It’s a question that we don’t really think about, is it? So take a second to stop (at the end of this sentence) and ask yourself “Am I happy?”
To answer that, don’t we need to know what happiness is?
I asked my Facebook friends to define happiness and while there were similarities, different things defined people’s happiness.
So can we come up with one definition for happiness?
Should we bother?
And what impact can true happiness bring to your life, your ambitions and even your health?
You can imagine to write this article I looked up “What is happiness?” And found tons of famous peoples from across 5000 years quotes. Of all of these I like Michael J. Fox’s the best:
“My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.”
Thinking of the people I’ve coached this year, this really resonated because for so many people life is not working:
It’s overwhelming. It’s hard work. It’s challenging, with endless struggles…
How can anyone be happy through that?
Are we destined to re-define 21st century happiness to reflect a world that is so fast paced and seems so unforgiving?
Happiness is not a destination. When I asked people to define happiness, lots of people told me about dogs, or people, or beaches or sunny days that sparked sheer joy in them.
But happiness is not something on the outside and if yours is, then you are in trouble.
Where’s the Happy Pills?
One person told me “I get my happiness from seeing those around me happy.” While in theory that sounds great, read on as it’s not advisable or even good for you. People like this are often “people pleasers.”
I used to be one too so I know the signs and the dangers:
- The fear of letting people down.
- The fear of saying no.
- The fear of what people will think can all drive this.
In my book Fight the Fear, I cover these 3 fears in detail, and in all the years of coaching people to success, I think the biggest impactor on our happiness and success is the fear of what other people think.
It can change though:
- Your actions.
- What you say.
- How you behave.
- What you think.
- The goals you go for.
- The way you live.
- Even what you wear.
With all clients, it’s about building confidence to accept that the right people will love and respect you regardless of the things that matter to you.
Even if it’s different to them. When you are trapped by people pleasing, your happiness becomes far too intertwined in other people.
Check your confidence levels.
Could you (for instance) tell a friend or loved one that you completely disagree with their view on something and know that they’d love and respect you just as much? If not, what needs to change?
You are far more likely to be honest if you feel confident. Just as many get their happiness from the outside, so do people get their confidence from external forces.
It’s by no accident that both of these things need you to build your internal skills to maintain confidence and happiness.
Can You Be Happy When Your Dog Dies?
I thought back to the sadness moment I’ve had in a long time. My beautiful 13 year old Springer Spaniel Max, died suddenly. My husband was on the other side of the world and I can’t even begin to tell you how earth shattering that day was. Two years on, it still regurgitates a feeling so black I can’t (or won’t) define the emotions.
So can you be happy when you are burying your dog?
I’d powerfully learned many years before that… yes, on the saddest days you can feel utter joy, elation and happiness.
When my Nan died – I can hardly remember her being in hospital slowly wasting away over 3 months, unable to eat or walk. Scared and confused slowly shrinking from the powerful matriarch she’d been my whole life, however I can vividly remember her on millennium New Year’s Eve singing Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New” and commandeering the microphone so we had to be backing singers! And guess what? Now I’m laughing too.
Try it. Teach yourself how to flip your emotions and get back to happiness. Appreciate that negative emotions and feelings can trigger the very opposite ones.
Right now, think of the saddest day you’ve ever had to go through – really feel the pain (sorry).
Think about how awful that day felt – maybe you lost your job, or your loved one was rushed to hospital and they told you to expect the worse, perhaps it is the day you lost someone you love.
Make a decision to go from the pain to the opposite – the joy of getting a new job, the action of cuddling your loved ones so tightly and being so grateful for their wellness that they retorted “You are squeezing me too tightly!” or if it is was the worse thing of all, think of one of the things your loved one said to you that always made you smile.
So can you be happy that your dog’s dead? No, but you can be experiencing both emotions at the same time. Devastation at what you lost but sheer joy, gratitude and contentment at the life you had together.
It’s a choice (and this is not easy to remember, accept or take action on). However, you think what you wish to think. I won’t hold on to sad moments in life – just the good ones. If I’m going to remember a sad moment, it is to remind me of the polar opposite.
