I'll be happy when...
Change is an inevitable part of our lives yet very few of us seem to like change. However, paradoxically, we are often all searching for a change - a change in job, a new car, a different haircut, an exciting hobby, a holiday away from our day-to-day lives. We put a lot of thought into what we want to achieve and believe we’ll be happy when we do.
I think this ‘I’ll be happy when…’ mentality is damaging though. For example, maybe you believe you will feel better about yourself when you have the perfect hairstyle. You find the perfect cut and colour for yourself and maybe you do feel fantastic when you come out of the hairdressers. But what then? Your hair will continue to grow so if you have put your happiness into having this perfect hairstyle, what happens when it no longer looks the same. Yes, you can have it cut and coloured again, but there will be changes in between. You can choose to keep having it cut into the same style forever more, but overtime I would guess you and/or fashions will change and you will evolve your style. The same is true of clothes, and cars, and any possession - you will be pleased when you have it, but do you think you will never want to change this or get a new one again? If you go on the best holiday of your life, will you then decide to never go on another holiday again? How does this then affect your happiness?
I had a coaching client aiming for a long term job goal and had developed with her a career development plan for the next 5 years. Then, one day, she asks - “What happens if I’m not happy when I get there? What if I still want more?” My question back was “What if you do?” I would be more surprised if she didn’t want more when she got there. We worked through her thinking. She had been so focused on the goal and that everything would be perfect when she achieved this, that she hadn’t contemplated what would happen next. I asked “When you achieve your ideal position, do you see yourself there until the end of your career?” She laughed at the thought. “No, but shouldn’t I then be thinking about and planning for what is next?”
Striving for more is good, but enjoying the journey is also important. It doesn’t matter if you don’t always know the next steps. It doesn’t matter if you are focused on a 3/6/12/60 month goal and haven’t thought about what happens after this. But pinning everything on being happy when you reach it, instead of finding happiness in your now, as well as your future, is wasting your happiness.
You can choose to be happy
I believe happiness is a state that, notwithstanding a chemical imbalance or a grief situation, we have control over. What I mean, is we can choose to be happy, or not. I want to empower you to fully show up in your lives. To do this, you need to be in control. You need to be in control of your actions, pushing towards your goals. You need to be in control of your thoughts, ensuring you believe you can achieve and succeed, you need the inner resources and resilience to overcome obstacles and you can develop your positive self-talk. You need to be in control of your emotions, as this will support your actions and thoughts.
What is happiness for you? Is it financial freedom, time with family and friends, time alone to read a book, a long run, a yoga class, a day out with your children, a weekend away with your partner, a job that you love? Or is it a feeling?
Think about when you have felt really happy. I bet you are smiling right now! Nothing has changed in your situation, you are still sat reading this blog, but you have changed your inner world. You are feeling happy because you are thinking about a happy event. You can choose to do this whenever you want!
Still not convinced? Slouch, look down, think a negative thought. Chances are, you now feel something that is less than positive.
Shake your body.
Now sit up, lift your head, hold your back straight, smile! Do you feel different? You are controlling your actions which affects your emotions. If something negative is happening, you still have control. You can choose to sit or stand in a confident stance. You can acknowledge the situation is not pleasant/that you are uncomfortable etc but know this will pass. You can choose to find meaning or a different way to view the situation. You do not need to be a victim to the situation, you can take control of the only thing you ever have control over, and that is yourself.
I’m not saying to just tell yourself to be happy. If you are caught in traffic you may feel angry, frustrated - acknowledge this, name the feeling - “I am feeling cross that I didn’t allow more time for this journey” - and then see what happens. My own personal experience, and what clients often report when they do this, is that by acknowledging the emotion it then loses its power and you can let it go. I then try to think of what I do have control of and ask more useful questions of myself:
Can I pull over and let someone know that I will be late?
What is the lesson in this?
Why was I so cross?
Is there another way I can view this situation?
Different questions mean you get a different perspective. You go into a resourceful state, rather than just letting the frustration or anger or whatever the emotion is, keep bubbling away, growing and intensifying. You acknowledge the situation as it is, and then can move on.
Personal development work is a journey, and it isn’t always easy. Our emotions fire quickly and can hijack us. But becoming more self-aware, acknowledging when this happens, asking empowering questions that change perspective and/or deepen your own self-understanding will help you gain control quicker and choose to move to a more resourceful state.
How to cultivate a positive mental attitude (PMA)
For me, it is about seeing the world in a different, more positive way that leads to happiness.
A simple technique I use with clients is to increase their self awareness of when they experience negativity. You can do this in a couple of ways, for example, you can wear an elastic band and every time you notice you have a negative thought, you ‘ping’ it on your wrist; or you can carry a notepad and write down your negative thoughts for a week. It is difficult to tune into your thoughts as they are happening all the time, but commit to to be curious and non-judgemental about yourself - this is just about tuning into any negativity you may have. For example, you may catch yourself thinking:
“I’m so stupid”
“Of course the traffic light would turn red as I get there”
“Why did they email me about this and not just pick up the phone?”
“Arrgh, it’s raining again”
“I can’t believe my boss has given me this report to do by tomorrow. I can’t get to the gym tonight now”
Words are powerful, and if you are having consistent negative thoughts you are likely to be focusing on the negatives rather then the positives of a situation. By being curious, you are gently bringing awareness to your own thoughts that may now be habitual. Once you are aware of it, you can then decide what you want to do about them.
If you decide you want to see things more positively, I’ve taken this exercise from Jen Sincero. Everyday reflect on something that has happened to you and say ‘this is good because…’ Choose things that were excellent, that were awful, that were just the day-to-day life admin tasks. What you are doing is training yourself to see the positive in every situation, and be grateful for everything you have.
I got a promotion today! This is good because I am ready for more responsibility and will love spending the additional money.
I had a car crash today. This is good because no-one was hurt and I have already contacted my insurer to get things sorted.
My electricity bill arrived in the post today. This is good because I value being able to use electricity in my home.
My own personal one at the moment is that our boiler broke on 30th December so we currently have no heating or hot water. This is very inconvenient but I am trying to see the positives in this situation. My first grateful moment was that we maintained boiler cover so an engineer came out on new years eve.
The engineer arrived and it was found that our heating exchange has cracked - this is not good news and the engineer couldn’t fix it and put a big ‘Danger, do not use’ sign on our boiler. The engineer told me that I was really unlucky because this is a manufacturer malfunction and he has never seen it in this make and model of boiler before. I disagree with him. I am lucky. My second grateful moment was still having all the paperwork to prove the boiler was under warranty. The engineer arranged for the part that was required to be ordered and the boiler will hopefully be fixed on 2nd January. My third grateful moment was that we were going to a friends for New Years Eve so didn’t have to change any party plans. My fourth grateful moment was being able to have a hot shower at our friends house this morning. My fifth grateful moment is that it hasn’t been that cold (that is due to change next week). My sixth grateful moment is for our portable heaters we could bring in from the shed. My seventh grateful moment is remembering that I have a home, a roof over my head, water and food. My eighth grateful moment will be when I have hot running water for a shower in my own home again!
The situation is the situation. I am controlling my thoughts around this and choosing to see the good. This ultimately is making me happier than if I decided to focus on the negatives and feel sorry for myself. Yes, I will be happy when the boiler is fixed, but I’m choosing to be happy in the 4 days in between as well by focusing on the positives.