Nine Tips For A Happier You in 2011
Sitting here thinking about the year ahead as I have done so many New Years in the past, I am overcome by an innate sense that this year really is going to be different. Maybe even something very special. And then I realise a simple truth: every year which has been and gone before this one has had this very same potential, yet failed to materialise on its promise, at least in tangible ways that I can quantify. But then again, maybe each of those years truly was remarkable, but the barometer by which I have measured them has been somehow faulty. It all depends on what definition you assign to the word happy. In the past, I have put objective parameters around my search for happiness and contentment with my life and inner world. You know, the usual sort of New Year`s resolutions that involve quitting a vice, losing some of one thing while saving more of another, or generally just becoming something more like this ideal being my imagination inspires me to be. But then we all know that none of those achievements, though they may make us feel good for a while, will contribute to a lasting happiness or satisfaction with your life. These days, I am slowly coming around to the idea that happiness cannot be attained any more than it can be measured by these sorts of things.
Now I wonder, who ever said life was meant to be happy? Millions upon millions of dollars are spent each year on the pursuit of this elusive goal, but where is it written that the purpose of a human life is to learn the secret of happiness then to live out that life accordingly? I’m not saying that being happy is something to be shunned and avoided. God willing I believe we should all be prescribed as big a dose as we can possibly handle. But if happiness was our true purpose then I truly believe it would be far more accessible than what it is. My theory is this (theology put aside for a moment): we are here in this world to grow. We are here to improve, to become better, and to evolve – physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Life satisfaction, if not now later, comes through this growth and evolution. When looking at the issue through this perspective, the parameters around my happiness have suddenly been lifted and the opportunities for 2011 have become limitless. My aim this year is not to achieve anything in particular, but to learn as much as I can and grow from what I learn. Why the first day of the year should inspire me or you to attempt these things anymore than any other day of the year is a mystery, but I think it boils down to this: on this day, the first of the year, we feel different. We feel like change is possible because the slate has been cleaned and the path is fresh, and we give ourselves permission to really try, to make a concerted effort to achieve what we aspire to. Each day after this day puts time and distance between us and this feeling of motivation. I share these objectives with you in hopes that they provide a catalyst of growth for you, that they inspire you to share your objectives with me so that I may be equally inspired by them, and that we can motivate each other to keep on the path of growth and learning!
My Ten Tips (from what I have learned so far...)
1. Slow Down. When life is hectic to the point of making us feel frazzled, we tend to respond by putting our foot down and speeding up, when in reality this feeling is a beacon telling us that we ought to slow down. In these times, the only things busier than our schedules are our minds. Sometimes you can’t slow down in the physical sense. After all, kids need to get to school, families need to eat, work needs to get done and bills want payment. But we can slow down our minds and at least notice the intricate joys found in our ability to do all these things. We miss most of life by never being present in the moment, but by thinking about that next thing we’ve got to do. In his seminal book Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon-Kabat Zinn instructs us to stop hurrying ourselves through our day to day chores thinking that they are holding us back from our true path in life. Instead, he tells us that they are all part of that path. We know we should stop and smell the roses once in a while. More importantly though, we should stop and smell the soapsuds, the office supplies and the commuters’ exhaust (metaphorically of course!) as often as we can.
2. Don`t Be Afraid to Screw Up. Fear, on some level, is designed to protect us from something that is either physically or psychologically dangerous to us. Accept the fact that no matter how much you fear and try to avoid it, you cannot help but fail sometimes. The truth is we learn half as much from success as we do from failure. Endorsing this fear too much serves only to stop us from living a genuine, fully-lived life. Moreover, everyone does it. To fear failure intensely is tantamount to fearing blinking lest you fail to see something important. Successful people seem to have less of, or at least endorse less, the fear of failure. At the risk of cliché quoting, I must add here Thomas Edison’s famous quip:” I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” So embrace it as part of the experience!
For more examples of early failures of hugely successful people, see this entertaining webpage:
- 50 Famously Successful People Who Failed At First | Online College Tips - Online Colleges
Next time you're feeling down about your failures in college or in a career, keep these fifty famous people in mind and remind yourself that sometimes failure is just the first step towards success.
3. Let Go of The Small Stuff. And the big stuff if you can! I really struggle with this one, because (as I have recently learned) I have developed a strong need to control my environment to the best of my abilities. This is not something natural to me, but something borne from the bestowed responsibility I have for managing the lives of a couple of little people. If you knew me, you would know that I could not organise (as they say in Britain) a p*ss up in a brewery. Yet I am in charge of a household, two children (ages 2 and 3), and recently a puppy to boot. Nevermore have I needed to let go of the small stuff! I kid myself to think I have total control anyway. What seems to work best for me is to practice “letting go” in limited periods. For example, sometimes I can allow myself to forget about the house cleaning until late afternoon, other days I am driven to pick up after the kids continuously. Sometimes, it’s okay if my son wears his pyjamas to the grocery store because it’s not worth the battle. Other days, it’s pretty important to me that they both look presentable. Practice letting go, when you can, knowing full well that you won’t be able to let go of everything.
