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Entries Tagged as 'happiness'

Go ahead–get your hopes up!

April 20th, 2015 · No Comments

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A friend and I were talking about an adventurous trip we’re both considering. We both had some reservations about it and we were discussing the pros and cons.

“I don’t want to count on it until I’m sure that I’m going,” he said. “I don’t want to get my hopes up and then get disappointed.”

“Why not?” I asked.

He couldn’t give me a reason.

The next day we spoke again. “I changed my mind about not wanting to get my hopes up,” he said. “Your question made me realize that I’m on fire about this. It would mean so much to me to do this. I want to be excited about it. I am excited about it.

“I realize that growing up, my enthusiasm was often dampened. My parents really meant well, but they always disregarded my excitement. I think they wanted to protect me from hurt, so I’d say the glass was half-full and they’d warn me it was half-empty.

“I’m ready to reclaim my natural joy towards life.”

It was a beautiful moment, and from there, the rest of our conversation was filled with our excitement about the amazing possibilities that could unfold if we took the trip, as well as some honest reflection about our hesitations.

But we don’t always realize what my friend did, do we? We often keep ourselves from getting our hopes up and stop there.  We stop short of getting excited about possible new adventures, opportunities, or good news. Whether we’re contemplating taking a trip, getting a promotion, or finding our dream home, we so often temper it with, “I don’t want to get my hopes up.”

This robs us of the joy that’s available in the anticipation, deliberations, and decision-making.

That joy and excitement is like rocket fuel, and propels us with the energy, focus, and drive to take the steps we need to move forward. It enhances our motivation and performance. And it feels great, too.

We do the same thing when bad news is on the horizon. When waiting for results from a medical test, for example, how often we prepare ourselves for the worst, not wanting to get our hopes up. And then we wait in dread and terror.

I challenge you to ask yourself why–why shouldn’t you get your hopes up? Can you find a single valid reason to dampen your enthusiasm, optimism, or joy?

We think that we’ll be better prepared by not getting our hopes up. We fear that it will hurt worse later if we’re optimistic and then don’t’ get what we want.

But the truth is this: disappointment now does not prepare us for disappointment later. It doesn’t protect us from hurt later, either. It only generates negative feelings right now. If bad news comes, we’ll still feel crappy later.

I once told a client that she might as well go slam her hand in a car door right now, just in case she might slam her hand in the door next month.

Because that’s exactly what we do when we don’t let ourselves get our hopes up, isn’t it? We generate pain and negativity right now when the event we dread may never happen.

Disappointment about what might happen feels heavy right now. And it’s totally useless. If we get what we want, we’ve felt terrible unnecessarily, and if we don’t get what we want, we’ve felt terrible leading up to the bad news.

And in doing so, we deny ourselves moments, days, weeks, lifetimes of excitement and enthusiasm. We rob ourselves of the very stuff that energizes us and propels us towards rich and fulfilled lives.

So how about it? What joy or enthusiasm are you holding back from? What bad news are you suffering about before you get it? What possibility are you failing to celebrate?

Then, ask yourself why. Why not get your hopes up? Why not imagine yourself in the situation you dream of? Why not imagine the best possible outcome?

The only thing you’ve got to lose is today’s pessimism, anxiety, and pain. If you don’t believe me, you can always try the car door test.

Tags: desire · fear · happiness

Looking for happiness in all the wrong places?

March 7th, 2010 · 2 Comments

bluebell pathEver think if only you were richer, prettier, or thinner you’d be happier? Or if you could only find the right partner, you’d have a happy life? Or that when you find the right job, or the right career you’ll finally feel successful?

You’ve got plenty of company, because that’s what we all tend to think—the outside circumstances of life are what cause us to feel happier or sadder, satisfied or frustrated. That’s why we spend so much time, effort, and big bucks pursuing a better job, the right hairstyle and clothing, and the best weight-loss diets.

Scientific evidence is now confirming what the sages have said for eons–looking outside ourselves is the not the answer, because happiness lies within. When we look elsewhere, whether it’s with a new job, a luxury vacation, or a different hairstyle, we’re looking for happiness in all the wrong places.

Whether we’re married or single, rich or poor, beautiful or not, matters very little when happiness is measured.  Our circumstances account for only a small fraction of our overall happiness, according to numerous studies. We can make more money, move to the city of our dreams, buy a big house or a BMW.  Even a combination of these goodies might only increase our happiness slightly, after the initial emotional high wears off.

