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November, 2010:

Happiness Inventory

Happiness Inventory Assessment

Do you have a hobby, pastime or activity that lights up your outlook?  Does your work or your profession give you a sense of satisfaction, and do you look forward to its pursuit each morning?  If you cannot answer yes to both; something is out of balance or missing from your life.

We all have to earn a living for ourselves and for our families, and that means working and careers.  As we all know, there are tradeoffs and compromises in life, and often these must be balanced to achieve our living standards and goals.  Too often the compromises made negatively affect our happiness.  We trade off things that bring us joy so that necessities or perceived necessities can be attained.  Welcome to the club, and its membership grew as the baby boomers entered adulthood. 

Something else happened along the way.  The amount of stress and the accelerated pace of our lives grew with the population.  Collective progress came at a price, and that price was higher than expected.  We were fueled with the fruits of the Industrial Revolution that was closely followed by the Information Age.  The rate of change became magnified by the tools and resources we developed to permit us to process and to do more, and to do it faster.  The lifestyle changes seem to have been almost organic, and they spread throughout all developed countries. 

We stimulate ourselves with caffeine and other energizers that help us keep up with the pace.  We use technology to shrink time and to abridge processes and communication in our work and in our personal lives.  We have become speed junkies, and our lives are launched with the propellant that can take us to detrimental destinations.  We label these destinations with terms like depression, stressed out, exhausted, overworked and worn out.  In keeping with the technologies available, we seek remedy in convenient solutions to alleviate the symptoms of being frazzled by our own success.  In a very real sense, we have become a hindrance to our own happiness.

If you have not done so recently, it is time to take inventory of what makes you happy and what keeps happiness from your grasp.  You may need some reflection and decompression time to do this correctly.  Initially you will think of things like:  playing more golf, playing more tennis, reading more, going fishing, watching old films, gardening, spending time on the Internet, traveling, spending time with friends, watching more sports or perhaps writing.  And, in fact, these are desirable goals and can provide you with fodder for enjoyment and fun.  You have to slow it down a bit – the pace of life that is – to inventory its components.  In fact, you may have to consult with friends and loved ones for their observations.

Speeding through life can make objects appear to be larger and closer than when viewed in your rear view mirror.  There is a time to hasten, and there is a time to slow things down.  When you slow them down, they come into perspective.  Would you enjoy a one hour round of golf?  I don’t see how.  You wouldn’t have time to do the thinking, course management, shot execution and social discourse that accompany the game.  Would you enjoy fifteen minutes of fly fishing?  No, it takes that long to tie on the fly and to get your rod ready.  Haste by its own definition creates errors and does not always get us to the outcome quicker.  That becomes clearer when we engage in the things that make us the happiest.  It’s your life; do you want to get to the finish line first?

Doing things that make others happy or that make their lives more livable will in turn make you happier and give your life fuller purpose.  If you don’t see this, you are probably moving too fast or you are caught up in the pursuit of success.  Success and achievement are substitute definitions for happiness.  In a social context, this is a mistaken concept. 

Who makes the first commitment to make the journey better for all of us?  Who takes the first step?  Why not you?  Don’t rush ahead of someone in traffic; give them a break.  Hold the door open for someone approaching and smile.  They will smile back and their appreciation will be expressed.  It will remind them to do the same.  We pass things both good and bad along.  Starting with small things can hold the door open long enough for you to enter.  Behavior has to start somewhere…let it start with yours. 

Take this happiness inventory and gain a perspective that could help change your life for the better, and in so doing, it can improve the lives of others.  Take three deep breaths – do it – before you start.  Don’t do it when you are deep in thought about other things.  Clear your mind and look at yourself objectively.  When you have done it, look it over.  Prioritize them.  Satisfied?  Now put it aside and come back to it later.  Reread it.  See anything to add or change?  Do it.  Think about it.

Do the same process with things that stand in the way of your happiness and fulfillment.  Be objective and write them down no matter how monumental or trivial they seem.  You have to confront them if you are ever to conquer them.  Prioritize them.  When you are satisfied, put the inventory aside and come back to it later.  Any additions or changes to make – do so. 

Take an inventory of things that frustrate or irritate you.  Call them pet peeves.  That’s right, make a list.  You may be surprised at what you discover.  You won’t get these all right away, and you will likely add things for a while.  Prioritize these as well as you can, and put them all down.  You know, things like rush hour traffic, slow computer response, the coffee pot always seems empty when you want that second cup, a really bad golf shot, an annoying behavior of a coworker, the shoe that seems to come untied for no reason or the waitperson that just can’t seem to get it right.  Put them all down as they occur.  The longer this list, the more stress you may have in your life.  The object is to shorten the list and to find constructive ways to deal with them instead of allowing them to peeve you.

With these accomplished, it is now time to introduce change.  Take your inventory of the things that separate you from happiness first.  What are you going to do about them?  What will you work on and what will you change?  It won’t happen on its own; it requires your commitment and your action.  Write it down!  Do it!  It’s your life, your happiness, is it worth your best effort?  You bet it is!

