Reflections on being happy, including why your happiness is a gift to people you don’t even know.
What is happiness? What does it take to be happy? We all want to feel happy. Do we know how?
It seems we were born knowing how. Babies show their feelings — and happiness is definitely among them.Happiness has been shown to increase longevity, and has health benefits, in addition to being desirable in itself.
Sometimes we fall out of the state of happiness and want to find ways to get back there. Various aspects of the recent Happy Holidays can be stressful, including basic things like bad weather, traffic, the flu, or too much to do. At the start of 2018, perhaps it’s time to re-set our happiness quotient.
Suzi Smith, noted trainer in NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming), spoke on this subject and reminded us of several basic NLP techniques for returning to a happy state of mind. One was to become conscious of the content of our thoughts. If they are negative, change to positive content. For instance, when you make a mistake, look for solutions and learning rather than beating yourself up. One of my favorite responses is to be pleased I was clever enough to catch the mistake. The important thing is to become conscious of those negative thoughts.
One of the interesting things that came up in Suzi’s talk was a participant, I think from Germany, saying that his clients ask, “But what about all the things I have to do?” I think how we handle that question is the key to maintaining a happy state of mind.
Thinking about what I have to do has several drawbacks. One is that it can take me out of my body and the immediate present. Another is that it can invoke worry about future actions. I can start feeling stressed and under time pressure. The feeling of being rushed and having too much to do gets in the way of my feeling happy.
The positive intention behind thinking about what I have to do, i.e., getting me to do it, is worthwhile. I do want to be motivated to take care of my responsibilities and accomplish my dreams. And not with a feeling of pressure, which blocks the very moment my dreams are coming true (which, as it turns out, they are, most of the time!).
This intention can be accomplished with joy. I find it easier to do it with joy if I connect with my real motivation – the reason I am choosing to do whatever it is.
What most of us have to do is to keep ourselves and our loved ones happy and well. That is a joyful prospect and I am glad to do it. I appreciate the reminders that bring me back to that awareness.
What about happiness at work? Some people consider the two to be mutually exclusive. I think that’s one of the good turns coming with the millennial generation – they don’t assume work has to be a chore. All generations benefit from choosing work they love to do.
If it turns out that your job is not what you totally love doing, you have the choice of focusing on the things it allows you to do that you do love. My work has some parts I don’t love doing. It helps me to be happy doing them when I step into the feeling I’ll have when they are done. And then remember to savor it when it really is done. I just love that cleared-off desk!
Recently I was doing what I considered tedious work to get a workshop organized and launched. I knew that actually being in the room was what I love to do – interacting with a group of smart, caring, interested people. That kept me going until the event came to pass, and the payoff was worth it.
Happiness is contagious. Research on social networks* has shown that we are 15% more likely to be happy if someone we are directly connected with is happy, and 10% if a friend of a friend is happy. We are even 6% more likely to say we are happy if our friend’s friend’s friend is happy. Even if we haven’t ever met them. The researchers conclude that “having more friends is not enough–having more happy friends is the key to our own emotional well-being.”
If we are fortunate enough to notice when we have fallen away from a natural state of happiness, the most direct route back is physical: try lifting the outer corners of your mouth!
So let this note be a reminder to be conscious of our thoughts, choose happiness, and be sure to spread it around.
*From the book Connected by Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD, and James H. Fowler, PhD. 2009.