Need more proof?  How about this?  The wealthiest Americans, those who make more than 10 million dollars a year, are only slightly happier than the workers they employ. And married people are only a little happier than singles—25 per cent of married people report being “very happy” compared to 21 per cent of singles who say the same thing.

Does this mean we’re just born happy or sad?  Yes, to some extent.

About 50 percent of our happiness comes from our personal raw material. Our genetics and early exposures gives us a set-point for happiness, which means we all have a natural happiness baseline to which we’ll return whether we’ve won the lottery or gone through a divorce. This set-point is something like our body weight set-point, which allows some of us to remain skinny without effort and others of us to gain weight effortlessly.

We have a place we’ll return to over and over, as yo-yo dieters can affirm.

It’s the same with happiness. Some of us have high set-points, giving us naturally sunny dispositions. Others of us weren’t endowed with the genetics to happily bounce back after a setback. We tend to settle into a baseline that can be substantially lower than our naturally cheery acquaintances.

But–and here’s the good news–a whopping 40 per cent of our happiness potential is unaccounted for by genetics and circumstances. This is very, very good news.

Why?

Because the other 40 per cent of our happiness can be influenced by our intentional activities.  By engaging in scientifically confirmed practices, we can raise our personal joy by a whopping 40 per cent.

By changing our thoughts and behaviors, we can be much, much happier. With effort and intention, we can literally transform our lives significantly for the better.

And happiness can bring us more than, well, just happiness. Happiness comes with a boatload of cool side effects, too, like better social relationships, including more satisfying marriages; more energy, flexibility, and creativity; more productivity, better leadership skills, and greater earning power at work; better physical health, stronger immune systems, greater longevity, and increased resilience during times of hardship.

It’s even been scientifically documented that happy people influence a great number of others in their sphere of social contact, helping their families, social relationships, co-workers, neighbors, and even the world at large become happy campers. So there are plenty of good reasons to be happier, if happiness itself isn’t enough incentive for you.

So you don’t have to win the lottery, lose 25 pounds, change your hairstyle, or ditch your unemployed boyfriend to be happier. The inner work we do is the big payoff.

And you might just wind up prettier, richer, and thinner since you’ll feel so much better.

Tags: feelings · happiness

What stuff do you really need to be happy?

July 24th, 2009 · 10 Comments

A friend recently posed this question to me:  if I had to live on a deserted island for one year with no possibility of escape or rescue, what five things, other than basic survival things like food, water, and shelter would I want to have with me.

deserted-island1Here’s my list:

The Tao te Ching (unless there is electricity, then my Kindle, but that seems like cheating)
Paper
Pens
A watercolor kit with paint and brushes
A camera—I know, the electricity thing again, but we won’t be super-strict with the rules.

As I thought about this, I realized I could have fun and stay really absorbed.  And that alone is a happy thought.  I’d keep a journal, of course, and then write all the things I never get around to, teach myself to paint, and take lots of interesting pictures.  My island, as I imagine it, has interesting shells and rocks and birds and plants and driftwood for creative inspiration.

Through it all, I’d read the Tao to keep inspired.  Maybe I’d understand it better at the end of the year.

After doing this little exercise, these questions came to mind:

What possessions really add to our happiness?
What do we really need for entertainment, for inner growth, for self-expression?
What would we be willing to give up if resources were really limited?

What would you bring along with you?  And how would it be to be alone with yourself?  Post your answers in the comments section.

Tags: happiness

Ten Reasons to Cultivate Your Creativity

May 3rd, 2009 · No Comments

colored-pencils1.  It’s pleasurable.

2.  Creativity is associated with positive emotions such as happiness, joy, and love. Contrary to popular myth, the negative emotions of fear, sadness, and anxiety stifle creativity.  Don’t believe it?  Read this.

3.  It’s practical and useful for problem solving.  When you need to solve a problem, you have more options to choose from if you can access creative solutions.

4.  It helps you access all of you. Creativity uses both right brain, wholisitc and image based brain processes as well as left brain, logical, verbal, sequential thinking.

5.  It requires you to take risks, which develops courage and confidence, and courage and confidence are handy things to have.

