- It could be that time you and your friends got together and had a great time.
- Possibly you recall a childhood memory that you hold precious to this day.
- Maybe it was the day you became engaged to your spouse or the day your first child was born.
- Perhaps it was that day you landed your dream job or got that well-deserved promotion.
Wouldn’t you like to experience that feeling more often in your life? Wouldn’t you like to carry a sense of happiness and joy and wonder with you wherever you go?
I ALWAYS WANTED TO BE HAPPIER & MORE POSITIVEIn fact, it’s been one of my life goals all along, and I’ve made enormous progress towards that goal. In fact, I’ve gone from being pretty much miserable and depressed most of the time to feeling happy and joyful most of the time (not all the time … sucky things happen in life and I’m not going to pretend I smile my way through all those situations). Becoming happier didn’t happen by chance, and I’m about to share with you what worked for me. But, before I tell you what I did to finally make that happen in my life, it’s important to revisit the path that I took to get there. Spoiler alert: I did all the wrong things.
IS THE HAPPINESS FAIRY LETTING YOU DOWN?For the first many years of my life, I thought happiness came from external sources. Secretly I believed in an invisible “Happiness Fairy” who would show up from time to time and make everything better. Now, to get that Happiness Fairy to show up, I believed I had to be a nice person, and I had to work hard. It was a quid pro quo sort of arrangement … you get happiness in exchange for giving your all to work and being a decent person. So, I worked my tail off at my school and then at my jobs. I tried to be a nice person. My efforts were solid, yet my levels of happiness didn’t seem to increase. I was working as hard as I could and being the most decent person I knew how to be, and I was still flat-out miserable.
WHY ARE OTHER PEOPLE SO MUCH HAPPIER THAN ME?I was stumped. What was wrong with me? Why were other people so much happier than me? Other people seemed to be joyful and in love with their lives, and I felt trapped and unfulfilled. Sure, there were moments of happiness, but those were fleeting and I was back in the same dismal state. I came to resent people who seemed overly happy. I know, that sounds bad, but it’s true. I wondered how they got to be lucky enough to walk through life with a genuine smile on their lips and happiness in their hearts. What made them so special? I didn’t understand why some people were so happy, while so many others of us struggled to be happy. It didn’t make sense. And, it certainly didn’t seem fair. I felt cheated.
LOOKING FOR HAPPINESS IN ALL THE WRONG PLACESSerious about creating more happiness in my life, my quest for the secrets of happiness continued. I searched high and low for ways to add the joy to my life that I so desperately craved. I sought happiness in relationships, but people let me down. Some even hurt me, which left me reticent to open my heart up again. I sought happiness in jobs, only to find myself still unsatisfied after every promotion I received. I sought happiness in stuff … a better car, nice clothes, pretty shoes, designer purses. My purchases made me happy for about as long as it took to bring them home. Then, the temporarily elevated mood would return to its lowly state, and I’d be back to the same old me, stuck in my same old unhappy ways. So here I was, I’d explored every avenue of happiness that I thought held any merit, only to find myself lost and confused. I knew I couldn’t depend on the Happiness Fairy, that was just a childhood fantasy. I knew I couldn’t rely on stuff to make my life happier. I knew that depending on others to make me happy didn’t work either. If all that didn’t add up to a happier life, what did?
THE SCIENCE OF HAPPINESSIt turns out that you are not stuck being unhappy; there are actions you can take and habits you can adopt to elevate your levels of happiness … actions and habits that are proven to work and are backed up by hard science.
Authentic happiness derives from raising the bar for yourself. – Martin E.P. SeligmanThe scientific study of positive psychology (aka the study of happiness) has roots back to 1954 with Maslow’s book Motivation and Personality, but it was Martin Seligman who popularized the positive psychology movement. Seligman is the author of Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life and Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment I read Seligman’s Learned Optimism years ago and found the work to be rock solid. Though intellectually my mind was enlightened by his message of changing how you think to change the way you feel (and in turn, experience more happiness), I wasn’t ready to take Seligman’s lessons to heart. At the time, I was knee-deep in growing a career, and I didn’t have time for a major mind shift that would have led to the changes I wanted in my life. Ironic, isn’t it, that we often don’t take the help we’re offered because we think it would be too time-consuming or difficult, and then we wonder why our lives don’t change. I know I’m not the only one who’s been there.
