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.
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?