Decide on Happiness

I have struggled over the last two years with finding happiness. I have strained, pushed, and worked on finally arriving at the railroad station, boarding the rail car called Happiness. Having taken this very circuitous route, I’ve come to realize: it’s not a destination; it’s not arriving or departing. It’s not being on standby. The thing is that it’s always been in me. It can be in me right now. It’s funny because as I write this, my dog Baci just relaxed into my lap as I wrote that sentence. She isn’t struggling any more; she is just deciding that laying next to me is perfect. And that is just perfect with me.

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I recently read Michael Neill’s The Space Within. It’s a thought-provoking book about just letting things be. About giving up control and focusing on what is. To letting go of your thinking and worrying and just letting things be. I think this is about just deciding to be happy right now. Just let life work itself out and yet embrace happiness now. It doesn’t take a milestone like buying a house or the divorce to be final or for you to complete the marathon; be happy right now. The key is to decide. So go ahead and decide on happiness right now.

Here is how to decide on happiness:

Happiness is not the goal

This seems counterintuitive. If you view happiness as the goal, you never find it.  There is always one more hurdle to jump over. One more thing to check off the list.  You never seem to arrive. I have the new car but I won’t be happy until it’s paid off.  Once the car is paid off, then I’ll need to get new tires. Once I get new tires, then the brakes will need replacing. There is always one more thing before happiness is ours, right? The finish line keeps getting extended. We never achieve satisfaction. We never ever arrive. Quit focusing on happiness being the goal.

Happiness is not dependent on others

I can remember thinking as a kid that I would be happy when I found the love of my life or when I had children. Basing your happiness on someone outside of yourself will lead to disappointment. It all starts with you. When it’s dependent upon others, others disappoint. They let you down and then your happiness evaporates. When you can find it in yourself, there is no disappointment. There is only your mindset. If my dog wants to snuggle next to me or not. If my lover tells me they love me or not. If my child gets the job, or graduates from college or not. Happiness is within me and is self-created.

Happiness is not about getting what you want

As Neill writes, “The secret to happiness is simply this…your happiness does NOT depend on getting what you want.” This means that similar to The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy always had home in her heart. She just needed to tap into it. Happiness is within you right now. You don’t need to get the next thing: The new car, house, jacket or coffee maker. Happiness does not exist in the striving for what you want but rather in you right now. Let go of the wishlist and be happy right now.

Happiness is not in the doing

Neill writes, “If you are doing things in order to be happy…you’re doing them in the wrong order.” For me this means to be happy while doing. It starts with the mindset of being happy right now. Start with being happy. Start between the ears. Doing will follow. Just start with a smile on your face and bliss between the ears. Neill suggests looking for the space between words. It’s difficult to look for the space between words when you start looking for it. It’s in the space. That pause. That moment where the infinite is. For me that is being present. Not multitasking. Not looking at your phone. Just be.

Happiness is not a short cut

Neill espouses, “By taking the time to live life in the slow lane, we quickly experience a deeper, more profound experience of contentment.” I opted for a walking meeting with a coworker of mine. The meeting took at least 30 minutes longer than I had expected. The thing is, I connected with the coworker and found out about some recent health issues she was having. I only had thirty minutes on my schedule but the walk and the conversation led to places I didn’t expect or anticipate. It’s letting go of control and letting the path unfold as it needs to. No need to rush, take short cuts or push through. Take the long way, the slow lane and don’t miss a thing.

I wrote myself a note in the Silence Course I took over a year ago. The first item on the note was to smile more. Several people at the course had told me what a beautiful smile I had and how it lit up my face. We all have beautiful smiles. We all need to smile more often. Don’t wait to smile or be happy. Be happy right now. Smile right now. It’s infectious. Are you happy right now?

3 Misconceptions About Happiness

I have written and read about happiness a lot in the last seven years since I began my blog. My editor and friend sent me this link to an interview of Laurie Santos on the Megyn Kelly show. Dr. Santos teaches the largest class at Yale University and she has some great insights. Happiness seems even more elusive in our technology-fueled life when we have a powerful PC in our hands and are over committed in all aspects of our lives. You can imagine the stress a Yale student must be under. Just getting into an Ivy League university is a major feat of stamina, tenacity and grit.

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As written in the New York Times, Yale had such a demand for this class, with one quarter of the undergraduates enrolled, they had to move the location a few times in order to accommodate all the students. As reported, Dr. Santos speculated that Yale students are interested in the class because, in high school, they had to de-prioritize their happiness to gain admission to the school, adopting harmful life habits that have led to what she called “the mental health crises we’re seeing at places like Yale.” It’s important to understand the misconception around happiness as it can shed light on what to NOT do if happiness is your aim.

Here are the three misconceptions as espoused by Dr. Santos:

You don’t need change to be happy. This is like the carrot in front of the horse spurring forward action. We believe that we will be happy when we lose 10..20..30 pounds. We believe that the next job, promotion or pay increase will suddenly create happiness. We decide that getting engaged, married, buying the house, having a child, or getting that kid out of the house post-graduation, will finally bring happiness. We put off our happiness until we attain this elusive change we imagine will bring that great joy. Weddings and births are landmark moments in your life. They are fleeting. Don’t delay what you have right now. Change will come and it is constant. I believe that being in the moment is where happiness lies. Are you alright, right now? Then feel the warmth in your heart, take a deep breath and be in the moment. Don’t delay happiness for the next hurdle.

