What an interesting question.
When I started reading Marci Shimoff’s book, Happy for No Reason, it felt like she was sharing bits of my story, and also bits of my dreams. But it all starts with answering this simple, but huge question.
Are You Happy?
I feel like there will be a range of answers to this as some of you will say you’re happy sometimes, or you’re happy when…, or you’re happy if…. But the majority of you, if we’re truly honest, will answer no, or more evasively, not really.
The rates of depression these days are staggering. It is estimated that by 2020, which I’ll remind you is right around the corner, that the amount of people struggling with depression will be second only to heart disease when it comes to the burden on our health care system.
Why are so many people so unhappy these days?
The statistics around society’s plague of unhappiness weighs heavy on my heart. As someone who has experienced the dark pit of depression and managed to find the light it is so hard to see and hear so many people who feel hopeless when it comes to their mood and who believe that medication is the only answer.
I am not discounting the medical management of depression when a person is a real or potential harm to themselves or others. Medication saves people’s lives and if you are clinically depressed you should seek medical assistance.
I also believe though, that we need to be teaching people about the options, and the research that has time and again proven that there are other solutions to managing and truly healing our depressive moods. All of these methods should be explored and compliment one another on an individualized basis.
So for now lets just leave that debate aside and focus on the important part, that when we live our lives unhappy or try to fill our happiness with external factors we are truly missing out on living a fulfilled life.
So what is being fulfilled?
Fulfilled is a feeling of happiness and satisfaction created from fully developing our abilities or character. Being fulfilled is a growth process through failures and victories and building habits that lead to joy. This kind of happiness comes from within and it’s lasting throughout all the ups and downs of life.
But I was born Unhappy.
So this is a story I told myself for a long time and then in addition to my negative life’s experiences depression took hold and swallowed me up. Research has conceptualized that every person has a happiness set point. Like a thermostat. And no matter what happens to you in your life you tend to return to your happiness set point. There is of course some situations in life that can take a longer time to recover from, such as the death of a child or spouse, chronic unemployment, or extreme poverty are among what researchers has discussed. But in the face of either positive (like winning the lottery) or negative (like developing a disability) situations the change in happiness is mostly temporary and people then return to their happiness set point.
This set point is equally influenced by our genetics and what we learn. So to say we were born unhappy could be partly true, some people’s set point may be genetically lower, but we can choose the other 50% and raise our happiness by practicing happy habits.
50% of Our Happiness We Control
Well lets say 40%, because 10% of that control is related to our situation and sometimes that is not entirely within our grip of control. So the focus we’re going to take is on the remaining 40%.
When we have negative thoughts, feelings, ideas, and habits we create negative neural pathways in our brain. When we repeatedly think and feel these same things we strengthen the pathway and make the groove deeper. Think about when you first take a walk through a field of tall grass and then think of what the path looks like after you’ve walked it 20 times. It becomes a defined trail right?
Now we used to think that our brains were fully developed in childhood and we couldn’t make any modifications to them, but now the science of neuroplasticity has proven this to be wrong. When we change our negative thoughts, feeling, and ideas we can create new positive pathways and thereby increase our overall experience of happiness. This is the happiness that comes from within. It’s changing the way we see ourselves and the world and we are the only ones who can do this for ourselves.
No matter how much we try to achieve happiness through acquiring more or waiting for something to happen in our lives we will never truly find that inner peace and well-being that we are all craving. The next hair style, or weight loss product, or even finding love, or getting a new job will not fully satisfy that craving until we start practicing happiness habits.
Three Guiding Principles of Happiness
In her book, Marci Shimoff identifies three guiding principles behind the habits of happy people.
- What expands you makes you feel happier. I love this because it’s something I’ve been using and practicing for a while now, except the concept I use is the “compass of joy”. When we take a moment to evaluate whether something will bring us joy or not and make our decisions based on this assessment we will always feel good about our choices. So the next time you’re faced with a decision, ask yourself if it will make you feel free, open, joyful, and light (this is expansion) and visualize the choosing the different options to help you identify how you will feel. If the choice makes you feel anxious, tight, agitated or heavy then this is not the option to go with. This is a beginning to trusting your intuition and learning to be guiding by your inner knowing and has been a huge shift for me. I used to labor over every decision and then lament over it after finally making it. After practicing the compass of joy concept I have developed a deeper trust in myself and a belief that my intuition will guide me correctly every time I need it. Just try it out and I guarantee you’ll feel what I’m talking about.
- The Universe is Out to Support You. This might be a difficult concept to fully accept depending on where you’re at in the spiritual belief spectrum as well if you’ve faced unimaginable trauma this can be a tough belief to adopt. So rather than try to convince you of it I would encourage you again to just try it on for a while and see if it fits. When you’re up against a struggle or challenge, tell yourself that you’ll be ok because the universe has your back. No matter what the outcome there is a blessing hidden inside of the experience and you believe that even if it doesn’t feel great that it is for your greater good. Try it out and see if it changes your outlook and your mood.
- What You Appreciate, Appreciates. This is all about having gratitude. When we can recognize and appreciate even the smallest of things in our lives it changes our outlook on everything. Throughout the day practice taking a moment and appreciating things around you, maybe the sun shining, or your children laughing, or your partner’s touch, or good food, clean air, or literally anything. At the end of your day try starting a gratitude journal. List out 5-10 things you are grateful for. It can be small or big things it doesn’t matter, the key is to show gratitude for them. One thing my family tries to do every time we sit down for supper is to say one thing that we are grateful for that day. It was shocking how difficult this was in the beginning but it’s getting easier and it pulls at my heart strings big time to hear what my family comes up with every night. Lately we’ve added a second topic and that is to name one thing you love about yourself, and I thought the gratitude list was challenging, this one is 10x harder.
I’m excited to share more of this with you all as I believe it’s at the center of every one of our lives. We’ve spent all our time checking all the boxes and lining up all of our ducks in effort to have the truly happy and fulfilling life but have found that something still is missing. Finding true happiness and fulfillment is exactly what’s at the heart of my “Full to Fulfilled” workshop and coaching programs so be sure to check out the next one coming up! If you have further questions please comment below or send me a message. Have a happy day!