Back up solution:
If you find yourself struggling to find any happiness. Ask yourself ;
- “What could the opposite emotion be here?”
- “What experiences have I had that gave me this emotion?”
Research has proved on many occasions that just by remembering a happy moment our brain doesn’t know we are not going through that right now and can still release the same chemical reactions in our brain as if we were experiencing the good stuff!
Am I Happy?
For a week, I asked myself at least 5 times a day “Am I happy?”
I really wanted to know if I was aware of happiness, or was it something elusive that came and went like the waning moon.
I discovered that yes I am happy. Looking back over the week even when I was experiencing negative emotions, I still felt happy, how is that possible? And what can we all learn from this?
For instance, I was in a lot of pain – (there’s no getting away from the fact that Lupus is tough) however for me this was a reminder that I’m alive. That I’d walked along the beach and shared the beach with some sea birds, geese and my dog. Instant calm. And pain was in context.
“Would I be without Lupus?” I asked myself. And the answer was, it’s not a priority.
Lupus has taught me so much about my tenacity, determination and belief that no matter what we face, we can still achieve big.
What do my life lessons and limitations teach me?
1. My daughter had an awful day last week…
“And that made you happy?!?” You ask…
While I was sad for her about that, it was an external thought that I could push away from how I personally felt. I felt sheer joy that I could be there to hold her hand, listen to her woes, make a cuppa and find ways to find her happy again. I also felt complete gratitude for my daughter.
Being there for others can make us feel happy and sad, be aware of how other people’s emotions impact on you.
In talking therapies, we call this transference. Learn to be able to empathise and care without being impacted on by someone elses’ emotions and feelings.
Sometimes the people we love aren’t ready to change or don’t believe change is possible. If you allow yourself to experience what they are feeling then you are agreeing to hanging onto the unhappiness too, what will that do for your happiness?
2. My husband is always away…
So far in 2019 my Husband has spent more time out of the country than in it. And what’s worse, he’s flying to high risk country’s where quite often we don’t even have a good enough signal to talk to each other.
I won’t lie – I experience fear for him and his safety, however I counterbalance this by reminding myself that this man is traveling around the world to help an industry be safe, training staff on best practices, repairing essential kit and helping to bring a life saving resource to the world.
It’s hard to stay scared and negative when you top that up with 26 and half years of fun times and smiles I’ve had from him.
How to counterbalance the negative with positive?
At any moment in time, you can think differently. This is so important to remember, because it’s re-framing what you are feeling so that you can see a way forward, a positive. A result that you do want rather than one you don’t.
If it’s too big to jump from hell to happiness, soul destroying to soul developing. Then just process your thoughts. Start to notice the ones that you have.
For some clients, we can make drastic improvements just by becoming aware of what is happening.
With such an interconnected world, we know what everyone is (allegedly) doing at any moment in time. For me, that’s awesome, it reinforces my positivity.
However, to be able to get that from my online world, I’ve done a lot of emotional intelligence over the years so that I can live happily online;
1. Don’t listen – don’t look.
If you scroll down someone’s feed and it’s only positive, ask yourself “How that makes me feel?”
If it makes you feel good, then that person stays, on the other hand if that person makes you feel inadequate, then ditch them. (They don’t need to know.) Now don’t tell anyone but this is what I do:
- Anyone sharing endless before or after fat to thin images – they’re gone.
- Anyone that constantly shares perfect selfies – they’re gone.
- Anyone sharing millions of mantras and quotes about how easy life is – they’re gone.
Who could you ditch to improve your mood and happiness levels?
It’s going to be personal to you, and while I am Mrs. Happy and Mrs. Positive, you will also see me with no make up, sat in bed sharing a Facebook Live that is especially for someone going through hell because I’m real.
If someone needed me in the real world, I wouldn’t say “No problem, like a Super hero I will be there in 2 seconds, just give half hour to do my hair and make up.” So I won’t give a false version of me or life on line either.
2. Stop fearing unhappiness.
Pain, sadness, anger, fear, guilt, frustration – they aren’t to be feared.
