Filmmaker Ricky Ray, while traveling through India and other parts of the world to produce his documentary, 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama, noticed a paradox. The poorest people were frequently happier than those who seemed to be very prosperous. Ray encountered more smiles from those living in the slums than from the people who were privileged with a rather lavish lifestyle. Logically, it would seem that those suffering from poverty, facing the immediate danger of being without food and shelter, would have more reason to be anxious and fearful. In reality, having very little can also mean that someone has very little to lose, and more appreciation for the small joys in life. Conversely, people who have spent most of their time and energy accumulating wealth or reaching certain external goals might identify too much with these aspects of their lives. As a result, their attachment to these possessions and achievements increases and, with it, their fear of losing them, which would also mean losing themselves.
Now, I am not suggesting that disposing of your goods and practicing an ascetic lifestyle will resolve your stress and anxiety, and bring everlasting happiness. Yet, haven’t we all experienced that happiness can’t be bought? And how often do we get stuck in worry and discontent, when in reality we have more reasons than most to celebrate our lives? Then again, emotions don’t necessarily make rational sense, since they come from the part of our mind that doesn’t care about logic and reason – our subconscious.
Don’t get me wrong, our subconscious isn’t just randomly throwing feelings at us out of sheer spite or boredom. This deeper, powerful and busy part of our mind has two main agendas, which are to protect us, or make us happy. Thus, depending on how our subconscious has been programmed, we tend to live in the anticipation of getting hurt, waiting for the other shoe to drop, or being able to enjoy most days with ease and happiness. The good news is that our subconscious is, by nature, eager to learn and to please, which is why we can train it to shift its focus towards greater happiness and contentment.
Here are three simple steps to teach your subconscious how to be happy no matter what the circumstances:
Expanding your happiness spectrum
In the past, you may have only called yourself “happy” when you were wearing a big smile and filled with incredible excitement and joy. Yet, similar to you choosing to only like super spicy food, the downside of this narrow definition of happiness is that everything else may appear rather bland. Yet, a form of happiness can be found everywhere and anytime. All you need to do is to widen your perspective on what you associate with being happy. This can be being content, at ease, in the flow, or present in the moment. You can find happiness when you are watching your dog play, sipping on your first cup of coffee early in the morning, having a deep conversation with a friend, or a productive brain-storming session at work. Some people even told me that simple things such as eating a fresh salad, snoozing 5 minutes longer, or even vacuuming can make them happy. It all depends on how open you are to finding the deliciousness in the simplest things.
Priming for happiness
How does a dog learn to find truffles? It gets playfully exposed to truffle oil and real truffle until there seems to be nothing more interesting for Fido than digging up the “chef’s black gold”. Your subconscious mind may have been so used to focusing on what it wants to avoid – failure, loss, rejection – that it needs to be reminded of what you want.
With your broader perspective on happiness, make a list of at least ten situations in the past where you felt happy: excited, joyful, at peace, satisfied… Then every day for the next two weeks, pick at least one of these memories. Close your eyes and fully submerge yourself in how you had felt during that time. As you are reliving these positive emotions for a couple of minutes, repeat to yourself, “I love being happy. I choose to be happy. I can be happy every day.” During the day, keep your eyes, mind and heart open to detect situations or encounters where you can experience those various forms of happiness.
Just like how learning a new sport or instrument takes practice, daily happiness requires commitment and an ongoing effort. Daily happiness can be practiced in two ways – through awareness and through action. The first way of practicing being happy requires you to make that famous journey from your head to your heart. Rather than rushing through the day with your to-do list as your map, choose, every couple of hours, to slow down and reflect on those moments of the past hundred and twenty minutes that were joyful, meaningful pleasurable or pleasant. Chances are, that nothing awe-inspiring happened. But, maybe you heard your favorite song on the radio, or caught a smile from a colleague in the elevator. Maybe you felt inspired, or able to get things done with greater ease than expected. If nothing else, use your pondering to count some of the blessings you usually take for granted – light-speed internet, your ability to reach your family by phone, the comfortable chair in the office, the safety of your neighborhood, or the reliability of your colleagues.
The second approach to practicing happiness is about actively creating this emotion. Three times per day, I step away from my office to visit my horse, Rymaelle. Unlike a dog, a horse doesn’t show a huge amount of exuberance when it spots its “owner,” but it always gives me a surge of pleasure when this beautiful creature walks slowly towards me, and grabs with her huge, soft and warm lips a carrot out of my hand. Actively creating happiness may be treating yourself to a bowl of juicy fruit, watching a five minute comedy skit on YouTube, or reading a page on an inspirational blog. Or, you generate moments of happiness through random acts of kindness, such as calling a friend, chatting with a homeless person, or helping a bug that is lying on its back. Studies have shown that good deeds, caring for someone, or something, and making some kind of contribution evoke the most profound and longest lasting sense of happiness.
To quote Thich Nhat Hanh: “There is no way to happiness – happiness is the way.” So, rather than waiting for those perfect moments and circumstances to be happy, choose happiness as a daily intention, focus and practice.
If you want to learn more ways to train your subconscious on how to make happiness a foundation in your life, tune into Empowerment Radio on Wednesday June 6 at 11 AM PST / 2 PM EST. Call into the show at 1-800-930-2819, or send me an e-mail if you have any questions, or would like to share your tips and tricks on how to make being happy a daily commitment.
To your success and happiness,