In this blog we demystify “happiness,” explore what prevents people from achieving this state and what you can do to achieve and sustain it.
What do we mean by happiness?
Happiness has different meaning for each of us, based on our personal values and beliefs. But, like all other feelings and emotions, happiness is a “state”: we think of something nice, we feel good. We think of something sad, we feel bad.
How do we achieve and sustain happiness?
Whilst ''positive thinking'' has its merits, learning to change your state quickly is a more effective way to help you overcome your original emotions; in other words, break the pattern.
Changing your state takes effort at the beginning, as your emotional reaction has been wired in your brain over the years. Changing your state starts with changing your body posture, your thoughts, choice of words and the meaning you give to events, as well as changing your focus. You can change your focus by changing the questions you ask yourself and “tame the little voice inside your head”.
Notice your thought patterns and don't treat thoughts as facts
With hundred of thoughts running through our minds daily, it's easy for us to forget who is actually in charge. The thinker or the thoughts? You or the little voice inside? It's important to take a step out and observe your thoughts with curiosity, note how your thoughts are not facts, and that you the thinker is actually the one in control, which means that dysfunctional thoughts should most certainly be challenged and we must take note of how we talk to ourselves. Do you speak to yourself like a good friend with kind, positive, empathetic and motivating words or do you do the opposite? Are the majority of thoughts in your head positive and constructive or demeaning and destructive? If you have followed negative and destructive thoughts for a long time, this can be a difficult addiction and habit to break at first, but with focus and discipline, you can overcome this.
It's important to take action on negative thinking and negative thoughts, because negative thoughts can actually become self-fulfilling. They really serve no purpose, they are completely useless and drain your energy.
Meditation, particularly mindfulness (living in the moment), is a great way to get back in charge and achieve peace of mind. Meditation has been proven to help with mood, attention deficit disorder, and many other issues where wandering thoughts have to be tamed.
Change your perspective
More often then not, difficult situations can be our defining moment. When faced with a difficult situation our instinct can be to run or avoid facing the challenge. But rather than run away from it, try asking yourself - what can I get from this experience? This simple question is profound and powerful. Will you push through and succeed with great rewards and stories to inspire others or will you give up and turn away? The choice is yours. As you read on, you will see how our most challenging experiences can often be our best growth opportunities.
Failure is not the alternative to success. It’s only a temporary setback and a learning experience, to a bigger, more significant course. Everybody encounters failure at one point or another. What truly matters is how you react to and learn from that failure.
Did you know that Walt Disney was told that he lacked creativity and was fired?!
One of the most creative geniuses of the 20th century was once fired from a newspaper because he was told he lacked creativity. Persevering nonetheless, Disney formed his first animation company, which was called Laugh-O-Gram Films. He raised $15,000 for the company but eventually was forced to close Laugh-O-Gram, following the close of an important distributor partner. Desperate and out of money, Disney managed to find his way to Hollywood and faced even more criticism and failure until finally, his first few classic films started to skyrocket in popularity.
Fear could have got in his way: fear of failure, fear of not being enough, fear of not being worth it. But Walt didn’t see failure as the end but as a challenge. He had what Carole Dweck has called “a growth mindset”. He didn’t take no for an answer and achieved exceptional results.
Now, that might seem an irrelevant example because he was Walt Disney, probably a unique genius… But take every single “genius” out there and they have a similar story to share. And if you want inspiration of average people rising to exceptional circumstances, read about Viktor Frankl.
Obviously it doesn’t mean you should look for a life of failures and be happy with it. It means don’t let events control how you feel. Everything that has happened to you has made you into the person you are today. Be grateful for the experience. Either you are inspired to change or you are desperate and relentlessly dissatisfied with where you are, the choice is yours and this can be the catalyst for change.
Embrace emotional discomfort
As human beings we often prefer or default to stay where it’s comfortable and accept the status quo. But doing this means that we could plateau and not necessarily reach our true potential. Further, it is often only by pushing through emotional and physical discomfort that you really unlock true and sustainable fulfilment.
