Last week while in Ft. Worth, I had the blessed opportunity to hear Shawn Achor speak about the science of happiness. On the surface, it seemed like all the other industry-standard spiels on positivity. But once I began listening to what he had to say, it made so much sense.
If you want to be happy, fake it ‘til you make it.
No, that’s not what he said, but it sums it up in some small way. If you’re frowning and the person to whom you’re talking is smiling, parts of your brain will light up and make you want to smile in return. It’s human nature. We put this into practice all the time with our oldest daughter. When she fusses, we’ll turn to her and say, “Sarah, don’t you DARE smile!”
Within seconds, she smiles simply through the power of suggestion. It works every time.
So as I listened to Mr. Achor, it struck me that I’m basically a pretty happy person. Despite whatever problems I have (and, yes, there are plenty), I’m blessed to be here, to have a wonderful family and friends and to be granted the opportunity to wake up each morning and draw breath in this crazy, fabulous place we call Earth.
Is life perfect? No. But who can possibly say that it is?
Would having more money make my life easier? Yes, but I wouldn’t hesitate to say that people who have tons of it are also looking for that ever-elusive, one more thing in their life to make them happy.
Again, it’s human nature. We’re seekers of more, of better, of new. Once we get what we want, we raise the bar and start seeking again.
So what are we supposed to do when life continuously throws negative things our way? Adjust our lens and refocus on the positive. For every negative thing in life, there are numerous things we can count as blessings.
Your boss was mean to you this morning? Well guess what? You have a job. You get a paycheck, no matter how big or small it might be. You had transportation to get there, even if it was just your own two feet.
Your kids are disrespectful and don’t listen to you? You aren’t the only one going through it. Think back to what you put your parents through as a kid. Chances are good that if your kids are spewing negativity, they’re modeling your behavior. Don’t talk about how much you hate your boss, your neighbors or the guy who cut you off in traffic. Ask about their day. Find the positive things to celebrate. Ask your family to say one thing each day that has made them happy.
Even if it eats at you and makes you want to scream at the thought of being so Pollyanna, do it anyway. After a while, it will become second nature. Do it for two weeks every day, and you will see a change in yourself.
You’re not being fake. You’re not being asked to overlook other people’s faults and act like the world is perfect. You aren’t going to turn into a smiley, tree-hugger who thinks if we all just sit in a circle and hold hands while singing that Life will somehow come into balance.
You’re just trying something new. You’re refusing to allow pessimism to smother you. You’re letting go of the need to take Life’s negativity, chew on it for a while and then spew it back into the world.
I used to be the type of person who had to win. I always had to be right. If I were wrong, I had to come up with an excuse. If I came in second place, it was a total failure.
Looking back now, I can’t believe how much of my life I wasted wallowing in a pit of unrealistic expectations, negativity and stress. No one was making me feel that way. I did it to myself. No one thought less of me if I didn’t become the president of every club, the first place winner in every competition and the best at everything I chose to do.
At some point, I refocused. I began to rejoice in the positive moments and learn from the negative. I didn’t expect myself to always be perfect or to even strive to be.
I still strive to do my best, and I strive for that first-place spot. That hasn’t changed.
I just don’t beat myself up if I’m not wearing the winner’s crown at all times. I am flawed, and that’s okay. I have learned to laugh at myself. I have learned to not always have to make people see my way, no matter how much I wish they would. I have learned to voice my frustration either through talking to friends or writing it down rather than bottling it up. I find that as soon as I give voice to my feelings I can begin to let it go or correct the problem.
Contrary to what I always thought, change starts with me. It was not the people around me who needed to change. It was me and only me who needed (and still continues) to change.
Why do I share this?
Well, there are a handful of people in my life dealing with stress, relationship problems and work issues, and to those people, I say this: REFOCUS. Adjust your lens. Supposedly, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If you’re treading water in a bubbling pool of negativity, swim away and look back to gain a different perspective.
Rather than expect the people or situations around you to change, try putting on a positive attitude and killing the problem or the person with kindness for a solid week. No matter how much you want to scream or to strangle the person, smile. Be kind. Listen. Never cut them off when they are talking.
Your boss is a raging lunatic who has no concept of what you do or what your schedule is like? Smile. Take his/her orders and do your best to accomplish whatever short-term goals you have in as efficient, expedient a manner as possible. If you make a mistake, admit it and say what you are going to do to correct it.
When your boss is snipping at you, listen. Thank him/her for pointing out what you can do to improve. Ask questions to clarify points you might not understand. Write thank you notes to the people who have done something nice. Don’t act like you’re perfect. Admit you have things to learn and ask for assistance in becoming a high performer.
Your husband is self-centered and not helpful? He sits in front of the TV while you rush around trying to juggle everything the household requires? Let the chores go and sit down next to him.
Those dishes can wait. Your relationship cannot.
Worry less about what your house looks like and more about what your relationship looks like. And don’t think you’re teaching your kids to be lazy or you’re teaching them it’s okay to let the dishes pile up. What you are teaching them is how a loving relationship is about give and take, and that doesn’t mean the other person has to give while you take. You’re teaching them that there are priorities in Life, and dirty dishes aren’t on the top of the list.
When you slam-bang cabinets and fill the room with your deep sighs and rolling eyes while your husband sits lazily on the couch, you aren’t communicating your disgust with his lack of attentiveness to you and to the house. You’re taking it all on yourself, and he could not care less. It’s what you always do, and you always end up getting over it, so why should he try to stop your mini tirade?
Sit down with him. Tell him you are tired, too. Ask if he can help you get the kids bathed or maybe take out the trash. Ask what his plans are for the week. Show interest in him, not just in his help.
Husbands, the same goes for you if your wife is not listening to your needs. She can’t read your mind, and she has a million and one other things fighting for her attention. On those days when you would rather watch TV and she is scrambling around the house, record the show or pause it if you have DVR. Help her or pull her to the side in the kitchen and give her a hug (NOT in an I’m-in-the-mood way). Get those household things out of her mind, and maybe she will have more time for being “in the mood” a little more frequently.
I know what you’re thinking.
“Why should I be the one who has to make all the concessions? Why in the world would I want to bow down to these people who are driving me crazy? How can I possibly grin in the face of such stress? Why can’t everyone else be positive so that I can be less negative?”
You aren’t giving in and bowing down. You are putting positivity into the world in the hope that you will see the same reflected back. You’re slowing down for a short trip down Reality Lane instead of erratically zipping down Stress Boulevard. Life is happening all around you, and you’re missing it because you’re allowing outside forces to control who you are and what you feel.
Stop. Refocus. Breathe. Smile and say, “Hello,” to random people in the grocery store and watch their surprise. Fake it if you have to until it becomes less of something you try to do and more of something you do without thinking.
No matter how stressed and negative you feel, you are blessed and loved.
The question is this: are you thankful? I challenge you to find just three things for which you are thankful, and write them down. Tomorrow add three more to the list. Shawn Achor said to make it specific. Don’t put that you are thankful for your health. Write down that you are thankful that you’re not on blood pressure medicine or that you lost five pounds last month or that your arthritis pain isn’t that bad today.
Be specific. After two weeks of doing that, you will have a list of 42 awesome things in your life. Here are mine for today.
- I woke up to the nose-pleasing aroma of Scentsy’s Red Delicious in my warmer.
- My hard-to-wake-up four-year-old got out of bed on her own this morning and was in a good mood.
- My phone doesn’t seem quite as slow as usual.
You may think these aren’t Life-changing blessings, and you’re right. But they aren’t silly or trivial. They are important to me.
What is important to you?