Don’t procrastinate and veg out. When we are so over-committed, it’s easy to think…oh wow Tuesday night is free. Let me sit on the couch and veg out. Instead of vegging out, happiness lies in challenging ourselves. Think about using your hands. I am a cook and find satisfaction in trying new recipes and stretching my comfort zone through baking bread and making gnocchi (a two-day process). There is great satisfaction even if the end product is not perfect. As written in Psychology Today by Dr. Carrie Barron, “Research has shown that hand activity from knitting to woodworking to growing vegetables or chopping them are useful for decreasing stress, relieving anxiety, and modifying depression. There is value in the routine action, the mind rest, and the purposeful creative, domestic or practical endeavor. Functioning hands also foster a flow in the mind that leads to spontaneous joyful, creative thought.” So is that guitar gathering dust? When is the last time you picked up those knitting needles? Joy is found in the act of challenging yourself. Don’t get wrapped up in the perfection of it. Just do.

Don’t focus on the hassles. I have worked on this a lot in the last decade. I am impatient by nature so getting in a traffic jam ten years ago would send me in an angry spiral. I re-frame it now. I pray that no one is injured in a car crash and am thankful my car is running. If I am late, I am late. Dr. Santos encourages making a gratitude journal of all the things you are grateful for. I have been writing a gratitude journal for at least a decade and it’s made a tremendous change in my outlook. Dr. Santos recommends something I had never heard of before. She calls it negative visualization. So imagine what it would be like if you didn’t have a roof over your head, or your pet passed away, or you lost a parent. Seems counter intuitive but it makes sense as you now have a new appreciation for what you have in your life. It’s easy to take what is in front of us for granted. You have clean water coming out of your faucet, as well as heat and a device that you are reading this on. Isn’t life just grand?

I work with many clients that have small children, intense travel schedules and financial difficulties. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind. Take stock, challenge yourself, and be grateful. Happiness is here.

How to unchain from your children. Lessons from coaching.

Being a parent is a difficult job. There is this sense that your child’s happiness is completely dependent on you. Dare I say chained to you. So if Jimmy gets an F on his book report, you must pick up the pieces and find a way for Jimmy to succeed. I can remember one of the first girls, OK maybe the first five girls to “date” my son, ended the relationship by text. The relationship may have lasted just some 36 hours but I was devastated that they had the audacity to break up with my son via a text. Really? How heartless. That’s my hugga bear you just broke up with. I can look back now and see it was futile to get wrapped in the ups and downs of adolescent heartbreak. The secret is to be unchained from the outcome and present in the moment.Unchained from your children

I coach several folks who are parents as well. I see the struggle of trying to reconcile their own happiness with the happiness of their children. It’s natural for parents to want to see their children succeed. But chasing that happiness for them can be detrimental. All you really have is your own experience. And your children have theirs. When they were in a car seat or crib, you had a lot of control over their happiness. You could change their diaper, grab a bottle or entertain them with a rattle. Once they head off to school you become less and less able to dictate their happiness and they become more and more in charge of their own fate.

So here are the lessons I’ve learned:

Normalize. There is comfort in knowing that whatever you are going through, that practically everyone else has been there. Normalizing is a technique as a coach to find out if in the client’s heart they realize that what they are going through is normal. So whether it’s telling a client “isn’t it normal to want your son’s wedding to be perfect” or tell my daughter “isn’t it normal to want a committed relationship?” This is coaching 101. Everyone thinks their thoughts are unique to them. But we all suffer from our thoughts. Having a client realize on their own that what they are thinking is normal can lower the anxiety level. Be sure to normalize your own and others thoughts.

Separate. I had a client recently who has been working hard to separate herself from the drama that is planning a wedding for her son. If you haven’t been through the experience, the wedding is all about the bride. Being the mother of the groom can be very difficult. When it comes to a decision, the bride and her mother get to win. No matter what. My client has made great strides in letting the wedding be about them and not her. She has been able to look at it from a different angle and through a different lens. She is just an observer and the result has been much less strife. She’s been open to whatever decision comes along. As she said after the wedding, “Because I did not become part of the “drama”, the wedding experience was absolutely amazing! I enjoyed every single part of it. Practically, stress free. Learning to take yourself out of the equation when possible makes life much easier. “Separate yourself from the drama.

• Don’t buffer. I have another client who feels she has to be the buffer between her children and her husband. So if her daughter doesn’t sign up for the class in time, my client feels like she needs to buffer her husband from the information. I have lived this myself. I felt as though I had to make sure any negative information with my kids was properly couched to my spouse; and that the best light was shone on the issue at hand. It’s exhausting. I had to realize that my husband was a big boy and could handle the disappointment. I am not responsible for his happiness or his interpretation either. Allow others to speak for themselves; don’t buffer.

