Wednesday, July 13, 2011
No matter our age, gender, economic status, and interests – we all want to be happy. It’s why we crave relationships, buy beautiful things, eat delicious food, learn new things, go on vacation, start families, and find meaningful work. Although different things give people joy, happiness is the common denominator. So how do you get closer to this elusive state of mind?
1.Decide to be happy, and work at it. This sounds improbable, but your mind is a powerful tool and whether you know it or not – you can choose to be happy. Leading researchers in the field of happiness report that circumstances only account for 10 percent of happiness. Here’s a demonstration of this fact. Take an article I recently read about a local disaster that caused bumper to bumper traffic in a major West Coast city. A journalist interviewed two drivers whom were both stuck on the highway for hours. One man was furious. He complained about the wait, his wasted time and the fact that he would be late to work.
The second man was upbeat and said he didn’t mind the traffic at all. He knew it would be inevitable, so he’d brought a book, several CDs and packed a snack. He also told the reporter that he’d left his home 30 minutes earlier than usual, and that his boss couldn’t expect much more than that. The two men encountered the same event, but it was their thoughts and perception about the situation that determined their reaction and emotions connected to the event.
2.Take the “No complaining” two-week challenge. This literally changed my life. I hadn’t noticed the heaviness that self-generated negativity creates until I took on this challenge. I realized I how my negative thoughts about little things like rude salespeople and asinine drivers really impacted my moods. It got to the point that I’d go into a rage every time we went shopping. The rages didn’t make me feel better – they pulled me down. Negativity is like fuel – it only take a little to light a big fire. And fires are known to spread.
3.Realize that you are choosing your life. Every single day. Each day is made up choices that feel small at the time, but culminate in massive changes. They happen so gradually that they go unnoticed until that one day you find what started as grabbing fast food for lunch because it’s “quick” has lead to a 25-pound weight gain in a year. Or putting college on hold for one semester has resulted in never going back. This concept also applies to life’s big goals.
One of my favorite quotes is from the movie “The Answer Man.” A 20-something asks the main character: “Why can’t I do the things I want to do? There’s so much I know I’m capable of, but I never actually do it. Why is that?” The answer: “The trick is to realize you’re always doing what you want to do. Always. Once you get that, you realize you’re free and life is just a series of choices. Nothing happens to you – you choose.”
This is a powerful reminder that I would be doing the grand things I've planned if I really wanted to. If you look at life from this perspective, the excuse of “not enough money” becomes “not a big enough priority to save for.” The excuse “I don’t have time” becomes “I’m allowing something else important to take up my time.” Sometimes, the bottom line is that family or stability or comfortabilty is more important than what we say we want. But that’s a choice, too, and it’s your choice. Although a tremendous responsibility – it’s a powerful realization.
Stay tuned for Part 2! I’ll show you how to decide to be happy; replace complaining with gratitude; and choose what you want in life.