Thursday, September 6, 2018

How To Be Happy

Happiness And Mental Health | Stop Chasing The Happiness Equation
man standing behind women with his arms around her while both are smiling after receiving help from a telephone counselor.
Ahead of the curve, better than average, top of the charts, king of the hill, brightest and the best – all of these imply success but also inadvertently imply failure as well.  It’s both Positive and Negative.  When you congratulate someone by saying “You were the best one out there”, that compliment is at the expense of someone else. I’m certain the loser wouldn’t feel too good if they inadvertently overheard that compliment.  And therein lies the problem with our traditional pursuit of happiness.  That is, someone else has to lose for you to achieve.    You constantly battle, fight, claw your way to the top of that dog eat dog corporate ladder, eventually arriving at the top, battle scarred, drained, leaving a trail of human wreckage in your wake AND… you bump out the last guy that got there the same way.  Now a new bar is set – let’s achieve that!!!  For what?  Money, Prestige, Respect?   At what cost? Any cost?  I mean, we’re all playing the same game, so it is what it is, right?  The sore loser should suck it up, learn from his failure and try harder tomorrow.  Maybe soon, he will be the guy at the top.  Who cares about that loser anyway – how can I get on top?

Everyone I talk to nowadays describes themselves as a ‘type A’ personality.  Aggressive, achiever, no-nonsense, win at all costs person who will dominate and destroy all the other ‘types’ that dare venture into their path.  What a lovely way to describe yourself – but it’s true, that’s how many people today want to be perceived.  The problem now is, everyone’s ‘type A’.   Everyone is looking out for number 1, and with that individualistic mind-set we not only hurt our individual happiness, but we reduce what we could achieve together.

But hey, come-on now, our structure today drives inspiration, creativity, adaptation and change – look what we have accomplished as a society.  While we certainly have generated external material accomplishments, we also have amassed a growing number of people who have been left in the wake, pushed aside, and are hurting as a result.   Doctors’ offices, counseling centers, online therapists, coaches, mentors are full of people needing help.  And its not just people at the bottom of the totem-pole that are using these services, it’s those at the top as well.  We are all hurting – happiness is eluding everyone.  The money, prestige and respect hasn’t filled our bucket, because a new bar for success is continually being set.

So, what if we could do it better?  I don’t mean, coddle the losers until they feel better –I mean, generate more accomplishments, eliminate success at the expense of others, and increase the happiness of everyone.  UTOPIA!  Is it possible?

If we plotted everyone on the productivity or the proverbial happiness curve some would be at the top, some middle, and some bottom.  So, at minimum, in order to do this right, the whole curve needs to shift up the productivity and happiness axis.  To do this we must first understand what makes us productive, and what makes us happy.  Fortunately, they are intertwined.  A person who is happy is more productive than a person who is not.  And there is a compounding effect as well, in that, a person who is happy, influences those around him and makes them also more productive.

Where does this happiness come from and how do I get it?
The facts are that only a small amount of our happiness comes from external factors.  We all require food, water, shelter and basic essentials to live – when that is achieved the base external measure of happiness is met.  Unfortunately, after that, any increases in those external measures do not move the happiness needle very much at all long-term.  Sometimes, when we accumulate excess external factors, we actually cause the needle to move in the opposite direction.

Internal factors are where we can really impact the movement of the happiness/productivity needle.  These come from our inward thoughts, actions, family and relationship connections.  Its how we view the world around us and consciously manage our own personal impact on it.  Focus your brain on the competition, the workload, the annoyances, the stresses, and the complaints – the needle moves down.  Retrain your focus on being positive and the needle moves up.

The following are two simple ways that happier people view the world around them:
  • Optimism – recognize the stress and see it as a challenge not a threat. 75% of your successes are a result of your optimism levels, social support and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of a threat; 
  • Gratitude – be thankful for everything in the world around you. Thankful for the person who cooks your meals, cleans your clothes, teaches your kids, checks your groceries, waits your table, picks you up.  Have no expectations of anyone around you (regardless of whether you are paying them or not) and be thankful that your paths have crossed and an interaction has taken place. Communicate that gratitude every time and without exception.
In addition to becoming more optimistic and grateful, you also need to Stop thinking a certain way.  Stop thinking that:  Hard work equals greater happiness. If I work harder, I'll be more successful and if I'm more successful, then I'll be happier.  This philosophy is the underlying principle of how behavior is motivated today. The problem is that, it doesn’t work.  Every time you have a success, the goalposts of what success looks like are changed.  You got good grades, now get better grades. Got a good house, now get a better house. Got a good job, get a better job.  Hit your sales target, we're gonna change the sales target – when happiness is on the other side of success your brain never gets there, because the definition of success is always getting pushed out.

What we've done is we have conditioned our brains to believe that to be happy we need to have success first.  But when new goalposts are continually set on what success is, and we continually strive for more, our brains never get to be happy.  We constantly push happiness out of our own reach.  The real problem is that our brains actually work in the opposite order.  If you can raise somebody's level of positive in the present then their positive brain, will perform significantly better. In fact, research has shown, that a positive brain, increases creativity, energy levels, and every single outcome improves. Your brain at positive is more productive, influential, faster, and more accurate.  So, if we can find a way of becoming positive in the present then we can start to see what our brains are actually capable of.

Training your brain to be positive in 1 month:
calendar for a month is a tool used in telephone counseling sessions to better structure thinking.

The following are three simple ways that you can retrain the way you think and start viewing the world differently:
  • At the beginning of each day, for one month, set aside a couple minutes to write down three new things that you are grateful for;
  • During the day complete an act of kindness. Call or write a positive email to someone in your social network, praising or thanking them for something they did;
  • At the end of each day, set aside a couple minutes to write down a positive experience you've had during the previous day. Allow your brain to relive that moment of happiness and train it to focus on that one thing, rather than allowing it to bounce around on multiple items as it usually wants to do.
At the end of the month you will notice that your brain has started to be retrained in a pattern of scanning the world not for the negative but for the positive.

