Happiness – Is it really a choice?
It can be, if we actively pursue three steps
Anxiety is on the rise. Work and stress are increasing levels of anxiety among students and professionals along with the fear of technological disruption and economic uncertainty. This anxiousness timed out my happiness. An attempt to get it back led to the creation of ATM for Happiness or Anxiety Toll Management .Happiness therefore would appear to be contingent on a mixture of socioeconomic factors and trust in the world around us.
Happiness is not something that can be tangibly felt or gained. You have to manage the conditions of your life to feel it & to get there. I propose a 3-part journey to achieve happiness, which I call the ATM of Happiness. It can be drawn upon to renew your focus and manage the conditions to be content.
The first and key step towards happiness is Acceptance. Accept yourself and accept others. A University of Hertfordshire study[i] corroborates this, saying that “Self-Acceptance” is one of the traits most closely related to satisfaction, and yet, it is the least common. Self-acceptance is the ability to accept ourselves just as we are. Most of us have a dual personas-one that’s visible to others and our Inner Core, only known to us. In a lot of my relationships wherein bliss was desirable (there were hidden expectations v/s acceptance of what was there). I started judging and being unhappy or feeling vulnerable with others whereas the need was to assess and understand. So I started this journey with cleaning myself, toning down my expectations, accepting people as they are, liking them more or giving them the benefit of doubt that they are good unless proved wrong with assessment and not judgment. Each person is different and unique and it took me time to accept them. I learnt this in my class at INSEAD where I found myself quite different from the core group. At times it felt bad, and maybe I was expecting more encouragement from them. But instead, if I could accept it and not surrender my joy to their encouragement and yet cheer them in their moments of joy, I would be close to achieving my desired state. As Gandhi said, “Be the Change you wish to see in the world. “
For near and dear ones, instead of giving unsolicited advice, I am moving to saying a prayer for their wellbeing. (I think my wife and teenaged children would be praying to see that being practiced in full reality).
The Harvard Study of Adult Development, a research project that started from 1938 and continued till 2016, found that throughout the years, one of the most important factors that strongly influenced health and well-being, were relationships with friends, and especially spouses. The people in the best relationships had lesser occurrences of chronic disease, mental illness and memory decline – even if those relationships went through many ups and downs.
As I started my journey of executive coaching, it was important to first know myself and accept my own flaws. Only then could I move forward to develop myself. We are all Works in Progress.
I have always tried to be more “Happy” than “Unhappy”- my efforts to achieve happiness largely revolve around this motto. So many others have this philosophy the other way around, where they can be happy only when they have material things.
My idea of happiness is to appreciate and be content with what I have right now, be it material or non-material. What exists with me at a particular moment is the truth and I accept it fully, internally and externally. I accept that it is the best possible state for me at the moment. This involves a “reset” of the mind’s focus and awareness and let go of the internal “mental prison” that we put ourselves in. I can be content, laugh at myself and start to enjoy and cherish and make the most of what I have. Only then can I move into the desire to have more. It is fine as long I can be happy with what I have and work towards what I want. Of course, I will not wait to be happy till I have more, because I may not have more, but I will most definitely enjoy the present. It is like when I had a car it was very important to have one. But after I got a car, an SUV was my next desire. But I was happy with my current car, realized that I am lucky to have one and enjoyed it till my next desire was achieved. My mantra is to LIVE this life fully. Most of what pans out for us are beyond our control & prediction. So maybe it’s better to accept this ground reality and then look at how to make the best of it.
In a New York Times article[ii], Martin E. P. Seligman and John Tierney write that the emotions of a person are reactions to the stress of the future. This is significant, because it says that the present moment and situation has a lesser impact.
All of us go through ups and downs – what’s important is to be able to STOP (I use a full stop which I write down) and then respond to the situation, rather than reacting to it. At times, I have spent nights worrying about things and pushing back the root cause, because the moment I confront it, peace emerges only temporarily, but the ghost of worry comes back with more vengeance. I have learnt to recognize the snap judgements that I tend to make and remind myself to have an open mind.
I met a young man once, who I thought was too full of himself. I was tempted to put him in his place and yet I refrained .Over the course of time, I saw him change and become better. In fact, he helped me and put in a good word for me when required.
Too much of our behaviour is determined not by how things are, but how we think things are. We are rarely correct when evaluating others without knowing about them. Let’s face it, we are prisoners to the judgement and image that we have of ourselves. We see others too using this narrow perspective. A Guardian article, says that by overthinking, we tend to judge ourselves, which leads to dissatisfaction and happiness.
These are all the tweaks that we should make, to be content and at peace.
Making the most of it
We all have the same amount of time daily. How do I make most of it? I start and end my day with a prayer of gratitude of everything I have. There are some things that I can do daily whether I am successful or not. I try to be fair in all that I do, I care for my loved ones, do some exercise, eat healthy- these are everyday things that give me peace and happiness.
As a businessman, it is important to not get lost in the “good to great” syndrome. At one point, I had got lost in social media and started spending a lot my time on establishing a large network, getting more likes, publishing articles etc. Although I gained immense knowledge and insight, I lost the balance that is necessary. It took me some time to realize and put a cap to these activities, thereby spending more time with the people around me.
For me family is very important. Caring and sharing is a part of my family’s DNA now, but we don’t obsess over it, as it can lead to disappointments rather than acceptance. Every Sunday, my wife and I have gone out with my parents in the mornings (sometimes our children accompany us, sometimes they don’t) to meet a set of cousins over a cup of tea. It’s non obligatory for all and a safe space to meet and joke without hurting anyone, at times there are three generations just sharing their everyday lives. Over time, we have formed deep and meaningful relationships, based on mutual love and trust and it is something that I cherish.
In their 2011 research paper “If money doesn’t make you happy, consider time”, Jennifer Aaker and Melanie Rudd from Stanford University and Cassie Mogilner from University of Pennsylvania show that happiness depends not on money, but on how people spend their time. There has been very little research that supports the idea that more money is correlated with happiness, instead that when money is top of mind, human beings are less likely to give to charity or socialize, things that are typically linked to happiness. Citing numerous studies, they say that focusing on time makes us more likely to use it wisely and spend it in the right ways, preferably with significant others.
In the Harvard Study of Adult Development, another insight gained was that while a warm childhood was a predictor of good midlife health and success, its effects didn’t last. Those who took active management of their own social circles and stayed connected to others had much happier and healthier retirement than those who didn’t.
So what is the ATM of Happiness?
Always Tame the mind for happiness is inside us and not on the outside
A – Accept the present situation with objectivity, let go of the past and stop worrying about future
T – Take charge of your thoughts, expectations, fears and hope in a manner that negativity can be reset to positive or a neutral position for it to move forward
M – Make the best of what you have in an effective manner with gratitude