6.  It develops efficiency.  When you are comfortable thinking outside the box, you can get to new solutions more easily.

7.  It encourages you to experience “flow,” where you are so fully immersed in what you are doing, that you effortlessly lose your sense of time.

8.  It relieves boredom.

9.  It makes life way more interesting.

10.  Because you are creative.

Tags: creativity · flow · happiness

Happiness is Contagious

February 9th, 2009 · No Comments

Abstract Molecular Structure in Wireframe A study at Harvard Medical School released in December found that happiness spreads through social networks in amazing ways.  One happy person can trigger a happy reaction in a friend who can trigger a happy reaction in another friend, who can trigger another happy reaction in another friend, who (you guessed it) can trigger another happy reaction in yet another friend. In all, this chain reaction can spread three degrees away from the original happy person.

The influence is not only on friends.  Family members and even neighbors catch it, too.  And what’s even more amazing is that this joyous effect can last up to one whole year!

Here’s another finding of the study:  unhappiness is not as powerful as happiness.  Sad feelings do not spread as efficiently as joyful ones.

The study analyzed data from nearly 5,000 people and found that friends, families, and even neighbors can influence each other in ways that spread to indirect relationships-your happiness can influence your neighbor and her friends, her friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends.

What are some practical implications for those of us who seek to maximize our happiness?  That’s right, hang out with happy people and their friends.  And be aware that your mood can influence others far removed from you.

 

Tags: connection · happiness

How to Beautify the New York Subway

September 24th, 2008 · No Comments

If you live in New York City, you probably ride the subway. Suzanne, New Yorker I coach, absolutely despised her commute.  She complained bitterly about the griminess, the overcrowding, the behavior of the other riders.  It was absolutely intolerable, she told me.

Her commute took 45 minutes each way.  That’s more than 32 hours every month, a long stretch of misery in a life. She considered moving closer to work, even changing jobs, but couldn’t come up with a practical solution to the problem.

I had an idea.  “Begin looking for beauty on the subway,” I suggested.  Suzanne laughed cynically and patiently explained to me—a non-New Yorker—what was patently obvious to anyone with two eyes, a nose, and a brain: the New York subway is a human cesspool during weekday rush hour.  It was impossible to appreciate anything about it, and there was certainly no beauty to be found there, she assured me.

But I insisted. “Send me an email every day, telling me of the glorious, beautiful, amazing things you find on the subway.”  Suzanne left our session muttering that I’d given her an impossible assignment.

But she gamely began looking.  With Suzanne’s permission, here are some of the things she found in the next few days:

“We went over the Manhattan Bridge, over the East River. Out in the distance,  beyond the Brooklyn Bridge, three aircraft were buzzing around each other in the air. They were blimps, and they looked like giant honeybees drunk on pollen, bobbling to and fro over the water.”

“A kid had a little glass jar between his feet. It was strangely shaped, like it had contained an exotic food item purchased at an ethnic market in Brooklyn. It was filled with beautiful, thick, cloudy pink juice. Guava? Papaya-passion fruit?”

“The woman across the train had enormous boobs and beautiful deep black skin. The whites of her eyes were so bright in comparison to her skin they looked like keyholes of light in the door of a dark room.”

“This morning I couldn’t count the people wearing shades on the train! I guess when you’re cool you’ve always got the sun in your face.”

“A garish McDonald’s ad greets me and encourages me to ‘Think Good Thoughts….’”

“Ikea’s yellow flags wave in the distance on the waterfront. I bought a carpet there on Saturday night, and the water this morning is the exact same color of that carpet, gorgeous peacock blue.”

“There is a comfy, casual feeling on the train this morning… many wearing their Friday office attire. One woman looks so comfortable in her outfit I want her to take it off and let me put it on!”

“The faces of buildings and all of the bridges, walls, boats, water, cable lines, roads, signs are layered upon each other like a box of toys thrown around a room during a child’s tantrum.”

“Without anyone speaking, I know I am in the midst of various exotic tongues; Spanish, Polish, Korean, Russian, Israeli, Vietnamese, Czech, Yiddish, Mandarin, Hebrew.…”

“What a gift to be able to look at humanity up close and personal, to look at all of our differences, beauty, ethnicities, blemishes, scars… where else would I be able to notice the super-fine quality of a stranger’s hair follicles, the way his hair grows out of his head in the same direction, the tone of the skin on his scalp, eight inches from my face on this packed train?”