Now, all this is great in isolation, but our physical environment also has a large impact on our well-being, productivity and happiness.  Although we don’t have complete control over our surroundings, we can make specific efforts to infuse them with positive.  A few ways to infuse positive into an environment that you don’t control may include:
  • Keep a picture of someone you love with you, and put it where you can see it. Every time you look at it, that’s a hit of positive
  • Spend time outside on a nice day and soak in some vitamin D and breathe the fresh air. Boom! another hit of positive.
  • Never speak ill of anyone – be grateful of each encounter, meeting, discussion – Positive!
  • Take a 15 minute break from thinking about your work every couple hours, every day. Stretch or exercise for those 15 minutes, or just talk and laugh with those around you.  Positive, positive, positive.  (15 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day is the equivalent of taking an anti-depressant for the first six months).

5 fists bumps coming together across a desk in an office setting after completing the job together - similar to a telephone therapy or online counseling session.
The above sounds simple and straightforward and it is – but will you do it?  You have the power to set yourself up for success.  But will you use that power?  Lurking beneath every well-intention resolution is the truth that: most of us are lazy slobs, and no amount of self-improvement planning is going to change that fact. Maybe you can force yourself to make it to the gym every day — that’s certainly a victory in itself, but it’s distinctly different from wanting to go to the gym every day.   We all want to be better, but as our will-power fades and we eventually succumb to our comfortable rut, we find ourselves looking for that next motivational speaker or article to generate another spark that gets us excited again.  The secret to making real lasting change and getting through that first month is to acknowledge that you need help.  We need accountability.  Most of us cannot do it alone because what we are talking about here is changing habits that have been learned, developed and become ingrained in us over time.  Putting your will-power up against your habits is no-contest.  Will-power will lose every time.  If you could last on your own for a month, then a new habit would have been formed – but unfortunately, we never get there and we slip back into our regular old doldrums.  When people feel like they are fighting alone, or striving for success alone, they burn out and the world around them feels like a huge burden. But there is a powerful, viable alternative to individually pursuing success and happiness, and that is: doing it together.

girl in red shirt with a big smile after an online therapy or telephone counseling session
Invest in yourself and create a different, healthier, happier, more productive life.  Many counselors and coaches have been trained to help work with you through these challenges and hold you accountable to enact real, lasting, habitual change.  Too often I talk to people who get excited about the prospect of changing their lives.  They recognize that their life could be very different, better and way more meaningful. They are excited, motivated and geared up to do the work…but, they quickly fall short of realizing their goal when it comes to paying for it.  Their brain doesn’t compute using an external factor (money) to increase an internal one.  Often, they continue to go in circles, encountering the same problems, yielding the same results throughout their entire life; or, they spiral farther downward until they hit rock-bottom. It’s sad that we are more willing to invest in external factors like entertainment, technology, a sweet taste or a new pair of shoes than we are in making our life better and reaping the long-term benefits.  We are more willing to invest in things that are easy, now, and don’t move the happiness needle at all long-term rather than pursuing habitual, internal change.  Yes, the internal change may take a bit longer. Yes, it may involve a bit of work. Yes, it may cost a few bucks.  But the reward is a life more productive and happier, with less fighting, less sadness, and more meaningful friendships.  The other amazing thing is that quite often, when we become this new person – more external factors tend to start spinning-off naturally.  The pursuit, drive and fight we used to have to obtain them isn’t necessary any longer – it just comes naturally and flows directly to us.

The following is an excerpt from “The PERMA model”.  It was designed by Martin Seligman with five core elements of psychological well-being and happiness. Seligman says these five elements can help people reach a life of fulfillment, happiness, and meaning (and ties nicely into what we’ve just discussed):
  • Positive Emotion: Peace, gratitude, satisfaction, pleasure, inspiration, hope, curiosity, and love fall into this category;
  • Engagement: Losing ourselves to a task or project that provides us with a sense of “disappeared time” because we are so highly engaged;
  • Relationships: People who have meaningful, positive relationships with others are happier than those who do not;
  • Meaning: comes from serving a cause bigger than ourselves. Whether a religion or a cause that helps humanity in some way, we all need meaning in our lives;
  • Accomplishment/Achievement: to feel significant life satisfaction, we must strive to better ourselves in some way.
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Final Thoughts:
Is it finally time to invest in yourself? Our are you satisfied with circling and experiencing the same issues over and over because you still think happiness is about how much paper you have in your wallet?

One of the misconceptions about happiness is that it’s about being cheerful, joyous, and content all the time; always having a smile on your face. It’s not – being happy and leading rich lives is about taking the good with the bad, and learning how to re-frame the bad.

In other words, we’re not happy when we’re chasing happiness. We’re happiest when we’re not thinking about it, when we’re enjoying the present moment because we’re lost in a meaningful project, working toward a higher goal, or helping someone who needs us.  We’ve focused so much on productivity and ignored happiness and that has been to our own detriment.

If you would like to start your journey toward true happiness, Call 1-855-257-9444 and a counselor will be happy to assist you.


References:
Jennifer Moss, JM. What is Happiness. [Blog] blog.plasticitylabs.com.

Shawn Achor, SA. (2010). Happiness Advantage. [Video] The happy secret to better work. Available at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLJsdqxnZb0&t=1s.

Shawn Achor, SA. (2018) [Blog] Do Women’s Networking Events Move the Needle on Equality? Available at:https://hbr.org/2018/02/do-womens-networking-events-move-the-needle-on-equality

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