Monthly Archives: August 2015

Live Happily

Smile on brick

Image courtesy of cynthia357 (morguefile.com)

Every social movement has its naysayers. And one movement I engage with – the happiness movement – definitely has met resistance in the last few years. The backlash is based on the following arguments. Happiness is not your birthright. It’s not a realistic way to live, and trying to live happily just sets you up for unhappiness. Real suffering happens in life, and it can’t be fixed by staring at a kitty poster that encourages one to “Hang In There!” Plus, you learn from the bad stuff so why avoid it?

I don’t disagree that suffering is part of life or that you can learn from it, but to living happily going through hard times are not mutually exclusive. If the last year of my life has taught me anything, it’s that real transformation in my outlook on life is possible. I can change for the better from within. And still, bad things (and bad moods) are going to happen. And that’s okay.

I guess part of me can’t wrap my head around why being happy or trying to live happily is so off putting to some people. Perhaps it’s due to a lack of understanding of what the word means in this context. So let’s start with a proper definition.

According to top leaders in the field of positive psychology, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Martin Seligman, and Ed Diener, happiness doesn’t mean you live with a smile plastered on your face, thinking of nothing but warm fuzzies all day. To paraphrase Lyubormirsky, happiness involves experiencing contentment and finding life worthwhile. Seligman says happiness is three-dimensional and incorporates positive feelings, engagement, and meaning. Diener coined the synonym “subjective well-being” for happiness, and subjective well-being reflects your life satisfaction, which is based on your attitude, relationships, spirituality, engagement, and meaningful goals. These are the elements that make happiness.

Note that none of these definitions says that happiness is a 24/7 good feeling. None of these definitions says things will go great for you all the time if you’re a happy person. That’s because trying to live happily isn’t a magic pill. It doesn’t mean you approach every situation with Pollyanna like optimism and it’s all good. Rather, it means that you have sustained psychological health and life purpose. That is to live happily.

Happy Phrases

Image courtesy of Prawny (morguefile.com)

Wait, shouldn’t that be everyone’s life goal – sustained psychological health and life purpose?

So being happy is not doing anyone a disservice. If anything, it’s providing enormous and real benefits. People who practice happiness as a way of life have the ability to deal with it when the shit hits the fan (which it always does at some point). Happy people have the skills needed to foster their own emotional resilience. Yes, they still have moments of anxiety, sadness, anger, and disappointment. Those feelings are unavoidable in life. But rather than being swallowed up by those feelings, a happy person responds constructively (meaning he or she doesn’t open a bottle of wine or fill the void with some other unhealthy behavior or substance). That alone is reason enough for me to work on being happy. But, on top of that, happy people have better relationships, incomes, work lives, and health.

So, what’s stopping you from trying to make this your way of life?

Live Happily.

 

This post was inspired by my girlfriend Diana. Love you a hundred times over. To our lifelong friendship and happiness.

 

(Re)Sources

http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/happiness-stress-heart-disease/

Lyubomirsky, Sonja. The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want (2008). New York: Penguin Press.

 

Peaceful and Perceptive

This week, I arrived in the States, at my mother’s second home in North Carolina, where I’ll stay for 4 weeks. It feels ridiculously good to be back “home” even if this place is neither where I grew up nor where I ever lived when I was in the US. It’s the comfort of the familiar, the friendly greetings everywhere I go, the ease of experience because there is no cultural and or linguistic challenge, that makes this home to me.

When I got here, my mother gave me something she’d cut out from the paper, a poem that was part of an obituary, which she thought would resonate with me. I do not know the source of this poem or when it appeared in the paper, so forgive any copyright infringement or lack of proper citing, but the words are wise and I want to share them.

If you observe with an obedient eye

A peaceful, perceptive mind, and

A love-filled soul

Then beautiful are the things seen,

Joyful are the thoughts received,

And grateful are the feelings in your soul.

 

Brilliant, isn’t it?

It really speaks to the power of your frame of mind in shaping what you experience.

When I’ve been in the throes of a major depressive episode (which has happened several times in my life and always had very serious, negative consequences), I couldn’t see anything beyond the depression. The world was gray and hopeless and lonely, and that mindset shaped everything. In that state, it’s simply impossible to say, “Okay, self, start thinking happy thoughts. Go!” That’s not how depression works.

But, when I’m not enmeshed in the darkness, I am able to reorganize my thinking. When I’m feeling more or less ‘normal,’ I can focus my mind on being peaceful and perceptive. I can direct my energy to being loving, joyful, and grateful. And when I do this, things start to shift. The shift is ever so slight at first but eventually becomes significant, and then it is this new frame of mind that shapes everything. It is the new frame of mind that manifests itself in my everyday life.

That’s where I am now, shifting, changing, growing, and cultivating peace and perception, love, joy, and gratitude. And the result is a more resilient, balanced, and happy self.

Awesome sauce.

