My foundation of happiness
Last week, I was driving alone in my car (tunes cranked) on my way to a client meeting when I randomly burst into a big smile. I couldn’t ditch the smile for several minutes. The song on the radio made me think about someone special and I was grinning from ear to ear — “perma grin.” I love these spontaneous outbursts of happiness in the middle of a stressful work day!
I know what you’re thinking. Yes, it was a “guy!” But that’s not the point. We dated and he is no longer in the picture. Nope, the girl didn’t get the boy. But instead of feeling bummed (already felt that emotion), I am truly grateful and happy that our paths crossed. We had fun. He is a great person and treated me well. While he was only in my life for a season — it was a good one and I feel blessed.
I’m recognizing small moments of happiness and gratitude, like this one, a lot lately.
When I went out on Friday night, I looked at my profile in my smallest and tightest Burberry Brit skinny jeans and thought my butt looked really great (perma grin). The other night, I looked up at the nearly full moon in the deep night sky and realized that everyone I love is potentially looking at that same moon and smiling with me (perma grin). Yesterday, I opened the door at the post office for an elderly woman who was carrying a big box. She smiled and said, “Thank you dear; bless you child” (perma grin).
I often catch myself in these moments and think: WOW, I’m really happy and grateful for this life. This is cool!
So what is it? How did I get here? And can one really manifest a state of happiness no matter their life circumstances?
A foundation of happiness…not euphoria or joy 24-7
I’ve been thinking lately about my overall state of happiness and how it relates to the other human emotions we experience on a daily basis in reaction to our lives — good emotions such as joy, excitement, gratitude, love, connection, compassion…and negative emotions like sadness, hurt, disappointment, anger, anxiety and frustration, etc.
Several of my closest friends are experiencing extremely difficult times right now — illness, death of loved ones, and more. Storm clouds have rolled in and this is a tough time for them, and for me. Of course, I want to be there, fix it and make it better. I want them to know how much I love them and I really want them to be okay. But, I don’t control the universe and I can’t fix it!
At different times and in different ways, each of them has asked me: How do you stay happy and positive all of the time? … “I know I should be positive and perky. I know there are people worse off than me, but I just don’t feel it right now.”
Well, I am no expert, but my answer is: You don’t!
No one is happy, euphoric or “perky” all of the time. That’s not real. When bad stuff happens, it is absolutely okay — natural and necessary — to feel the negative emotions that go along with it. And if you know me personally or read this blog, you know that indeed I have tough days just like everyone else (see my August blogs).
While it’s true that I have a new overall foundation of happiness and positivity at the core of my life, and believe that I can do absolutely anything, I still have tough moments, days and even weeks. I get sad, disappointed, frustrated, hurt, or even pissed off sometimes just like everyone else. I promise you.
Life happens. Okay, shit happens. And when bad stuff occurs in our lives, of course we’re going to feel negative emotions – scared, sad, hurt, angry… In my non-expert view, I believe these emotions are every bit as important to feel as the “happy” ones. It’s a necessary part of the human experience. It’s authentic. That doesn’t mean that we need to make it a permanent state. We can feel the negative emotions, process them, and move on. We don’t need to wallow or have a pity party, or turn those negative emotions into a self-fulfilling prophecy. (Though even if we need to do that for a short time, I think it’s okay).
That is the biggest difference for me. Recognizing the in the moment joys and excitement, sadness or discomfort, but when I am in a bad place momentarily or even for longer periods, finding the ability to pick myself up, see the big picture and move on. To restart! To bring myself back to the foundation of happiness and optimism that supports me overall. That is my solid ground.
The secret to living with a foundation of happiness and optimism
My overall outlook these days is one of optimism and positivity. Since my transformation nearly three years ago, I am a glass runneth over kinda gal much of the time. But I still struggle. And I have to practice the skill of more gently and quickly processing negative emotions when they occur and finding my way back to center — to my foundation. I practice feeling without spiraling out into unhappiness, being the victim, and hopelessness like I used to. When I weighted 381 pounds and had lost hope for a better or different life, I was the queen of “poor me” and piling it on. And it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Now, I try to live wholeheartedly as Brene Brown says — living and loving with my whole heart. But this was only possible when I started to love and accept myself with all of my beautiful and crazy imperfections.