4. Expand Your Horizons. Life is abundant with opportunities for experience and growth no matter where you live or what your budget is. All you have to do is to do things just a little differently than you normally would. Take a different route to work. Be polite to a stranger. Take a wiki-adventure and learn about something you know very little of. Watch a TV show you have never seen. Listen to a different radio station. Try a new recipe. Call an old friend. This is the easiest objective of them all, because the only limits here are the ones you self-impose by writing this off as a menial and inconsequential task. Do things differently, and take stock of your observations. What was good and not so good? What did you like or not like? What did you learn? Mysticism would have us believe that the answers to our questions are all around us if only we open our hearts to them. Opportunity for self-development and growth is not limited to therapy sessions, church services, or motivational retreats. Opportunity is here, now, in everyday life.
5. Count your blessings, no matter how seemingly minor. Can you walk and move around with minimal pain? Give yourself one blessing. Can you see and hear the world around you? Give yourself two blessings. Do you sleep in a place that has four walls and a roof, and even a door that can only be opened by keys you posses? Give yourself three blessings. You get the drift. When it comes to gratitude, the more things you look to be grateful for, the more you will find.
6. Give Unselfishly, at least sometimes. No one can give everything of themselves, all of the time. Those who try are most likely following a trajectory destined for burnout. Giving as much as you can in service to others, at least once in awhile for a defined period, can lead the way to greater empathy and compassion. Giving of yourself can be as little as simply offering a smile or a pat on the back, it doesn’t have to be huge. I know many believe tan when it comes to giving its the thought that counts. I personally think it is just as noble that you give, even when you don’t really feeling like giving. Generosity can be learned. Practice makes perfect.
7. Get to Know Yourself Better. Who do you think you are? Do you know what your likes and dislikes are? Do you have any strong needs or desires that are currently unfulfilled? Explore the intricacies of your personality and the composition of those psychological constructs that govern how you think and behave. Notice how you talk to yourself and how you treat others. What past experiences and future expectations influence these things? What can you learn from observing your own thought patterns and behaviour?
8.Then Forget Everything You Think You Know About Yourself. In the limited knowledge I have gained through recent research on the topic of mindfulness and Zen teachings, I am struck by one concept: You are a being, free from the constraints we think of as personality or roles. You are the being behind those things, who observes life and those aspects of the self. Put it this way, if you act selfishly, you are not a selfish person but someone who has acted selfishly in that moment. There is no one distinct, impermeable and unchanging personality that constitutes everything you are. Human beings are in a constant state of flux, ever-evolving and changing, and we cannot be defined by a list of attributes. (For those of you who are more knowledgeable than I on this philosophy, please let me know if I have got it wrong. I won’t be offended, I am learning to be fearless of screwing up!).
9. Never Forget That You Are Enough. If you think you lack something, you are not alone. If you think you are incompetent, you are not alone. If think you are unworthy, you are not alone. If you feel bad about any single aspect of yourself, you are not alone. But with all your faults, incompetencies, and inadequacies comes the brilliant, glorious and unquantifiable nuances that make you the unique, worthy individual human being that you are. Still don’t believe me? Think about it from a primal perspective then. Imagine you were a guest travelling on an African safari, and you came upon a lioness in hot pursuit of a herd of gazelles. Could you choose which gazelle was more worthy of being eaten than all the others? How then could you decide who was more worthy of love and belonging than another? Think of it another way... given a group of a hundred starving people and only enough food available to sustain one of them, could you decide who was more worthy or eating and hence living than the others? You may make a decision based on a variety of factors, like age, abilities, or some other characteristic, but would that make that person more worthy of eating or would it simply be a logical choice made out of necessity? Why should it be accepted that everyone is worthy of base level needs such as food or shelter, but not higher level needs such as love and belonging? You are worthy of love and belonging, because you are.
For a beautiful and informative discussion on worthiness and vulnerability, see Brene Brown’s talk on TED:
- Brene Brown: The power of vulnerability | Video on TED.com
TED Talks Brene Brown studies human connection -- our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk at TEDxHouston, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to under
I hope you have found this useful and I welcome, strike that – I really hope for – your comments and your own resolutions or theories on making 2011 a happier year. In closing, I would like to end with a quote from a man I am deeply fascinated with and inspired by, dubbed by some as the happiest man in the world:
“By happiness I mean here a deep sense of flourishing that arises from an exceptionally healthy mind. This is not a mere pleasurable feeling, a fleeting emotion, or a mood, but an optimal state of being. Happiness is also a way of interpreting the world, since while it may be difficult to change the world, it is always possible to change the way we look at it.”
Matthieu Ricard, Happiness / A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill