I didn’t mean to lie, but I didn’t think there would be more to the story. So, here is part three of WHO KNOWS how many parts!?!?!?
The library is my favorite place (well, I have others, but I like the concept—free books, quiet, no one hangs out there).
For a while there, I was stuck on poetry. I haven’t read poetry in years, but I became a bit fond of Pablo Neruda. Thanks Ted, good call on that guy. Of course, I mean Ted Mosby from HIMYM.
Yesterday, I returned my last book and didn’t want to take another book out. I had one book recommendation, but thankfully they didn’t have it (it was a pathetic book that I probably wouldn’t have been able to check out without dropping my dignity out with it).
So, I went to my favorite aisle: nonfiction.
There were tons of books, of course, but I picked up The Happiness Makeover and 52 Small Changes.
Both books are about making the conscious choice to be happy.
First, I should admit that I was partially wrong. “How could you be wrong?” you’re thinking. “Why would you admit it?” Because I have to set an example. I’m trying to live by what I preach.
1. Prefrontal lobes
4. Happiness Myth
5. Law of Attraction
8. Everyone Wants to be Happy
9. Three Options
1. M.J. Ryan explains that we have two prefrontal lobes in our neocortex. “When the left is activated, we think thoughts of peace, happiness, joy, contentment, optimism. When the right is activated, we think thoughts of gloom, doom, worry, pessimism.” Each one of us has a tilt to one particular side; this differentiates pessimists from optimists.
I know, for a fact, that my tilt is to the right. I have been an optimist about certain things, but eventually, I (like many intelligent people) became jaded, pessimistic, and cynical. At first, these things attracted me to some people, but after spending serious time with cynics, I realized they were killjoys. So, I try to keep my negativity to myself (and there have been loads of negative thoughts, I tell you).
There’s a fix for this, though. You’re not doomed to be tilted to the right. Sure, this is years of carved neurological pathways to the right, but you can take steps to change. For example, the book says that when you have a negative thought, immediately think of something you’re good at or something you’re grateful for.
I started this today, and let me tell you, my go-to thought (at least six times) was, “I’m thankful I’m not blind and deaf.” The book talks about Helen Keller, too, so this was stuck in my head. Then as I took the stairs two at a time, I thought, “I’m thankful I can walk.” Then “I’m thankful I only bruised my tailbone two years ago.” “I’m thankful I can snowboard.” “I’m thankful for my job.” “I’m thankful for my friends.” “I’m thankful for my family.”
By the time I went to the bathroom and back to the office, I had a list of things I was happy about. My one negative thought was replaced by a list of things I was thankful for.
When I ran out of things I was thankful for (I didn’t, but I wanted to try the other exercise, too), I thought of things I was good at. “I’ve written a book, I’ve written a screen play, I’ve written songs, I’ve taken photographs, I’ve loved, I’ve been a good friend…”
So, every time you have a negative thought creep into your mind, redirect it. It’s easy to stay in a funk. Believe me. I have been Queen of Funk. I can brood about something for days and weeks and even months (okay and years). If I can have a genuinely good day because of changing the wiring in my brain (one small step, anyway), then you can. Trust me. This is years of negativity that I’m ridding myself of.
2. One thing that makes me unhappy is comparisons. If I compare my life to someone my age who has their life together, I can be pretty unhappy. I don’t personally know anyone who is 25, has a decent job, has found the love of their life, and is doing well. I do know a few who are in their 30s. I do know people my age with better (paying) jobs or incredible relationships.
I only see what they let me see, though. I don’t know if John Smith has the perfect relationship he seems to convey to the world. Just because he posts happy photos of his relationship doesn’t mean he’s genuinely happy. The cynic in me made a game out of picking apart other people’s relationships. I’d see a couple and decide whether they were truly happy, faking it, or on the brink of extinction.
Rarely did I see a genuinely happy couple. If you really look at two people, you can see everything. So, I’m renouncing this game, because of two things: 1. it’s depressing and 2. I feel sorry for people that aren’t with their person, and I shouldn’t make it a game.
So, envying people isn’t really my bag. The book says that you should be grateful for what you do have, because the grass isn’t always greener. I know this. Years ago, an old friend contacted me and asked how my then-three year relationship was. I said it was over and I was glad—I probably should have ended it sooner. She was shocked. “WHAT! You mean—you guys weren’t even that happy?”
She was under the assumption that we were this great couple, we’d get married someday, pop out some kids, and you know—live together. No, that was never going to happen, and I guess I knew that straight away, but when you’re eighteen, you don’t think you’re going to ever get married and being in a “relationship” is just what people do (not so, don’t get in unless you’re in it for the long haul [aka, willing to wipe their butt at 90 years old]–noted). She was envious until she realized that her relationship was actually great in comparison. (Mind you, I never paraded this relationship around and I was surprised she even knew I was seeing anyone. Stalkers come in all shapes and sizes, I guess).
The moral: people can appear to be doing well, but rest assured, you’re probably better off with your problems than anyone else’s. You can handle what you have (and don’t have), even if it makes you temporarily unhappy. Don’t envy someone else, because their haves and have nots might not be something you can handle.
3. Being thankful for everything you do have. This is a running theme in the book. I won’t get too involved, but it bears repeating. You should be thankful for the things in your life. A few weeks ago, I went to church and Skip asked me, “how are you?” I replied, “I’m okay.” I was actually a bit bummed, but who talks about that? “Could be worse though, right?” he asked. It was the way he said it that really hit me. He was so nonchalant and off-the-cuff about it. I nodded and agreed. Just when I was accepting that it could be worse, he followed up with, “but it could always be better, huh?”
Yes, on both counts. There’s this saying (I’m sure you’ve heard) “I wept because I had no shoes, until I saw the man who had no feet.”
We are all self-involved. Sometimes, you have to put things into perspective, though. I really don’t know what upsets most people, but I’ll use myself as an example. If something falls apart in my hands, I will be upset. I realize, though, that there is more to life than whatever just fell apart. People are sick. People are dying. I don’t want to rattle off all of the things, but big whoop. So, I didn’t get what I wanted. It hurts, it sucks, but it could be worse.
One of the exercises Ryan has you do is to say, “I’m glad that I’m not…” and you fill in the blank.
It sounds negative, but it’s not. They studied this and people who thought things they were glad they weren’t (alcoholics, addicts, paralyzed, sick) vs people who thought things like “I wish I was more” (attractive, friendly, outgoing, loving) were happier.
It’s something to think about.
4. There is a myth that if you actually embrace your happiness, you’re going to lose it. It’s true. I know that when something good happens to me, I think, “well, this is nice, but how long will this last? What’s going to blow up in my face?” So, I keep my guard up, and I don’t fully enjoy the happy moments.
You should enjoy the happy moments. Things are going to blow up in your face regardless of you enjoying them. At least if they blow up in your face, you will have been happy first.
Perfect example: There have been times when I was overflowing with happiness. I know, it’s hard to tell with me, and I’m sorry. It has happened, though. Inside, I’m a big ball of mush and I’m overjoyed at (insert whatever made me happy). On the outside though, I’m terrified that it will be snatched away. I’m almost convinced that the universe is going to single me out and say, “a-ha, we made a mistake. That’s not for you.”
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I’m never going to do it again. I promise. There’s a perfect quote that described me. “She was a compulsive pessimist, always looking for the soft brown spot in the fruit, pressing so hard she created it.”
This brings me to something I watched.
5. The law of attraction. So, some people think it’s hocus pocus, but I buy it. I think you attract what you want in your life. You do. Sometimes, you get a crazy person, but you can usually dodge them and see it coming a mile away. Seriously though, you attract everything into your life. The power of the human mind is incredible. I’m not saying that you’re going to win the lottery, but your thoughts are a direct line to the things you get in your life.
I used to say I was a realistic idealist. I guess I will still say that. I am. I am realistic in not seeing the world as rainbows and butterflies, but I’m idealistic in that I hope that true love, genuine connections, a good life, etc exist. In the same breath, though, I viewed “realistic” as pessimistic.
I’ve been dealt a good hand. I’m happy with myself. It’s the external world (which I can’t control) that upsets me. So, if you want to be filthy rich, technically, according to The Secret, you should think about it, behave as if you are (don’t go spending money you don’t have, but acting like you have it), and being grateful for having it.
I don’t desire to be filthy rich or anything, so the things I’d like to have are actually a lot less grandiose than that (in fact, well let’s not get into it). You have to think positively, though. You can’t play around and pretend.
Don’t say you want a higher paying job, but only think about the crappy job you have. See, apparently, the universe can hear you and feel you. The vibes you put out in the world—the most vibes—are the ones that it picks up. “Don’t get fat, don’t get fat.” You’ll get fat. The universe doesn’t know whether you said don’t or do, it just heard fat.
Obviously that’s not the best example, but you can’t focus on what you don’t want. You have to focus on what you do want in your life.
This one is hard for me, too. It’s easy for me to think about what I want, but then I get to thinking, “merg, I don’t have that, though. When will I?” and then I move on to whatever. This also goes for your negativity. My pessimistic ways create problems.
I create problems.
Negative thinking is just a bad idea. Don’t do it.
6. Expectations lead to disappointment. I wrote about this previously. You should never expect anything, ever. It’s incredibly difficult for me to truly subscribe to this. I try, don’t get me wrong, but letdowns, man. Letdowns.
You should be grateful regardless of what happens in your life. I agree, but I also agree it can be hard to.
Also, don’t expect The Worst Outcome Ever and then live in worry. You should take stock of the worst thing that could happen and how you’d handle it, but don’t expect it. Don’t waste your time thinking terrible things, because it doesn’t make you feel good.
Trust me. I am incredible at thinking up worst case scenarios. What’s the point? Sure, I’m a lot less surprised if something bad happens (never the worst), but why waste my time? Enjoy the not knowing and the possibility that it could be positive.
5A. I know, I’m backtracking, but I must. You should be happy at things even if they haven’t come to fruition. She uses an example that her husband might be getting a promotion. He comes home, tells her about it, but he’s nervous. He doesn’t want to celebrate and be happy, because he doesn’t want to jinx it.
That’s me. I don’t want to celebrate my almost-happy news, because I’m afraid that I’ll jinx it. I won’t get what my heart yearns for, and I’ll feel like a fool (even worse than that, I’ll feel responsible).
You cannot jinx things.
This was hard for me to agree with initially. Then I realized, wow, she’s right. There are many times when you could celebrate something, but you choose not to, because you’re afraid the universe will snatch it away.
In HIMYM, Ted says to Robin that the universe has better things to do. It does. I do think so. The universe isn’t going to say, “hahahahahah I’m so going to screw her for this.”
That’s people. People can do that. People will do that.
And you’ll live. (Getting sidetracked, sorry!)
You won’t jinx it, and you should be happy! Jump at the thought of your promotion or your increase in pay. Last fall, I asked for a raise. The number I was given (ballpark figure) wasn’t what I hoped. Sure, I was thankful in general, but I wasn’t thrilled. When I finally did get my raise, it was exactly what I hoped for, and I should have celebrated sooner.
One example is when I started writing my novel. I was inspired to write. I wrote and wrote and when the end was near, I was clapping and thrilled. I hadn’t finished, but I knew I was going to do it.
I’m now writing another novel. It’s book one of a series (I’m thinking four). I’m thrilled. I’m happy.
7. Find your passion. What makes me happy is doing things that I feel I was meant to do. I need a purpose. I need a drive. I’ve always felt that way. If I’m not happy, it’s because I’m not doing what I think was meant for me.
Don’t get me wrong: there have been things I thought I was meant for, and I was not.
I do know that I have found my passion/calling. I am a writer. I write, because when I talk, I realize that most of the time, it doesn’t really matter (to whoever I’m telling it to). It’s not that I don’t think it’s important, but I don’t feel the need to waste my time feeling like it doesn’t matter to someone else. Countless times I’ve said, “this is really pointless.”
It’s not to me.
I’m saying it, because it affected me. I’m speaking, because I’m passionate about something. I don’t mindlessly drone on about things. I’m saying it to you, because for a moment, you matter to me, and I’m letting you in.
It’s better on paper. It’s always better on paper.
Likewise, I write because it makes me happy. I’m not the greatest communicator. I try to be, but I think 90% of how I feel and what I think stays in my head.
Find what makes you happy. If that’s painting, you should paint. If it’s editing, if it’s saving people—whatever. I think that when you find what makes you happy, you should do it. You should go after that thing 100%.
I live by this. I write every day. I don’t write my novel every day, but I write something down.
8. Everyone else is trying to be happy, too. I wrote about my favorite teacher in here a long time ago. If he was 40 years younger, much taller, and hopefully attractive, I probably would have married that guy. He was intelligent, witty, hilarious, cynical, and realistic (and a runner!).
These days? I don’t think of him as anything but a cynic. Contrary to my previous beliefs, just because you’re (like me) a realist, doesn’t mean I’ll like you. In fact, unless you can find the good in the bad, I wont want to be around you. There has to be a balance. I can be negative, but if I was negative 100% of the time, well, you should shoot me. I’m usually quietly thinking negatively (working on it!), but I won’t kill your mood with my observations.