No negative emotion is. They are to be processed, accepted, understood and moved through to a better emotion.
You don’t need to fight your emotions.
This 4 step process will help you move from negative emotions to positive ones faster;
Step 1: Hear how you feel
Don’t try and hide from the way you feel. In my experience, clients that do this end up confronting the thing they were hiding from. It tends to be the thing that is holding them back the most.
The difficulty arises when you don’t have someone to work with to help you achieve this and that allows you to keep hiding from what you truly feel.
Step 2: Understand how you feel
By understanding how you feel, you can work out why you feel like this:
- Was there a cause?
- An aggravating factor?
- An emotional vampire?
- An action?
I have a client that I started working with last year that said they dreaded February.
“It goes too fast!” They lamented, adding “January is too long and then February flies by and you feel depressed that the year is going so fast and that you’ve still got so much to do!”
When we worked on this together, they were able to see how ridiculous this thought was.
If you are lucky enough to live for 70 years – then that’s 70 January’s you are going to hate. 2170 days in your life time you are going to dislike or feel unhappiness, 8.5% of your life you are going to be sad because of the name of a month – and that’s before we’ve added February.
The realization that a month helped created an emotion before anything had even happened helped this client appreciate the feelings they were having. (And they weren’t helping their happiness or success!)
Step 3: Accept it
Thinking it back to “I hate January” client understanding what was happening meant they could look for the proof of the impact this had on their happiness (and success). It helps speed up the process to…
Step 4: Ditching it
When you can see this process unfolding before you, it makes it a lot quicker to decide to ditch it.
Moving on – The thing to remember about the 4 step process to happiness is to check you’ve really moved on…
I see clients who say “But that’s in the past” and then as I coach them, we discover no it’s not you’ve just buried it so deeply that it’s impacting on your actions and results; but they aren’t acknowledging the sadness and unhappiness because they want to be like toddlers that hold their hands over their eyes to pretend they can’t see what they don’t want to.
So remember, any negative feeling is not permanent and you can move through it back to happiness. There’s no such thing as a bad emotion, just the bad results you get when you hang on to it.
Pain is part of happiness, it’s just on the opposite end of the scale.
Think of all the emotions that are considered negative or bad and ask yourself:
“Can you have one without the other?”
Listening to everyone’s definitions of happiness, I realized that mine is knowing that I’m in the right place doing the right things for the right people doing the best I can.
By defining what happiness looks like to me, I can work towards achieving and maintaining it. I live where I want, with the people I adore, doing a job I love and spending my working life and social life doing what reinforces my happiness.
I have utter gratitude for my life and who I am. Thus my definition of happiness is unshakeable. If everything went wrong, I’d still done my best. If I lost everything, I would still have gratitude for what I’d had and would know that I can find a way through because I respect and know I’m doing my best.
So try it, define your happiness and find out how close you are to achieving it.
Two years ago I lived in a house with 7 rooms; and now I live in a house with 17 rooms, do I feel any happier? No, I just have more space, don’t need to queue for a loo and can open a cupboard without fearing everything is going to fall out on me.
The point is that I’ve defined happiness on an internal level but as a common theme from so many who shared their definition of happiness, I have utter gratitude.
On my darkest day, I’ve been able to see the positive. That’s not delusional its empowering and spurs you on.
Ever eaten a carrot? Try it.
You don’t really think about eating a carrot or an apple do you? But think of the joy of a carrot! I’m not joking – this little trick works well for me on days that life feels tough.
As I eat my food looking at my family around the table, I think about how much energy went into that carrot. A tiny seed, watered, fed by the sun and the earth, handled by the farmer, the picker, the shop keeper – how many people helped me eat 1 carrot?
When you see yourself eating something and what it’s been through to get here, you start to see the magic of life.
The true magic of life is not some hallowed, think that is hard for the majority of us to achieve, it’s something you can feel right now.
Think of the components in your device you read this on? Some have been around for billions of years! How can you not find magic in that?
