What makes happy people happy? How can it be that someone who goes through a tragedy or lives in a horrible situation can be happy, while others who seem to have it all are miserable?
In addition to this summer's celebrity suicides, including DJ and musician Avicii, fashion designer Kate Spade and chef/TV personality Anthony Bourdain, there is this week's overdose of singer Demi Lovato. All of these bring to mind that happiness may not be in fame and fortune.
In this week's conversation, Joan talks about key components to start getting your happy on.
Q. The happiness question is particularly poignant after witnessing the suicides and overdoses of famous people who the public thinks had it all. It begs the question: what is happy? How do we really know what it is?
Joan: I believe that true and lasting happiness is being able to tap into a deep state of peace and well-being within us, a type of peace that doesn’t rely on anything external. It’s a feeling of contentment for what we are and have and not wishing for something else.
Q. I personally know people who have barreled through stage 4 cancer and come out the other side in remission...and they are happy. I know others who go through minor surgeries and it seems like the end of the world. Is it truly perspective, could it be that easy?
Joan: I believe it is. For most of my life I may have had a different answer, but now, after my own transformation and meeting so many inspiring people who have overcome unimaginable challenges and live a joyful life, I have to say yes. Here are a few examples:
Author, radio host and speaker, Joni Eareckson Tada, became a quadriplegic at the age of 17. Immediately after her accident, she was extremely depressed and wanted to die. She decided to change her perspective on the situation and chose to look for the blessings in her life. On the first day, she was thankful for the bird she saw outside her window. On day two, for the sunshine. It was a process but she told me, “When I began taking my focus off what God was asking of me and started putting it on what God had already given to me, it brightened my spirits, it lifted my heart, it encouraged me in my attitude.”
Author, speaker, and founder of Attitude is Altitude, Nick Vujucic, was born without arms and legs. At age eight he told his mother he wanted to commit suicide; at age 10 he tried to drown himself in a bathtub; at age 13, he had a wake up call when he read a story about a man with disabilities. Nick decided then that he had a choice: to be angry for what he didn’t have or to be grateful for what he did have. He has gone on to inspire millions of people around the world by inspiring them to believe anything is possible. Nick told me, “You wouldn’t be who you are until you’ve gone through what you’ve gone through. You’ll always learn more in the valleys than on the mountain.”
Scarlett Lewis, who lost her son Jesse in the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, told me that she has chosen to forgive the man that killed her son and to focus on the blessings from the situation. She said that after the shooting, she was contacted by orphan genocide survivors. These people had nothing – no home, no food, no clothing. They watched family members be murdered in front of them. During their conversation they explained that even though they lost everything, when they chose to be grateful for the little they had, they found peace.
Q. So if someone wants to be that happy person, that positive person, how do they get there? What are a couple things they can begin doing today? Baby steps, if you will.
Joan: 1) Focus on your gifts and blessings. Think about all of the things that you do have, not the things you don’t. There is a wonderful quote that states: “If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head, and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75 percent of the world.” Place emphasis on those treasures.
2) Let go of the past. You can’t change the past, so worrying about it does nothing for you except rob your peace today. Learn from your mistakes, vow not to repeat them, and move on.
3) Stop comparing yourself to others. Envy is poison for happiness. Don’t focus on what others have. Most people show their “A” game and while it may look good on social media, you don’t know what happens in private.
4) Release yourself from desires for material things. Possessions are just things. A big house or fancy car may be nice for the moment, but eventually the newness wears off and you’re back to being you. What good is the beach house if you’re miserable in it?
5) Spend time with the people who lift you up. There is nothing worse than being around a person who complains. Negativity sucks the life out of you. Surround yourself with grateful people. Joy is contagious!
6) Love the little things. Take time for small pleasures. Be mindful and savor life’s treats: a baby’s laugh, a beautiful flower, playing with children, listening to music, a funny joke. All of these moments become the snapshots of a full life. Don’t miss them.
7) Change your attitude. The old adage of the glass being half empty or half full sums up the way you view your life. As Dr. Wayne Dyer stated, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Q. We've talked about driving those negative thoughts out. What is one way to begin doing that and inviting the positive thoughts in?
Joan: Break the habit. Become mindful of what you’re thinking. When you catch a negative thought, replace it with a more positive one. Spend more time in the conscious mind.
We have 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day. Eighty-five percent of those thoughts are negative, 90 percent are the same thoughts from the day before. The same thoughts equal the same choices, the same choices equal the same behavior, the same behavior equals the same experiences, the same experiences equal the same emotions, and the same emotions equal the same thoughts. Break the cycle!