Revisit your inventory and write down your progress.  Don’t expect miracles and don’t expect results without some failures.  Get past them and stick with your objectives.  Talk to someone about what you are doing.  Share it with them.  It will be motivational for both of you, and maybe you will plant the seed for others.

Take your inventory of what will make you happier and determine what positive actions are necessary and what compromises you’ve made that separate you from them.  What are you going to do about it?  What will it take to bring more joy into your life?  Figure it out and do it!  Talk to your confidant about what you are doing.  Share your progress, fast or slow.  Now you are on the way to finding a happier you. 

You may find a synergy when you work on these.  The combined effect will get you to a better place than doing one in isolation.  Keep track and spend some time each day, even if it is only five minutes, with your commitment to removing obstacles to happiness, the things that you can do to bring more happiness into your life and the things that peeve you.  Eventually you want to find alternatives that allow you to strike the peeves and obstacles off of the inventory…and to find ways to spend more time with the things that please you.  I ask you to put make a difference to someone on your list of things to do to make you happier.  Regardless of how small it may seem, do something positive that makes a difference to someone every day.  That’s how behavior evolves.

Happiness Inventory Assessment

I.          Inventory of things that make you happy.

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II.        Inventory of impediments to happiness.

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III.       Pet peeves.

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IV.       Plan and commitment to reduce impediments to happiness.

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V.        Plan and commitment to doing things that make you happier.  Include making a  difference to someone regardless of how small the gesture every day.

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Don’t forget to take the happiness pledge located at http://www.riskhappiness.com/pledge-2.com

Banish Negative Thoughts!

Or, How to Wallow in Happiness

“Life is not about waiting for the
storms to pass…it’s about learning
how to dance in the rain.”  

If you’re going to wallow, wallow in positive thoughts and happiness.

It’s your choice.  Do you like to make decisions – have a choice in the matter?  Most of us do, however we somehow miss that we can make a choice about how we want to feel or react to certain situations that may present themselves to us on any given day.  We are, all of us, on auto pilot, making those decisions unconsciously.  If you look back at how you reacted to certain uncontrollable situations and don’t like what you see – take charge of your responses.

When you go shopping for food do you unconsciously select your items or do you have a list?  Do you close your eyes and take whatever falls into your hands?  I think it’s safe to say that’s not the case.  You most likely put some thought into the list based on your meal plans for the coming week.  You thought about it, wrote the list, drove to the store of your choice, not just any store, but the one that has the items you specifically want, and selected your foods based on your decisions.

Choosing happiness and positive thoughts is based on the same premise as the grocery shopping analogy above.  You DON’T have control over billions of other people and what they may do that affects you, nor do you have control over Mother Nature or morning traffic.  But you DO have the choice to feel happy regardless of what comes your way. 

Making the choice to be happy regardless of your circumstances might be difficult but if you create the habit of being happy, it will eventually be easier.  It used to be said that 21 days was all it took to create a habit.  Unfortunately, according to a recent study, that’s really not the case – it may take longer – but the sooner you start, the faster you’ll get there.  And if you miss a day, it doesn’t go against you. 

So, how do you create the habit of happiness?  Banish negative thoughts – wipe them out – throw them away!  You know those inner thoughts you hear, the negative ones?  It might be about something you “have” to do, some chore, some person at work who annoys you, someone who cut in front of you on your way to work – you may be cursing them out or calling them names or bemoaning the fact that you have to pick up his laundry on the way home from a long day at work.  This is negative energy and how can you be happy with negative energy surrounding you?  Short answer – you can’t.

Here’s how to banish the negative. 

1.   First you have to perceive it.  Listen to your inner voice – or self-talk.  If it’s negative, turn it around or turn it off. 

2.   Replace the negative voice with a positive one.  Example:  “I hate picking up his stuff, why can’t he do it?”  How about, “You know, I love that guy and he does so much for me, it’s the least I can do and I enjoy making him happy.  It’s the little things in life…”   OR, “that jerk cut in front of me, what an idiot!” – replace it with:  “He must really be in a hurry, maybe there is some personal emergency – I’m glad I saw him and my reflexes are good.”

3.   Remove non-positive words or phrases from your vocabulary, such as “I can’t,” “I hate,” I’m pissed off,” “she makes me so angry.”  You get the idea.  Remember the old adage, if you can’t say something good, don’t say anything at all?  It works for this exercise.  So you have the choice to “stifle it, Edith” or turn the negative into a positive.  Your choice.

4.   Reward yourself!  When you do something positive, reflect on the positive ways it made a difference.  Feel good about your actions.  To reinforce this self-behavior give yourself little rewards for success.  Don’t penalize negative behavior, but let it serve to remind you that we are all human, all fallible.  When you understand this intellectually and reflect it emotionally, you are mastering your behavior.  As you master your behavior, turning up your happiness quotient becomes easier as does overlooking the things that brought you stress and discontent.

5.   Have someone to talk to who shares your philosophy.  Yes, a support structure is very important.  Become an advocate and share your journey with others.    

Banishing negative thoughts may be difficult at first, but if you start to form the habit of turning the negatives into positives, eventually you’ll be doing it on auto pilot.  You’ll be glad you made the effort to take charge of your happiness!