The Happiness Habit
I talked to an old friend last week who I have known for more than 30 years but last spoke to about six years ago. Toward the end of the conversation he commented that I sounded “very chipper” on the phone. That surprised me as I thought I was always “chipper”. So, I asked him why he made that comment – wasn’t I always a “chipper“ person. His answer was “no – he did not remember me as happy. I was driven, focused on my job and success, talented, efficient, firm but polite, sometimes fun, but not happy”. I was shocked.
This made me wonder when I had changed. Because these days I am happy most of the time. Not crazy, dance around the room kind of happy – but peaceful, content with myself and the world around me kind of happy.
I pondered this question for over an hour on the long, traffic filled ride home. I realized that about 10 years ago I decided to make my happiness a habit. I studied what it took for me to be happy and figured out the changes I would need to make to achieve happy. Then I practiced my new behavior until happy became a habit. Now I don’t even need to think about it – I am just happy.
The first step in finding my bliss was to actually notice it. So for two weeks I kept a small notebook with me and captured the things, people, places and circumstances where I felt joy, satisfaction or engagement. I also captured the moments where I felt boredom, sadness, anger or remorse.
Here are the 3 things I learned in that exercise that I needed to change to become happy. I took each one of these items and created a new behavior around it. I practiced each new behavior for an entire month before I added a new change.
1. Avoid lack thinking. This one is so permeated in our culture that it is almost impossible to break the lack habit. That is why I started with this one first. When I woke up one of the first thing I used to say was “wow, I don’t feel like I got enough sleep” and thus my day started with lack thinking. That moved to “I hope there is still enough hot water for my shower” followed closely by “I wonder if there is more coffee?” My first few thought of the day were all around what I did not have.
Action Plan 1– start my day with three things I am thankful for. Before I even got out of the bed I have to write down in my journal three things in my life that brought me joy, peace, contentment or a sense of gratitude. I’ll admit, those first few weeks weren’t easy. I had a rule of “no repeats” and some days I had to really search for things to write down.But, after about three weeks I began to notice things throughout my day that were journal worthy. As I searched for things every day to capture for my journal, I found that more and more of those joyful things were arriving in my life. Soon I had to pick three to write down each day from a much longer list.
I also eliminated the words around lack from my vocabulary. Instead, I reframe. My previous comment of “I didn’t get enough sleep” became
“tonight, I will find a way to get better rest”. When I have a potential new client that may not be a good fit, I refer them to a competitor and say “good thing there is enough business for us all”.
After 45 days of consistent gratitude journaling and abundance self-talk I moved to the next area.
2. Be in the moment. As much as I hate to admit it, I am a “busy, busy, busy” kind of girl. I want it all – entrepreneur, consultant, podcaster, blogger, author, wife, mother, sister, friend. Whew the list is endless. I never have a down moment. My calendar is filled in 25 minute increments from 5 am to late evening - and I thrive on that sense of busy-ness. While this is great for my career and sense of self satisfaction, it is not so good for a relationship. One of my core values is my family. I realized to find more happiness I needed to reconcile my behavior to my values.
So, the focus of my next 6 weeks was my marriage. Why do we take out our frustrations on those closest to us? Why was I giving my spouse a fraction of my attention? Why didn’t I make time for my biggest supporter?
Action Plan 2 – cherish my relationship. This was a 3 part activity. First is what we affectingly call “cocktail hour”. We spend one hour at the end of each work day (usually 6-7) focused solely on each other to catch up on our day. No phones, TV’s, iPads, etc. Just us, focused on each other with no distractions. It is like a one hour date night, every night.
Part 2 – remember the why. I wrote down the 10 reasons why I fell in love with him on a yellow sticky note. I went way back to the passionate, blissful, joyful early days and came up with my list. What is on my list are things about the way I fell in his presences, his integrity and honor, his unconditional support of my goals and ambitions, his parenting skills and style. What is not on my list are chores, tasks or other “expectations” that creep up in a relationship.
This list is taped to the bottom of my nightstand. When I find myself irritated about something I “expected” him to do, or when I am just in a pissy mood because my day did not end as I had hoped –I give him a kiss hello and go read my list. This reminds me of why I fell in love with him and why I love him still.
Part 3 – Each day in my journal I write down one amazing, wonderful or kind thing he has done that I appreciate. Some days it is making the bed, some days it is being my best supporter, and some days it is his parenting style or the way he makes my coffee exactly the way I like it.