 

Mantra: May my perspective (position, attitude, outlook, frame of mind) be one of peace (tranquility, calm, composure, balance) and perception (understanding, insight, intuition, thoughtfulness).

Peaceful and Perceptive

I Can’t Control the Future (and Neither Can You)

I told myself, If I practice safe sex, then I won’t get pregnant.

I told myself, If I go to college, then I’ll get a good job.

 

But, I used a condom and I still got pregnant at 19. I got a degree from a super expensive, private, East coast college and then ended up as a substitute teacher in a tough, inner city school. Turns out, things did not go exactly as (or even remotely like) I planned. And that’s because life is uncertain. I can’t control the future (and neither can you).

We line up all our ducks in a row. We dot every “i” and cross every “t”. We tell ourselves, “Things will go my way (no unplanned pregnancies, good job imminent) if I just do these things (use a condom, go to college).” Yet, life happens as it does, and it often happens in spite of our attempts to manage it. Sometimes what happens is wonderful (Emmy was born 6 weeks premature but stayed in the NICU only 4 days), and sometimes it’s total shit (the hotel where my husband recently stayed had its computers hacked and his credit card information was taken).

Yet, we insist on predicting and controlling the future even though we know that our best intentions don’t guarantee anything. Why do we engage in this seemingly futile act when we know that life is uncertain? I think we do it, because we’re afraid of the unknown. We fear the possibility that we might be hurt or end up unhappy. And, surely, if we’re in control, then our expectations will be met, and we’ll get exactly what we want. Things will be certain. Things will be safe.

Except they aren’t. Life is uncertain, and it isn’t always safe. And when we try to control something that’s as unpredictable as life, well, it’s impossible. Our attempts will only leave us disappointed when things don’t go the way we expect them to go.

Uncertainty

It makes more sense to admit to ourselves that, “I can’t control the future (and neither can you).” Of course, we can still take necessary precautions (like getting an education and using birth control). We can still avoid high-risk behavior (like drinking and driving). But, we should stop believing that what we do secures future results, because it doesn’t.

We should stop clinging to control and certainty. We should stop resisting reality. We should stop expending energy focused on what might happen in the future.

I can’t control the future (and neither can you) so let go of the belief that you can, be okay with the uncertainty, and live your life.

Softening the Hard Edges – Compassion

Core Value #3 Compassion

I’m revisiting my core values. I wrote about community a few weeks ago, and now I’m checking in with my value of compassion.

 

It’s so timely that (in my alphabetical, Virgo way of organizing my values – Awareness, Community…) compassion is up next, because I had this interaction with myself just yesterday and it reinforced how much I (still) need to work on cultivating this value.

Here’s what happened.

Walking out of the grocery, I passed a woman who was about my age (not a spring chicken). She wore a crop top that bared her entire stomach, and she obviously hadn’t been doing 100 crunches a day or starving herself.

My first thought was, ‘Wow, I would never wear that in public.’ And, had I been with a friend at the time, I’m sure I would have actually said those words out loud, rolled my eyes, and laughed.

Two seconds later, I thought, ‘You know what? You go girl, with tummy hanging out. Yay you for accepting your body as it is and just putting it out there….although, I would never do that if that were my stomach.’

Truth be told, my stomach doesn’t look much different, and that’s being generous to myself.

Then, less than a minute later I thought, ‘Wait, what am I thinking? I am part of the problem. I’m the one with the attitude that the only people who should be allowed to bare their midriffs are 20 somethings with 6 pack abs. I’m the one feeding the stereotype that only a certain body type can be exposed in public. I’m tearing down a woman I don’t even know because of a stupid T-shirt?! What is wrong with me?!’

Facepalm. Argh!!!!!!!!

This, my friends, is a perfect example of me not practicing compassion. It’s me being judgmental, critical, and unkind. Oh, I have my work cut out for me.

And what happens when I’m not compassionate? I suffer. Whether it’s not being compassionate with others or not being compassionate with myself, the end result is the same. I end up unhappy, because I create distance and separation.

Compassion

Compassion is an unqualified and all encompassing kindness that diminishes differences. It recognizes the interconnectedness and inherent self-worth of everyone (Namaste, y’all!). So when I’m acting compassionately, I accept people as they are rather than how I want them to be, which is always a recipe for disappointment. I accept people who believe differently than me, look differently than me, and act differently than me. In essence, I stop resisting others, which is tiresome and futile. I stop being ego-centric, forcing people to fit my admittedly small view of the world. And, I start opening up and embracing others. In essence, I soften, rather than sharpen, my hard edges and allow myself to connect to others. When I do this, I am my best self, and what’s better than that?

 

Dr. Emma Seppälä (Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education) made this cool infographic on the Scientific Benefits of Compassion.

The Scientific Benefits of Compassion

Source:http://www.emmaseppala.com/top-10-scientific-benefits-of-compassion-infographic/#.VcHobXgxGgQ