I wish you had been a fly on the wall.
Five women – smart, accomplished, professionals – sat around the room with the look of astonished recognition on their faces.
Because they had collectively realized that none of them gave themselves credit for what they’d accomplished, but, rather, focused solely on where they fell short.
That’s like saying, “Sure, I climbed Mt. Everest, but I could have had better shoes.”
I’m reading Rick Hanson’s book Just One Thing – a helpful, practical book with instructions on how to use your thoughts to change your brain function – and even your neurological structures – by approaching problems, situations and general living in a slightly different way.
Hanson quotes John Gottman’s famous research which found that “the brain generally reacts more to a negative stimulus than to an equally intense positive one.” And researcher Roy Baumeister found that “painful experiences are usually more memorable than pleasurable ones.”
So my five stressed-out professional women were absolutely normal when they downplayed their achievements and focused on their lack.
What makes for happiness?
“…sense of security and worth, resilience, effectiveness, well-being, insight, and inner peace,” offers Rick Hanson. Which sounds just about right.
So, our innate human default – to focus on what’s not working – totally undermines our ability to feel happy…
Wait a minute. You want to feel happy, don’t you?
Of course you do, unless…you don’t.
Unless “Me As A Happy Person” totally conflicts with the self-image you have of yourself. Or the self-image handed to you by your family, your schoolmates or pop culture.
Think about it. Maybe you were told that “happy” is frivolous. All that matters is work. Work for work’s sake. Eat what you kill. Climb the ladder until you’re at the top. Strive and struggle, and keep pushing. You can be “happy” when you’re retired.
Or maybe you were told that “happy” is for other people. Other people who were born with a silver spoon in their mouths, and had everything handed to them. You know, the ones living on Easy Street. You – with your immigrant grandparents, and up-from-the-gutter family history – you have to work for whatever you get. “Happy” – pfffft. For someone else.
But here’s the intriguing thing.
Think about the children in your life. Do you want them to be happy?
How about your dearest family members? What would you do to insure their happiness?
And your best friend. What do you want for him, or for her? Would you call it happiness? Do you do what you can to help them achieve it?
Of course you do. You’re a devoted spouse, a good mom, a good dad, a great friend, a wonderful son or daughter. I know you.
You want the people you love to be happy. But you’re not really happy yourself.
So…you want for others what you deny yourself.
Friends, it’s time to change that up.
Promise me this: Promise me that starting today, you’ll begin to wish for yourself that which you’d wish for someone you love. That you will begin to show yourself the same compassion you show others. That you will own your successes and celebrate them.
That you will begin a healthy love relationship – with you.
By doing so, you will literally change the wiring in your brain from nearly-always-negative to nearly-always-positive, and reduce your stress.
You will start being happy.
And after you’ve done that, the rest of living is all a piece of cake.