Within two weeks, the subway had transformed.  Suzanne no longer rides in a cesspool teeming with the worst examples of humanity.  Her last email about the subway ended with these words, “Everywhere I turn, there is opportunity for joy.”

As  Marcel Proust wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes.”

How about you?  Is there anything ugly, disgusting, intolerable in your life?  Can you see it with new eyes?

Tags: creating your reality · happiness · transformation

Can You Be Smart AND Happy?

September 18th, 2008 · No Comments

This morning, I was coaching very smart client.  She’s an academic at a renowned university, and feeling a little sheepish about the possibility that she could actually be happy.  She has a brilliant, highly-trained mind, and like so many in academia, tends to be suspicious of mooshy concepts like joy and happiness.  Especially her personal joy and happiness.

Another client, a genius with two PhDs, spent years as an academic.  For a while, he resisted some of the more imaginative exercises I gave him.  Even when they helped him stop procrastinating, the issue he’d been paralyzed by and sought coaching for, he feared that without empirical proof that the techniques worked, he was somehow being stupid for relying on them. “Are there any studies on this?” he’d ask me.  It seemed better to hang onto his dysfunction than to risk doing something that was possibly unproven hocus-pocus. Better to be a brilliant procrastinator than a productive dupe, I guess.

I’ve done my own time in academia, as a law professor, which carries not only the general fear of academia (the worst fate in life is that others will find out I’m not smart), but also the pessimism of legal thinking (if something can go wrong, it probably will, so I have to be prepared for every possible negative contingency).  I spent a long time rejecting the possibility that I could be happy, even when I began to feel happy. I felt sheepish about it.  It seemed so, well, improbable and foolish.

Ultimately, I got over it.  With practice and a bit of self-compassion my client can, too.

It’s crazy really. A smart person can  justify staying miserable or dysfunctional, because if others find out we’re happy, they might think we’re not so smart.  Sometimes the smartest people do the silliest things, in the name of intelligence.

Tags: happiness · resistance · self-worth · transformation

The Feeling of Being Loved

June 30th, 2008 · 2 Comments

Karen was ecstatic. She was tired of being single and sent an email to an old boyfriend. He immediately returned the email and told her he was single, too. He wanted to see her. They spoke and made a date for the following weekend.

She was elated on our coaching call. “This might be it!” she told me breathlessly. “I wasn’t ready for him before, but this time I am. I’m so excited.”

I asked her to describe her excitement. “It’s the feeling of being loved,” she told me.

“Where did that feeling come from?” I asked.

“From his call,” she said.

“Oh, did he tell you he loves you on the phone call?” I asked.

“No.”

“So, where did the feeling of being loved come from?” I asked.

“From the possibility of this working out,” she said. “I’ve always been so bad at relationships before. Now I’m ready. He sounds really interested in me. This could be it!”

“So, really let that feeling you got from the phone call, of being loved intensify,” I suggested.  “Where is it in your body?”

“It’s in my heart,” she said.

“So where is the feeling coming from?” I asked her.

“Oh my gosh, it’s coming from inside me!” she exclaimed.

“Yes it is. And what changed to create that feeling?”

Just then, she got it. “My thoughts. My thoughts about myself changed.”

Yep. That’s it. That’s the secret formula. When Karen thought the possibility of being in a loving relationship was on the horizon, she felt good inside. She became happy and excited. Before that, life was ho-hum. She hadn’t seen this guy in years, and all that had happened was one phone call. The old boyfriend didn’t do that.  Karen did–she transformed the way she felt about herself.

So, as Karen discovered, being excited and feeling loved can be generated inside of us. Once we “get” this we can create it for ourselves, over and over, every day of our lives. We can just skip the middleman (in this case, the old boyfriend) and create the feeling of being loved and the excitement of looking forward to life within ourselves.

So next time you are feeling fabulous, really explore it. Get to know this place. What do you feel? Where do you feel it in your body? Describe it. Write it down. What thoughts are you having about yourself? Write them down. Memorize everything you can about this experience.

We don’t have to wait to find the right relationship or the right anything else to feel fabulous. And, as a bonus, when we’re excited to be alive, we can attract exactly what we want–like a great relationship!

Tags: connection · creating your reality · feelings · happiness · love