Even if you are by nature meticulously conscientious in what you do, with your work, with your family and friends, I wonder if you have focused that same kind of energy and commitment on your happiness practice?
“It is more fitting for a man to laugh at life than to lament over it” – Aristotle
“A small child typically laughs more than four hundred times each day and an adult seventeen times” – The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
According to Gretchen’s research a small child laughs approximately every 2-3 minutes, whereas an adult laughs approximately once per hour (assuming waking hours are 16 hrs per day). If her research is even close to right, we have quite a substantial missing happiness capability to be filled up!
I have noticed that it’s not totally socially acceptable to take a stand for creating one’s own happiness. It can be thought of as arrogant or selfish considering there is such a large amount of suffering in the world. Whether that is those close to us who might be experiencing turmoil or those on not too distant shores.
Yet each time I hear the Dali Lama speak (a man who leads a people who are in exile from their homeland and who have suffered a huge deal), he is laughing at an even greater rate than the average small child. He probably manages 30 seconds of words at tops before laughter ripples out!
With all the Dali Lama’s sage wisdom it’s his smile and laughter that stays with me. Perhaps he shows the way to an even deeper truth that happiness can be who you are and this is valuable in itself?
So, is it possible to be present with the challenges, the pain and suffering and dare to care for, and nurture our own Happiness Practice?
One man who has made me cry and laugh every time I’ve heard him speak is Tim ‘Mac’ Macartney. Tim is a key spokesperson on the environmental and sustainability challenges that we collectively face. However, he also stands for inner lightness and happiness. He talks of our inner path of leadership and how essential it is that those who are standing for a better world must be fed by their love and joy and not their fear, anger and sadness. In his experience to ‘fight for justice’ is a recipe for burnout and short lived engagement. On the other hand, noticing what you love, what brings you joy as a conscious practice is a recipe for resilience.
Why a Happiness Practice?
What I love about practices is that there are… practical! They are the small steps we can take each day to think differently, feel differently and act differently. It’s all incredibly doable and immediately moves us to feel slightly happier. Over time they create a whole new level and state of happiness.
Why is this regularity important? Well, our brain can (unless we consciously unwire it) choose to remember and give more weight to those experiences and things that caused us pain or represent a threat. If we want to rewire our brain to a new, brighter way of thinking we need to give it repeated dopamine hits over a period of time to create new and stronger neuron connectors that lead to more thoughts that feel good to us.
For example, you complete a project and 8 people loved it but 1 person was somewhat dismissive. Without reflection where might your attention go? Here’s where your humble Happiness Practice comes in. i) Focus on what the 8 people loved and understanding the value you created. ii) Reframe the perceived threat of the 1 dismissive person as one perspective that might hold some useful additional information. It’s a simple example yet important Happiness Practice.
Likewise, in my individual sessions with people, healing often comes through undoing an ‘energy knot’ that forms around painful memories we did not know what to do with as a child. As those painful memories release it’s amazing to see what positive and appreciative childhood memories of sweet times and moments return! Yet it takes practice to affirm and remind our inner child that this old painful memory is no longer living, that we do have sweet memories and in fact there is a whole new vista in front of us!
So… to get you started, here are a few suggestions for exploring your Happiness Practice.
To get off ground zero of the Happiness Practice we need to face that ‘I’m not good enough’ belief. This normally leads to the feeling that we need to defend against being viewed as deficient/failing/embarrassed (all triggers for that threat response we want to rewire for happiness).
How: I encourage you be creative, however one of my top ones is the ‘student’s mind’ or as I reframe it for myself – if I feel like I know 2% of what’s going on then I am learning, growing and expanding by 98%. This is great, this is what life’s about and it’s exciting! From this perspective ‘failing forward’, loving the mistakes along the way and allowing our imperfections to be opportunities for laughter and connection are all beautiful happiness possibilities. For some great resources check out: Carol Dweck’s book on Mindset and this You Tube playlist for TEDx Bristol on Failure.
Happiness Practices Together
‘Enthusiasm is a form of social courage’ (Gretchen Rubin) – these words sooo speak to me. Your Happiness Practice, although a commitment to yourself that happiness is an inside job, does not mean you have to do it on your own!
Teilhard de Chardin talks of how important it is to have a ‘zest for life’, that this vitality and yes to possibility is the food for dream creation and solution generation. AND zest and enthusiasm grow when shared with others. It’s easier to be socially courageous when we gather with those of like minds and hearts.
How: Gather with others doing something you love. This weekend I hosted a 1 day event for women to gather and explore goddess archetypes. It was so incredibly nurturing because we had all gathered with like minded people intending to nurture and inspire ourselves and each other around the feminine. So if you are not feeling this shared enthusiasm for something you love – go find others who share it and create magic with them. You will be glowing at new happiness levels afterwards!
Start your ‘Happiness Project’
I love the humbleness and positive possibility of Gretchin Rubin’s book and happiness project to become a little happier each year. I recommend it as something to have on the kindle to dip into from time to time and be inspired!
How: If you are up for getting started right now, write down 10 things you love to do. Look at the list and see what you can do daily (or close to daily – 5 out of 7 days of the week is better than none!), for example walk in fresh air and green space. Commit to that. Then look at what might take a little longer and perhaps that you could do once per week. Then again look at something that takes a bit longer and you could do once a month. Plan in those weekly and monthly happiness activities to get you started.