I don’t like people that are always negative anymore. What’s the point? You can be intelligent and happy. You can be witty, hilarious, realistic, and optimistic.
Anyway, this teacher said that people are not inherently good people. This is up for debate. What isn’t up for debate is motivations.
People want to be happy. I accept that. I’m realizing that. Not everything someone does has to do with you. They are trying to be happy, and you should respect that. Sometimes, they will hurt you in the process.
Everyone is really just trying to be happy. The person who cut you off? He’s in a rush. He wants to be on time for his date. The girl that dumped you? She wasn’t happy with you for x, y, and z. Change it or let her go. The boss who yelled at you for something that wasn’t your fault? Maybe his sister is dying of cancer.
We’re all just trying to get by. Try to be as kind as possible. I don’t think anything anyone does is personal or out to get you.
9. Ryan talks about grace. I have always lacked real grace. Sure, I can be feminine, but let’s be honest, I can be more of a guy than a lot of the guys I know Not in any vulgar way, but in general—I’m a lot stronger/more athletic (maybe not always physically) than plenty of them, and have a pair of figurative gonads that most just lack (you only live once–make it worthwhile and don’t putter around).
Anyway, because of this, I’ve always been a bit envious of the girly girls. I can’t be a dainty, graceful little tulip. I can wear a dress, smell nice, and look all right, but I’m not fooling anyone. We can all tell that I’m a tomboy at heart. I don’t sit at the nail salon or hair salon. I do my own lawn, but I can cook a mean casserole too. Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked.
I’m more like hyacinth (go figure, my favorite flower). I’m the first to say, “I got this,” and I really mean it. I don’t need help, and I won’t ask for it (even when I could probably use a hand—and would appreciate the gesture, but would probably say nahhhhh about a thousand times). I wouldn’t say I’m the most graceful is what I’m getting at. I do things, I’m good at things, but I don’t have the same dainty grace that a lot of others have so inherently.
Ryan says that you have the option to do three things, but you have to do them gracefully.
You have to accept things as they are, be prepared to leave things, or change things. The key is to do either one gracefully.
I have prematurely done all three of these things in haste (sometimes, I just act on emotion—rare, but I can be a bit passionate about certain things). The trick is to remain graceful.
If you can accept things, accept all of them. She says her husband doesn’t clean the house. She isn’t going to divorce him over this. She accepts it. (He’s not a slob, but I’m paraphrasing).
If you can change things, change them. Sometimes, the changes take root, and sometimes they don’t.
If you can’t change things, if you can’t accept them, then you have to leave them. Gracefully. The key is to be graceful.
Thankfully, this is the kind of gracefulness that is a bit easier than the grace I described earlier. This comes with merely existing and doing what you say and saying what you do.
One of the running themes of this is accepting what you can’t change and being graceful about this.
It’s hard. I’m the person that you have to pry my cold, dead fingers off of something until I truly let go.
I’m working on this, too.
10. The final point on happiness is to find the reason for your unhappiness. For example: you’re selling your home, but no one is buying it.
You’re learning patience.
For every negative event in your life, there is good that comes out of it. We tend to focus only on the closed door or the unhappy ending, but there’s more to it than that.
I’ve learned patience at a young age. I’ve learned discipline. I’ve learned tolerance. I’ve learned kindness. I’ve learned that you don’t always get what you want, because you’re being taught something that only this situation can teach you.
A few months ago, this woman said to me, “you’re learning something now. You will look back on this and you’ll know what you learned. I don’t know what it is that you’re getting, but it’s something that only this situation can teach you.”
I’m still not sure what I was supposed to learn, but I did learn something about myself: I’m a genuinely good person. I learned it years ago, and I remember the first time someone I really loved said it to me. “Stay genuine—dignity often has a real cost.”
It does, and I pay the price, but I’d be doing myself a serious injustice if I wasn’t me. I hope that makes sense.
So, I think this contradicts some of what I said in my previous happy post, but that’s because I didn’t know what I know now. I think if you follow these principles, then you’re going to be happier.
I know that today was a nice day. I know that a few people were happier, because I was around. Normally, I don’t really think about that, but I could see the small difference.
If you want to see change, be a change.
Don’t wait for things to happen, make them happen. You could argue that you’re doing something to get something in return, and I could indulge you and discuss this for hours (I’d like to if I liked you), but I’ll just point it out instead.
As always, don’t worry, be happy.