Don’t attach. The outcome is not attached to you. If my client’s son’s wedding is fantastic or if the bride leaves her son at the altar (ala The Graduate), it is not a reflection on the mother of the groom. As she said to me in our last session before the wedding, “I just want to be present and enjoy the moment”. She’s not attached to the outcome. She is just there to experience it and support this new beginning.

Let go. In the last few years I have really worked on letting go. I’ve seen my son and daughter decide on colleges, careers and love interests. I’ve seen my kids make decisions that I wouldn’t have. Piercings, hair styles and music preferences. I have let go of my judge and sent the judge on a mission of silence. As my client with the groom said, “And in regards to letting go, it is difficult, but when you do let go, the burden is lighter-you still worry, and of course pray for their safety, but the rest is out of your control. And, yes, it is much easier said than done.” What they do, is what they do. I hope nothing is life threatening but when your child is over 18 there really isn’t much you can do to change the course of their life. Let go.

I’m not saying it’s easy but I know that their happiness is their responsibility and my happiness is mine. Let them get there on their own path and don’t feel like you have to run ahead with a machete clearing the way. What have learned from being a parent?

Waiting for Happiness? 7 Ways to Embrace it Now.

I’m not sure this is an American construct, but I have felt that for most of my life that I would be happy once I: Got out of college, got a job, got married, got divorced, bought a house, moved, made a million dollars. Funny; I never got there. There is always one more elusive hurdle. It feels like I’m on this constant treadmill; happiness is always around the next corner.

As Shawn Achor says in his book The Happiness Advantage, we’ve been sold the idea that once we are “successful” we will be happy. Turns out, it is the exact opposite. The research has shown that you need to be happy to find success, or at least it helps you get there faster. You need to be happy in order to be a success. Happiness comes first in the equation. finding happiness

Here are some ideas on how to make happiness part of your life (instead of waiting for the elusive success milestone):

1. Fall up. As Shawn Achor prescribes, it’s all about how you handle adversity. Instead of falling down you need to fall up. When I trained for my half marathon last year, I would look for adversity. If Saturday was going to be hot (90 degrees plus) and Sunday a breezy 60…run on Saturday. Rain in the forecast? Run on that day. Look for it. Embrace it. On the actual race day? It rained. No biggie. I’m falling up.

2. Kindness. Pick a day to practice kindness; a sort of “pay it forward” kind of day. Shawn Achor recommends picking the day in advance. So if you did a couple of nice things today, start over tomorrow and call it Kindness Day. This is actually harder than it sounds…yes, I’ve tried it. I tried to do 5 kind things today. I’m up to 4 but the day is not over. I feel like going to Starbucks so I can buy the person behind me their drink. But I have to say, when you are on a mission to be kind, it feels great. I’m looking for an opportunity to pay a compliment, hold the door and smile. Try a bit of kindness.

3. Internal Locus of Control. Say what? This is whether you blame everyone else (the world is out to get me) or you are the master of your own journey. Sail your own ship whether there is a hurricane or not. Accept responsibility for your life. It’s not your mother’s fault, the stock market, Obama ..Yada Yada Yada . Folks who see life with from the external locus of control view are not as happy. They are constantly at the whim of fate; waiting for the next wave to wash them out. If you can move to an internal locus of control, you take control; you act on the world instead of the world acting on you. Let out the jib, stay the course and take control of the rudder of your life. Embrace an internal locus of control.

4. Blessings. Count your blessings. Do you have a roof over your head? Enough food? Clothes? People you can count on? Your dog loves you. It’s sunny outside. It finally stopped snowing. It finally started raining. Be grateful and count it up. I journal three a day. What went right and write it down. Start counting your blessings.

5. Reframe. Think about how you frame events in your life. If your flight was delayed, are you happy you met someone new waiting for seat assignments or are you thinking about how you will miss the first session of the conference? It turns out that if you can see the joy, the serendipity of “bad events”, you will be happier and be able to find the light in the darkness. Reframe the situation from slogging through the mud to playing in the mud. Have you ever seen pictures of folks after an obstacle course race? They just lived through a 5 k and 10 different obstacles but they are ecstatic. Reframe how you see obstacles (and maybe get a little muddy).

6. Focus. Focus on what you can control. Make it a very narrow focus. Shawn Achor calls this the Zorro Circle. It’s empowering to take care of the things within your control. I can get this blog post done, clean out my inbox and make dinner. Whew. What a relief. I’m happy when I’m not overwhelmed and focus on the things that I can change or do. Focus.

7. Anticipate. Plan an exotic trip a year from now and anticipate it every day. That sounds crazy doesn’t it? But the anticipation makes you happy. You are more positive and forward thinking. This even works if the trip is make-believe. So mark you calendar for that cruise to Alaska and start counting down the days. Plan the zip line tour, the fishing trip and the photos you are going to take. Anticipation is the antidote.

I think the main thing is to quit projecting into the future for the next milestone and it’s elusive “happiness”. Take stock of what you already have and share it with others. Happiness begets success, not the other way around.

Where do you find happiness?