns meaning to the information it receives, doesn’t mean you have to believe its interpretation without question. If the initial story disturbs you, choose a different one.

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.”

Marcus Aurelius,
Roman emperor (161 AD-180 AD)

The truth of these words strikes me every time I read them. Why is it that we give so much power to the words of others? You may leave your home feeling like a million dollars, but it only takes one negative comment from another person to send you into a whirlwind of doubt.

There’s an evolutionary reason for this. In primitive times, it was vital that humans worked together if they wanted to survive. One way of ensuring that this happened, was for individuals to buy into the opinions and behaviours of the group as a whole.

If you rebelled, you were banished. That action was akin to death because it was virtually impossible to survive by yourself.

Caring more about the opinions of the group served humans when they roamed the savannah, but we’ve moved on since then. This is just one example of an outdated program that modern humans carry. If you want to break free from this obsolete behaviour, the first step is to be aware that it exists.

It’s unlikely that being aware of your tendency to take the opinions of others to heart will stop that behaviour in its tracks, but it can help you make better decisions. Rather than assuming they must be right, you can pause and think about it with a clearer mind.

Perhaps there was a reason for their comment, or maybe you were reading more into it than they intended. In the end it’s your opinion that really matters. Go back to the words of Seneca and choose a perspective that brings you peace.

Reflection is the way adults learn. It’s something that’ll make your life richer and keep your brain in good condition.

If you want to start a reflection practice, the words of these philosophers may be a good place to begin.

Amazingly, their wisdom is as applicable to life today as it was when their words were first recorded.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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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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