June 1st, 2011

4 Secrets of Happiness

I’ve had the experience of being in the most beautiful place in the world with the most incredible person on the planet only to find myself incredibly unhappy. As I noticed how unhappy I was, I felt even worse. What is wrong with me? I live a good life, why am I not happy?

One answer comes from a young but wise client of mine. She acknowledged that she did not feel happy. “My mom tells me that no one else can make you happy. She says only you can make yourself happy. I don’t know if this is true.” Even though she’s only 15 years old, she is on to something big. Happiness is an inside job.

How much of the time are we looking outside of ourselves for reasons to feel good? If someone botches up my order at a restaurant or if I have a conversation with someone who’s in a bad mood, do these become excuses for me to be grumpy? If only I had…more money, a better body, a loving partner, a bigger house, a better behaving child, a longer vacation, nicer in-laws, better food, etc. Then what? Surely I’d be happy then, right?

Even though I have a great life I still often find reasons to be unhappy.  Why?

Happiness is a HABIT. You either practice being happy or you don’t. Last night I was speaking to Mike, a successful executive recruiter who pointed out that my husband is one of the most “glass-is-half-full-kind-of-people”. He has been through some incredibly difficult life experiences and he always focuses on what’s possible and is upbeat, smiling and joking around. Mike really noticed this powerful and unique quality about him, he’s an eternal optimist.

I, on the other hand, have been an eternal perfectionist. I’ve even thought that always wanting everything to be this way was an asset. However, the trap in being a perfectionist is having an expectation about how things should be and then when reality doesn’t line up with expectations, linking this to how you feel.

Regardless of what your M.O. is, what do you do when you fall into the unhappiness trap? Here are two keys that have made all the difference in my own life:

Stop criticizing and complaining. Even when I notice something that isn’t perfect or ideal, I learn to let it go. I do not share this observation with others, no matter how valid it may be. Sharing or complaining only gives emphasis and attention to your unhappiness. Example: I’m riding in a taxi and it’s rainy and cold outside. I feel the urge to tell the taxi driver “Bummer, it’s such an icky day out.” STOP. I have to resist the juicy temptation to spread the unhappiness virus by complaining to others. This may not seem like a big deal at first, but complaining and criticizing are two powerful ways to sabotage myself and increase suffering for myself and others.

Instead of complaining, change focus. I ask myself: What can I be grateful for right now? Example: Thinking in my head, “Lucky me. I’m inside this cab where it’s warm and dry. How great for me that I was able to catch a cab.” Putting conscious attention on what’s going well and what I can feel good about leaves me feeling much more inspired and maybe even a little upbeat. The more I practice, the better I feel. It may sound trivial, but I promise you, it’s a big deal.

Finding and focusing on reasons to be grateful builds is like weight training for the happiness muscles in your soul. Is happiness a priority for you? Try a Game of Gratitude for the next 21 days and see what happens.

One Response to “4 Secrets of Happiness”

  1. Andrea:

    Beautifully expressed. And so true. Happiness is really a habit. I’ve observed within myself, what a natural tendency it is to focus on that negative, and worse to share it. The need to express it is almost as bad as feeling negative all the time.
    I try everyday, to be grateful for the blessings I do have. So much more than what I realize.

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