Turn up the Happiness!

April 13, 2009

This month I’ve been pondering happiness. What does being “happy” really mean and how can we be happy more often? In fact, how can we be conscious enough to know exactly when we need to turn it up and make it more present? After lots of thought, including looking at my own happiness patterns, I believe it is possible to switch it on at a moments notice. (I don’t know that I’m capable of believing otherwise, but many of you probably know that about me by now! 🙂 )

So, what are those things that tend to turn down our happiness or keep it at bay? There are certain things that may be unique for each of us, but for the most part, these may be some of the culprits:

·        Stress

·        Conflict

·        Overwhelm

·        Sudden change

·        Loneliness

·        Loss or grief

·        Poor health

·        Financial distress

You get the picture, and I’m sure you can add more items to this list. The specifics behind the culprit may not even be that drastic and yet still can bring us into a state of unhappiness. For example, today I woke up feeling a bit under the weather. It took every ounce of energy I had to force myself to get to work. Needless to say, by the time I got home with my energetic four year old, I was a bit frazzled and ready for a break. On a scale from 1 to 10, one being the weakest and 10 the strongest, my “Happy Quotient” (HQ) was about a 6. When I stood in silence for a brief moment to observe the state of my home (the cleaning lady could not come today!!) and how I was feeling, I about lost it. My mind chatter grew stronger and stronger as I realized how chaotic my environment was and how much work I would need to put into my home to get it back to a normal enough state where I could relax and enjoy my time with my daughter and later with my son and husband. My HQ quickly dropped to about a 4. I was upset, not feeling up to par, and not wanting (at all!) to clean up and organize.

How do we pick ourselves up quickly and turn up our HQ? Well, here’s a simple to remember tool that I whipped up that may work for you. And, it happens to be called “H.A.P.P.Y”!  Ask yourself one or more of the following questions when you feel your HQ dropping quickly, and see it rise just in time to put you back into an optimal state.

HopeHow can I be hopeful right now? When we feel frazzled and unhappy, most of the time our mind chatter spirals down into dark, negative thoughts. Instead of thinking “There is no hope for this house today. My weekend will be ruined because I’m going to have to spend all my time cleaning, and then I’ll be exhausted and will have no energy to do anything!”….we should instead question—“Where’s the hope in this situation? It looks like I will need to do the dishes, wash a few loads of laundry, and organize the toys. If I break up these tasks throughout the weekend, including getting one out of the way right now, I should be able have the kind of weekend I envisioned!” See the difference? The moment you shift your thoughts from despair to hope, your feelings follow right along and pick you up.

Acceptance & AppreciationHow can accepting this situation help me? What about this situation can I be grateful for? I threw in two “A”s for this one, because I feel they are equally important. In Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, Tolle explains the power of “awakened doing”, that is, being fully engaged (conscious) in what you are doing. According to Tolle there are three modalities of awakened doing: (1) acceptance, (2) enjoyment, and (3) enthusiasm. Each one represents a certain vibrational frequency of consciousness. In essence, at least one of these needs to be operating at all times whenever you are engaged in doing anything. If not, then we are most likely creating suffering for ourselves and others, or unhappiness. Tolle concludes this idea by saying that “On the surface, acceptance looks like a passive state, but in reality it is active and creative because it brings something entirely new into the world”—peace, subtle energy and surrendered action. So, in moments where you have no desire to be joyful or enthusiastic, employ acceptance and you’ll be bringing peace and surrender to the situation.

Here’s another example to make this more clear. Let’s say I decided that doing the dishes would alleviate some of my stress. So, instead of cursing the act of doing the dishes, therefore adding more negativity to my mood, I can accept the chore and bring more peace to myself and the situation. Make sense? Please comment if it doesn’t and we can chat more about this.

What about appreciation? There is an opportunity in everything—both good and bad. Ponder upon what’s conflicting you and brainstorm about what good can come from it, or what learning may be behind it. I challenge you to find the opportunities behind these issues that bring you down. Using the same example, I realized that my problem seemed much larger than it was because I was not feeling well. I also became very grateful for the dirty dishes and laundry because I knew that many others didn’t even have a home in which to live. Grateful I became quickly!

PatienceHow can I bring patience to the situation? Is it realistic to drive up your emotions when some things are not within your control? In my case, do I need to do everything right now? What can wait? Feeling sick was not within my control, and therefore, it may suit me (and everyone in my family!) to get some rest before tackling these tasks.

Let’s say you had an argument with your significant other and are very eager to state your feelings and get the conflict resolved. If you are angry in the moment, how do you think the conversation will go? Would it be better to create some space between your intended discussion to think of what and how you will communicate to him/her? Patience provides this space, and most of the time, a more positive outcome.