ONE OF MY FAVORITE HAPPINESS EXPERTS: DR. RICK HANSONThey say when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. It wasn’t until I found the work of Rick Hanson that my life started to take on a new dimension … one where happiness entered the picture far more often. Hanson is a psychologist who’s spent decades studying happiness. He’s the founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, a Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and the bestselling author of Hardwiring Happiness. Hanson teaches that we have a brain that’s “like Velcro for bad experiences but Teflon for good experiences.” What that means is that bad experiences can dominate our thoughts … we never forget them. That’s not true for the good experiences, which we enjoy in the moment but often fail to make a lasting impression in our minds. Here’s an example of how this plays out in real life. Imagine you’ve given 20 presentations in your life. Twelve of them were phenomenal. You were magnificent in every way. Seven of them were very good – your audience went away happy. And then there was that one that was a complete flop. You got lost and confused mid-presentation, the audience didn’t connect with you, and you stunk up the whole darn thing. It was a disaster. Next time you’re up to give a presentation, the one you can’t stop thinking about is the flop. Nineteen great to phenomenal speeches under your belt and the only thing you can remember is the one where you bombed.
STOP FOCUSING ON WHAT WENT WRONGHere’s another analogy of how we let one bad experience undermine an otherwise happy day. You wake up to a beautiful sunny morning, you enjoy a healthy breakfast, and traffic flows well on your way to work. When you arrive at work, you get a pat on the back from your boss for nailing your last project. On your lunch break, you take a little time for an invigorating walk at a local park. Your partner calls you to tell you that he or she is planning a lovely dinner for you tonight. You can’t wait for it. Your afternoon goes smoothly until the end of the work shift when you have a sour encounter with a coworker, who is mad because he thinks you’ve slighted him in some way (which you feel you did not do). The whole exchange lasts a mere three minutes. So, let’s recap: on balance, you’ve had a great day. Though, when your head hits the pillow at night, what do you remember? The disagreement with the coworker. Three minutes rob you of joy. Your thinking habits are robbing you of happiness. As Hanson says, “When you ruminate about the negative stuff, you reinforce it.” Your brain is hard-wired to pay more attention to the negative, but there are techniques that can help you break that inner programming, and help you reduce your anxiety, stress, and worries dramatically. But, it’s not just about “fighting” or eliminating the “bad” … it’s about immersing yourself more fully in the good in your life. Hanson teaches that when you “marinade yourself in delightful experiences,” you rewire your brain to be more positive, and thus, you experience more happiness in your life. According to Hanson, learning how to “grow the good is the key question to having true happiness.”
MORE HAPPINESS CAN BE YOURS … BUT IT WILL REQUIRE EFFORT ON YOUR PARTThe more I study the science of happiness, the more I understand the importance of breaking automatic negative thinking patterns and dumping the habit of “dwelling in the bad stuff” that used to leave me feeling overwhelmed, bitter, frustrated, and depressed. It’s not about denying the true challenges and obstacles in your life; it’s about growing the mental muscles you need to handle those rocky periods and to keep them in perspective. It’s also about truly appreciating how great your life is and recognizing the many, many, many joys and appreciating the blessings you experience every day and savoring them to the fullest. Finally, you must be proactive and free yourself from the busyness and unnecessary burdens on your life so you can create more moments of happiness. You must make a choice to live at a deeper level of meaning and fulfillment if you want to experience the vast amount of happiness that is possible for you. When I became truly committed to changing the way I think and behave, my life transformed. You CAN change the way you think, and for me, that has been my ticket to greater happiness in my life. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight, but with commitment and persistence on your part, you can create more happiness in your life than you ever believed possible. And, the best time to start is NOW!
Don’t Leave Your Happiness to Chance!
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