Think about it, after a hard day at work, most of us will default to watch TV and eat rubbish to change your mind and relieve stress, rather than pushing ourselves to go for a run or go to the gym. Now initially, the latter can be harder to motivate yourself to do, but ultimately we know that it is not only better at relieving your stress, but also gives you the best results, physically and emotionally, with an endorphin release, that makes you feel not only happy, but also proud and satisfied. So when you are faced with a difficult situation, I encourage you to challenge yourself to see it as an opportunity for growth, learning, expansion and potential happiness, rather than avoiding it, or feeling like a victim and giving up.
This has nothing to do with self-help and positive thinking, but about hard science.
Martin Seligman, the “father” of Positive Psychology (in short, the science of being happy) explains that being happy, in his words “flourishing” is largely about personal growth and contribution. But to grow, you need to be stretched: no challenge means no growth.
Whilst this might make logical sense, it can sometimes feel easier said than done. So lets go back to the point about “changing your state” and start there. When you feel like skipping the gym or opening the cookie jar, try and think: how am I feeling now? Break the pattern. And replace it immediately with a new thought and habit. It takes about 2-3 times to change a habit. If you can do it for a couple of weeks, you can sustain it!
You must change your thoughts from “should” to “must”: if you don’t have a choice, then you’ll have all the willpower and energy you need! So think in vivid details about what will happen if you don’t change, and then make it worse! Think in vivid details about what will happen when you do change, and then make it even better! The consequences of “one little cookie” are way to small, whilst thinking about the consequences of bad eating meaning you might not be there for your kids’ graduation might be a much stronger motivation! In short, if you didn’t have enough willpower to change a habit, your motivation wasn’t strong enough.
Don’t depend on others
Limiting beliefs can be installed in you from your childhood, family and society, which can leave you doubting yourself and your abilities. This in turn can lead to you depending on constant feedback e.g. from your boss, to validate yourself, rather than being confident within yourself. Or else seeking approval from others for fear of embarrassment or ridicule, but why give others this level of control over you?
Love and connection are an essential human need, but how we get it is very different and depending upon specific people leaves you vulnerable. Seriously, not many team leaders give regular, positive (or at least constructive) feedback, even though they all read the textbooks!
If your way of feeling connected to people is through what they say about you, then focus more on your friends and family. But essentially you are prioritising others over you, when in actual fact you should love yourself and put yourself first, in all circumstances. To the extreme, this behaviour creates what we call “pleasers”, but that often means not standing up for oneself for fear of upsetting the others, and a perceived lack of confidence.
Change your state and break the pattern. Empower yourself by giving yourself feedback, and a pat on your own back. It’s not about ego, it’s about peace of mind.
Visualise what you want and where you want to go, let this be your driving force to action
Finally, visualise and focus on what you can do, where you want to go and what you want to become. Make a decision that you won't settle for where you are right now. Visualise this as often as possible and make sure that everything you are doing and working on right now, aligns to this.
Once again, this is based on science: the greatest athletes in the world spend time visualising in vivid detail their next race or competition, because it helps wire the brain with the right connections.
Remember, anything you focus on, on a consistent basis, you become, so you must harness the power of mental focus in the right way - don't focus on ''why this is happening to me'' otherwise this is what you will experience. What you focus on is what you will manifest in life. Anxiety is visualising yourself failing, happiness is the opposite, it's visualising yourself succeeding, allowing you to live out the truest expression of yourself.
So think big, have courage and take action, with an unwavering knowing that anything is possible. Stop focusing on how to make a living, focus on how to make a fulfilling life. If you subconsciously believe you can only achieve a certain amount, then this is all that you will achieve.
Remember, there will be storms but, just like the tree, with its strong roots firmly in the ground, you can weather the storm. Be bold and set your goals high, you may be surprised with what you can achieve. And if you need help along the way, you can always reach out to an executive coach!