Fork in the Road: Keep it positive
Credit: THOMAS NORTHCUT / THINKSTOCK
Everyone has the capacity to feel happy.
She is in fact one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. But it’s not because of anything she has done. It’s because of who she is. Every breath, every moment – to her is a gift. She is truly a happy individual.
The historical origins of the subject of psychology abound with – if not exclusively revolve around – studies of dysfunction, mental illness and anti-social behaviour. While it’s important to understand the pathologies of the human condition, it wasn’t until recently that a new field of study focusing on experiences of gratitude, forgiveness, compassion and awe – and accordingly happiness – called positive psychology emerged.
Humans have a deeply ingrained tendency to be attuned to negative stimuli first and foremost. In our evolutionary past, our instinct to elevate the importance of negative stimuli was logical given that the negative stimulus was likely a deadly predator or competing tribesperson trying to kill you. Nowadays, however, one could make a strong case that this evolutionary-based trait is no longer serving a productive purpose as focusing exclusively on the negative in modern life results in maladaptive behaviours not exclusive to depression and substance abuse.
Lucky for us, positive psychologists have come up with a rather common sense solution to combat this hardwired-contravening mode of thinking.
Believe it or not, that age-old expression that happiness is a state of mind is actually true and even eternal pessimists can learn to reorient their thinking in order to achieve greater life satisfaction.
Everyone has the capacity to feel happy, as in experience a temporary state of elation. That feeling, however, is not the same as being happy. Individuals who are genuinely happy people can experience negative bouts like anyone else, but what sets them apart are four distinct qualities:
1. Their ability to bounce back from adversity
2. Their ability to forgive others and themselves
3. Their ability to express and experience gratitude
4. Their ability to live in the present
Happy people embrace challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. Happy people revamp, reinvent and/or redirect their energies when their goals are not met to their expectations. Happy people celebrate their victories no matter how small. Happy people express gratitude toward all those around them.
Happy people don’t dwell on the past or get anxious about the future but focus on what is presently before them, taking each day at a time.
When happy people are hurt by others, they find it within themselves the capacity to forgive. Though not every hurt can be justified or forgotten, happy people are able to accept the failings of others and move forward with peace, understanding that resentment only holds them back, not their transgressors.
Happy people acknowledge their own faults and mistakes and strive to become better people each day. They are happy because they focus on the good rather than the bad.
So why is it that many of us get it wrong? Why is it that those who live within wealthy industrial nations are actually the most unhappy?
It comes down to priorities.
Beyond working on developing a mindset of happiness, happy people understand that the greatest gifts they have in life are the connections they share with others. The lady I described at the beginning of this piece seems to have this figured out.
Each month, she sends out a letter of inspiration and thanks to all those in her life – hoping to pay it forward and also check in with everyone to see how they’re coping with challenges. Though I only met her through a superficial-type setting, she’s kept in touch for years, often lending an ear and support when I’ve been dealt a hard hand. Her life is really nothing to write home about, and, yet, she’s so full of love and life that it’s uncontrollably contagious.
The happiest of people truly have what they want and want what they have.
So as this school year comes to a close, strive for greater happiness in your lives. But really take the time to think about what that truly means. Don’t assume making that extra $15,000 a year is going to work wonders. Don’t buy into the fact that owning the latest gadget or designer bag will fill that void.
Think instead about your relationships, your present and all the wonderful things you already have.
This month’s lesson: A competitive spirit may get you far in the race, but an attitude of gratitude gives you a life worth living.