It has been said that if you do something for twenty-one days, without fail, it will become a habit, a ritual in your life. Most people spend time trying to change or break habits. You may not have spent time practicing obtaining a habit, but the habit of happiness is one that is worth practicing.
Dr. Robert M. Sherfield author
This is an interesting thought isn’t it? I can really relate to the preoccupations involved in changing or breaking negative habits and it is such a wonderful and uplifting turnaround to decide instead to adopt a new habit; it sounds a lot easier for a start. But before we investigate the ins and outs of practicing the happiness habit, here is a story.
You may have heard of some of the humorous exploits of the 13th century Sufi philosopher Mulla Nasrudin, which have been immortalised in the work of Idries Shah. This is one of his Nasrudin tales.
A man is walking home late at night when he sees a worried Mulla Nasrudin down on all fours, crawling in the road, madly searching under a streetlight for something on the ground.
‘Mulla what have you lost?’ the passer-by asks.
‘I am searching for my key,’ Nasrudin says worriedly.
‘I’ll help you look,’ the man says and starts searching with Mulla Nasrudin. Soon they are both down on their knees under the streetlight looking for the key. Eventually the man says, ‘Tell me Mulla, do you remember exactly where you dropped your key.’
Nasrudin waves his arm back towards the darkness and says, ‘Over there, in my house. I lost the key inside my house … .’ Shocked and exasperated, the passer-by jumps up and shouts at Mulla Nasrudin, ‘Then why are you searching for the key out here in the street?’
‘Because there is more light here than inside my house,’ Mullah Nasrudin replies nonchalantly.
Of course we want to feel good, we all want the key to happiness, and this is a wish that we share with all other beings. But as the tale suggests we might do well to check out where we are looking for this key. When I wrote my book, Fast Track to Happiness I uncovered some interesting research undertaken by psychologists at the Universities of California, Missouri and Illinois.
Their study showed that happy people are greater achievers and more successful in both their relationships and their careers than those with a more miserable approach. The researchers discovered that this was because the happier people were, the more they were inclined to welcome new experiences and challenges and to go for new goals. Their positive moods also made them more energetic, outgoing and popular – qualities that also helped them to do well. The results showed that the more cheerful people are inclined to have happier marriages, to earn more and also to outlive their more miserable peers. These interesting findings contradict the widely held assumption that having the right job, a great partner or more money necessarily leads to happiness. Dr Sonja Lyubomirsky, who led the study, said: ‘Our review provides strong support that happiness, in many cases, leads to successful outcomes, rather than merely following from them.’
And so, back to the Mulla Nasrudin story. Perhaps the question we need to be asking ourselves is, ‘Am I searching in the right place for the keys to my happiness?’ When clients talk to me about their goals and I ask them why their success is important they invariably say that it is because it will make them happy. But maybe we are looking at this the wrong way round; it appears that if we make happiness our aspiration then all the rest might just drop into place.
In 1998 Professor Martin Seligman began a new psychological movement with the central idea that psychology should be focusing on the positive habits that create happiness rather than on focusing on the negative states which lead to unhappiness. This new Positive Psychology (also called the science of happiness) had its roots in research that showed that childhood experiences and genetic traits account for only 50 per cent of our happiness potential and that we have control of the rest. It has also been shown that those who describe themselves as ‘very happy’ are no more beautiful, sociable or successful than the average person. The social scientists claim that the vital difference between us being happy or unhappy depends on whether we have taken two essential steps:
Step 1 We have discovered what makes us happy.
Step 2 We have included more of these happiness-making activities
in our lives.
You might be thinking that this is hardly rocket science and I do agree it does sound just like common sense. But take a moment here to think about how you relate to these two steps.
Acquiring the Happiness Habit
Step 1 sounds so easy but may pose a number of questions. Are you clear about what makes you happy? If you find yourself in that downward negative spiral right now then this question is hard to answer. Low self-confidence makes us miserable and when we are in this state we can hardly remember what it feels like to be happy, let alone how to generate any get-up-and-go energy. You might be doing things to keep someone else happy or you may be struggling with your inner pessimist or awash with self-doubt or unable to focus on positive goals. And although we all deserve to be happy you might not be feeling this at the moment. Perhaps you have some old beliefs about happiness that are holding you back or maybe you are facing a difficult challenge right now. Check out where you are starting from in the happiness stakes.
Quiz: How happy are you?
Read the following statements and ask yourself if they are true for you.
Score as follows:
1 I know how to have fun.
2 I believe that I deserve the best that life has to offer.
3 I make time to do what gives me most pleasure.
4 I have good personal boundaries.
5 I have an optimistic approach.
6 I like and respect myself.
7 I know my strengths and qualities.
8 I enjoy good relationships with others.
9 I have a good work/life balance.
10 I am positive and motivated.
If you scored 10-20
You are feeling pretty good about life and are already practicing the habit of being happy. This is the score of a person who actively seeks to stay in the positive upward spiral of high self-esteem. Flexible and balanced, you have a developed sense of self-awareness and you can appreciate all your efforts in spite of your mistakes. As you move on in your journey you will experience even more subtlety in your understanding of what it really means for you to be happy. Keep doing what you are doing!
If you scored 21-30
This range of scores demonstrates someone who knows herself very well. You are aware of the way you relate to the positive upward spiral of increasing self-esteem and the downward spiral en route to low self-esteem. However you do not always use your insights to your best advantage and there are times when you are not wholeheartedly behind yourself. Start to become mindful of the moments when you sabotage your happiness and confidence, and do this kindly; you are looking to help yourself here not to criticize yourself even further. Gather evidence and knowledge of the negative patterns and defensive habits that stand in the way of your happiness and then you can begin to let them go.
If you scored 31- 40
A score at the lower end shows that you are a person who also has a lot of self-knowledge. Sometimes you are inclined to rebel against what you know does you good, and this naturally leads to feelings of low confidence and unhappiness. Perhaps you even ask yourself why you do this. Stop asking yourself and simply adopt the positive psychology line: concentrate on what makes you happy and not what makes you unhappy.
A score at the upper end demonstrates an underlying feeling of lack of deservabilty. This is sometimes a key that unlocks hardcore negativity (patterns that seem to have us in their grip). Start to remind yourself that you are a wonderful person who does deserve the best; keep at this and you will begin to believe it.
If you scored 41-50
You are reading the right book! There is not such a huge chasm between those who are happy and those who are not. High self-esteem is not a special gift given to the lucky few. Self-esteem and happiness are inner qualities that we can develop for ourselves; don’t forget this. You have all the tools you need as well as the most important quality of all – you are motivated to change. This strong intention led you to this book and all you have to do is to implement these daily strategies. Take one step at a time and practice the techniques, remaining kind to yourself throughout. If your goal is to increase your levels of self-esteem and happiness then you can easily achieve this; just keep going.
Copyright © Lynda Field 2015
Adapted from my book, Weekend Life Coach.