PerseveranceHow can I persist; rise above? Some situations that keep us from feeling happy are difficult and may not be resolved as quickly as we’d like. For example, perhaps you are dealing with a very sick relative and you are anticipating their loss. The feeling of loss is one that can easily permeate throughout all areas of your life. Understanding what healing you can bring to the situation and creating within you a feeling of fight and survival can really pull you through. We may not know what the outcome will be, but wouldn’t it feel better to intend a positive result? Perseverance can lift our spirits, and therefore our HQ, because we are fighting for something that is worth our time and attention, regardless of how negative it may seem in the moment. Remember, when the going gets tough, the tough get going!

You!How are YOU responsible for your unhappiness? This is my favorite. The key to happiness is within each of us…its power is within YOU! We have all heard this before, but it is always worth repeating and believing it—the only person that can make you happy is YOU. We must take personal responsibility for our thoughts, feelings and actions. Understanding how our thoughts often sink us is important. YOU create your thoughts…so create powerful and empowering thoughts in every moment for many happy moments!

Interestingly enough, you also can do something as simple as smiling to lift your spirits. Oprah magazine (May 2009) has a great article about happiness. In it, the author explains how when we smile or even sigh (release), our Vagus nerve is working behind the scenes to reduce our heart rate and calm our immune response. Cool! No wonder smiling feels good.

Additionally, the article sites the importance of the hormone Oxytocin, which releases when we do things like watch sentimental commercials or laugh at funny tv shows. It is the hormone that uplifts us. Ahh! Evidence that we can do nothing— sit on the couch, eat popcorn, and watch funny movies ,or cry at heart tugging commercials! 

So, although happiness can be explained scientifically (via the Vagus Nerve and the creation of Oxytocin) and we can cause it by smiling and laughing, we also can drive happiness in our lives by paying close attention to our thoughts— changing them, and acting upon our new, powerful thoughts.

What new thoughts and actions will you create for your life today? I’d love to hear from you!

In closing, here’s a great quote that is woven into a beautiful dish towel that my amazing friend Lou gifted to me recently—“Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself!”

Now, smile, laugh, and go create your fabulous, HAPPY life!


What’s Burning You?

January 19, 2009

My husband recently bought an outdoor fire pit for our son’s backyard camping party. Last night, I was enjoying the crisp, cool evening by the fire and was mesmerized by the stunning flames. Within in a minute or so this question came to me—“What’s burning you?” So, I decided to ponder upon the question for a while.

There are two ways to look at this question—both very useful. The first way provides us with a mechanism to dig down deep inside and discover (or rediscover) what positively ignites us—“lights us up.” A great way to do this is to think back to your childhood (8 yrs old or younger) and try to remember what you absolutely loved doing. What were you doing? Who else was with you? Can you remember your feelings? Why did you enjoy doing this activity so much? How was it meaningful for you?

Don’t you remember the feeling of being a child…carefree with not much to worry about or fear over? These feelings tend to get tucked away as we grow older and the expectations of others and the world weighs heavily upon us. But, if we can just tap into that fire again (our true colors) and learn to incorporate some of these childhood passions into our lives, perhaps we would feel more fulfilled.

Here’s an example…I recently heard a woman describe that as a child she absolutely loved to dance. Now that she can look back at that experience, she realized that it wasn’t the dancing itself (because she commented that she wasn’t a good dancer), but how she felt when she was in front of an audience, and her interaction with them. So, today, she taps into that passion by making sure that she often has the opportunity to “perform” in front of others in her career, whether it be during a staff meeting, presentation, event, or otherwise. These activities conjure up in her the same emotions she felt as a child dancing. What has resulted for her is that she now feels happier at work. Neat realization, huh?

A second way that we can look at this question is to uncover what negatively burns us inside. You know that feeling when someone embarrasses you in public or doesn’t include you in an activity or gives you criticism you can’t handle? Whatever the “thing” or “things” are that burn us up inside truly provide us with some insights that, if uncovered, can help create new opportunities in our lives that we, ourselves, are blocking.

Let’s take the example of not being included in an activity. I know someone who would “burn up” every time his peers would go out for lunch and not invite him. It would infuriate him, especially because he felt he had a great relationship with all of them. He never spoke to anyone about it though so as not to be seen as a pushover. However, after digging a bit, he realized that perhaps the reason he had not been invited was due to his office door being closed around lunch, which may have given others the impression that he was not interested in socializing or joining them.

So what changed? You got it…he opened his door and the invites poured in! It is amazing how our beliefs and self-doubts can limit us and make us angry in the meantime. And what does anger do? It can affect our stress levels, which can in turn affect our health, sleep habits, etc. Let’s leave this for another blog!!

So, what fires within yourself can you IGNITE or PUT OUT? Sometimes, simple internal shifts can make such a difference in how we feel and how we show up in our lives each day.

This week, I encourage you to light your fire within. As singer and songwriter Jerry Garcia expressed in one of his beautiful ballads, “Inspiration moves me brightly”, may you be inspired and moved this week and brightly shine your light!