The Illusion of Control
Control is an illusion and the more you hang on to it the harder it is to be happy. The people that found their happiness externally and thus found it harder to maintain, all said they knew they were control freaks.
Try to look for your tendency for needing certainty, hating change and wanting to know what is happening and why, in every moment or area of your life. By learning to accept your lack of control, you can increase your happiness levels.
I’ve worked with so many leaders who have striven to grip tightly to knowing everything that will happen. It causes stress, overwhelm and ruins your happiness (as well as your life.)
On the top of every plant pot around my house are tiny pebbles and shells – each one represents a walk, a picnic, a moment of tranquillity on the beach at the end of my road.
In contrast, I was working with some business owners recently and asked them a non work related question “Where do you keep your laundry basket?” It was analogy for all the jobs that need doing. Many in the room admitted they could see their wash basket in their bedroom, or it was in the hall way so they walked past it every day.
In comparison, wherever I go in my home, I’m reminded of happy moments. Remember we can get the same good hormone hits when we imagine things as when we are actually doing them? So why leave out the things that make you sad or feel inadequate?
Now think about it, what could you have around you in sight that reminds you of the things that make you happy?
I even have a piggy bank where I add bank notes every month and its our “Fun Money.” I also add things like the shiny ticker tape that spiralled down from the ceiling when I was lucky enough to go to the filming of my favourite comedy TV show. I store fun memories with the fun money – guess what that does to my mood?
The Bad News About Being a Happy Person
I realized that I’m always happy. Don’t get me wrong, I can strop and stomp like a WWE wrestler but I rarely stay in that mood for very long. The disadvantages are:
Abusing Your Happiness
I’m far too trusting and always assume good things are going to happen – so I assume everyone’s motives are good too. Alas as we know that’s not always the case. I’ve had to train myself to analyze situations, people and actions more – this protects me, my business, my life and even my family.
I realized I give complete loyalty to everyone. (Not any more). I learned (often the hard way) that loyalty should be given differently to love. Love should be unconditional whereas loyalty should be slowly given and built up.
And for me rightly or wrongly, if you are disloyal once, I’m unlikely to let you back in. Why? Because my happiness, business, life and loved ones are too important to take that risk.
Assuming the best, caring about everyone and everything means you can open yourself to hurt easier too.
Be cautious. One client I’m working with told me how they’d always been a team player. And it had hurt them greatly to discover that their boss didn’t see them in the same positive light.
Despite a dedicated career and years of loyalty and hard work, they’d thought that their happiness at work was matched by that of their leaders – learning it wasn’t had massive repercussions to that clients career, and it took a lot of soul searching and 2 hours coaching to stop the hurt from getting in.
I’ve had over 100 comments on my post to define happiness. And it’s been enlightening. I realized that while I may face adversity, I always can get back to happiness. Alex Lickerman, author of Ten Worlds: The New Psychology of Happiness agrees in why I think this is possible no matter what.
In a nutshell:
Pleasure is contained within happiness but isn’t happiness itself.
We argue that happiness comes in two basic varieties: relative and absolute.
Relative happiness is joy from contemplating/having an attachment, whether that attachment is a person, place, thing, ability, idea, etc. Something we HAVE (that we can also therefore lose).
Absolute happiness is happiness that occurs independent of attachment, a kind of happiness that comes not from having a particular thing but from perceiving the world in a particular way.
The first is what most of us think happiness is and what we spend most of our time aiming for. The second is much harder, takes much more effort, but is indestructible. That is, it can survive any loss, any tragedy.”
I didn’t want to dwell on the negatives of being positive. So I leave you with this:
In my research, I looked up the word “un” – “What does it mean I thought?”
In our world, we know what unhappiness means, or unfairness however in Japanese “un” means yes.
I love the idea that in Japanese, even unhappiness translates into yes happiness!
See? Reframe back to happiness every opportunity you get!
So many things can impact on our happiness levels, if you get one thing from my article, I hope you know that I will always be here to help you get back to happiness.
Learn that happiness is not a destination, it’s a way of life that can resonate through everything you achieve, feel, do and love about life.