Yes, for me, the secret to the foundation of happiness is self-love and acceptance. And that foundation, while fairly new in my life, gets more solid every day as I learn to embrace heartache, disappointment and the pain of struggle — and my friend’s struggle — and not let it define me or the outcomes of my life.
A daily practice – not a constant state
I believe that we have a great deal of control over our own personal happiness. Not total control, but a great deal. We can teach ourselves optimism and develop positive habits that build a foundation of happiness. I’ve experienced this in my own life and it aligns with much of the research I’ve read on happiness. And, no, I didn’t always believe this. When I was out of my equation — seeking love, approval and happiness outside of myself — I thought this was crap. Pure self-help babble! I now know better. And I promise you, happiness is available to you, too.
While much of the research shows that up our happiness is predetermined by genetics and our environment. Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, asserts that up to 40% of of our happiness is within our control. So how do happy people get and remain happy overall? I have a few thoughts on what has worked for me.
Tips and tricks of the road to happiness
- Change what you can. Let go of the rest. This was a tough one. It took me most of my adult life to master this. But once I finally stopped making excuses and accepted what I could change and did — namely putting myself in the equation of my own life and getting healthy. And, in tandem, accepted what I could NOT control and let it go. That’s when I found true happiness. I learned that while I can’t change people or many external circumstances, I can change how I respond. How I see the situation, hold it, and how I let it affect me and my life/eternal happiness. I am in charge of me. That’s it. But that’s a lot. In fact, it’s the key.
- Decide to be happy. One of the biggest shifts in my overall happiness was when I changed my mindset and decided to be happy. No kidding. Looking at the glass half full and runneth over vs. half empty helped me feel happier. And as I felt happier, I started attracting positive things and positive people. And it snowballed. It’s still snowballing today. Pretty cool.
- Daily gratitude practice. Every day I focus on the things I am grateful for — at least once and ideally multiple times per day. There is so much. And when we focus on the positive, it permeates our thinking and our lives in small and big ways. It makes you feel good — in the moment and eventually overall.
- Don’t accept defeat or a defeatist attitude. Develop Resilience. Learn to Restart. You’ve heard me say that a key to my transformation was learning to pick myself up and restart when I slipped or fell, aka went off plan. This is/was equally important to my internal transformation. Developing a strong resilience and knowing you are capable of anything you set your mind to is a powerful thing — and one of the keys to overall happiness. In my view, it is one of the greatest skills you can develop. I remind myself of this and practice it every day.
- Stop chasing happiness via goal. So many of us set goals and tell ourselves we’ll be happy when we get there. I’ll be happy when I lose 50 pounds, wear a size 6, win the award, finish the degree, get the new job, fall in love… The truth is, this doesn’t work. Why? Because once you achieve that goal you’re on to the next. And you end up chasing happiness via goals and it alludes you vs. feeling it in the moment right where you are.
- Smile. Laugh. Play. Dance. Hike. Flirt. Give. Stare at the moon. Buy yourself flowers. Hang with happy people. Say YES! Seek out things that make you happy and live in the moment. This one is pretty obvious. I dance in the kitchen, laugh every day, randomly break out into smile/perma grins, flirt, and look for little things that make me happy. It’s fun. It works. Life is never boring.
I’ve been working on this blog for a few weeks. Since the time that more than one friend asked me how I stay happy all of the time, and then I asked myself if that is indeed true. During this time, I’ve observed how I process the struggles and negative emotions related to the tough stuff that seems to be happening to too many wonderful people that I love, while trying to stay centered in an overall foundation of happiness.
Clearly, I don’t have all of the answers but writing this blog was therapeutic and it made me happy! Thanks for reading my story and my experience. I invite you to share your observations on happiness here.
Check out some of the awesome work that I’ve read/studied on happiness. Enjoy!