Result –after 6 weeks of focusing my undivided attention on my spouse for one hour a day, finding one thing each day where he brings me joy and remembering the 10 reason why we fell in love I feel like a newlywed. I am excited to come home each day to our “cocktail hour”, I see each day the thoughtful things he does for me and our family, I remind myself why I fell in love. The more I cherish and appreciate him, the more he cherishes and appreciates me. This is a true win-win.
3. Eliminate clutter – I found I can’t be happy with clutter all around me. It disrupts my sense of peace and well-being. You know that feeling of angst you get when you open the junk drawer and try to find something? My outer joy is directly related to my inner calm. And visual chaos does not bring me inner calm.
I needed to simplify my surroundings. Some people like collections. It makes them feel abundant to have things around them they love. I am not that person. I was – but as my collections grew I found that my things were beginning to own me instead of me owning them. I spent too much time on finding, organizing, cleaning and thinking about my stuff. Not enough time just being – allowing myself to have a quiet, reflective moment of joy.
Action Plan 3 – De clutter. This one was the hardest for me. I don’t like to throw things away – it make me feel wasteful. I also get trapped in the memories that certain things bring me. But I was determined to de-clutter my space.
Part 1 – make a plan. I took one room at a time for 12 weeks and cleaned out all the closets and drawers. I started with the easy ones – guest room and media room. Well, I thought they would be easy. But that is where the things I loved that I no longer used went to live. I was perplexed – I didn’t want to get rid of the quilt my grandmother made, the cool Dr Pepper jacket I love but never, ever wear, the antique dresser my father and I refinished together. What to do?
Part 2 – just do it. Well, my solution was to create a memory book. I took pictures of all the things I kept in a closet, drawer or attic that were fill of memories, but not used. Then – I got rid of them. After all, how much did I really cherish something if it had been in the back of the spare closet for decades? At the end of my clean-out project I made a book with a paragraph about each picture.
Part 3 – keep it up. I spent almost three months cleaning things out. I was ruthless. If it hadn’t been used in a year out it went. There were a few exceptions for holiday stuff and cocktail dresses. But other than that –out it went. Goodwill and Salvation Army became my good friends. I took boxes of things to Goodwill every Sunday afternoon. Salvation Army got the big stuff like furniture and appliances - because they would pick it up.
I saved the hardest for last. My closet. It is perpetually a source of angst for me. We hired a closet organizer about 10 years ago and had it redone. It was lovely for about a month, then it was a hot mess. Every time I went in there to get dressed I was stressed. There was no joy there.
Several years ago I saw an organizing tip on television that on said New Year’s Day to take all the clothes in your closest and turn the hangers backward. If they were still backward the next year, get rid of them. Well I did the first part two years ago – but never did the second part of getting rid of them.
This time I was ruthless. If any piece did not look good on me, was in perfect repair (you know that perfect skirt with the hem issue, or the shirt with the loose button, etc), or make me feel good wearing it – out it went. Same with shoes and accessories. No more keeping things just because I had spent a lot of money on them.
My perfectly organized closet full of things that made me feel good was a thing of beauty. Just opening the doors brought me joy. It was blissful. My new (and constant) challenge is to keep it that way. Everything gets put away – no clothes on the floor. When I travel, unpack as soon as I get home. What get put away goes where it belongs – not just off the floor. This has made an immeasurable impact on my morning happiness levels.
So, over 6 months I made a few simple changes in my life. I stuck to those changes until they became a habit. And my happiness level has increased significantly.
Here are a few quick tips of little things I do every day to find and keep my joy.
Sing – there is nothing that can change your vibration faster than singing in the shower. Pick a fun song and belt it out. Notice how much better you feel.
Smile – count how many people you smile at in one day. Challenge yourself to smile and one more than yesterday.
Don’t keep score – do something nice for someone else with no expectation of something in return.
Bottom line – accept yourself and strive for 1% more happiness today. Be the very best version of you today. Maybe it is not a joyful day. Perhaps you are going thru something awful. You may not be able to change your circumstances right now. But you can be kind to someone else today. You can look around to find something beautiful to see. You can sing.
Until next week Live Rich
February 1st , 2018
Join me every Wednesday on my podcast “Unlocking the Secret to Living Rich”. If you have questions or comments you can contact me at my email firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram @cindybbrown777
Who is Cindy B. Brown? Cindy is a CPA, MBA, CFO, board member of public and private companies, business consultant, entrepreneur coach and a foremost expert in the field of business
mastery. Cindy’s purpose is to motivate, educate and inspire people to live their richest life. She is the host of “Unlocking the Secret to Living Rich”.