“It’s turning out there’s actually a science to happiness and it’s been studied and quantified for decades.”
You know how the universe has a way of putting things and ideas and people in your path to shine a light on an area you might want to put some awareness on? Recently for me, it’s been about our ability to choose happiness. It seems wherever I look lately, there’s another reminder, front and center. So, given the last couple of years and now also the last couple of weeks, it occurred to me that happiness would be a topic we can all use about now.
Most everyone who knows me knows I’m a recovered alcoholic. And if you didn’t, you do now… I’m not overly secretive about it. This month marks my 35th year of sobriety. (I sobered up the day after St Patrick’s Day because sure wouldn’t want to miss the world’s biggest day devoted to drinking, right?) Back then, it seemed to me my choice was simply one of surviving. Knowing what I know now, I can see it was actually choosing not just to survive, but to be happy in my life. But that choice of happiness can ebb and flow, and we all need the reminders.
About 22 years ago I was not a happy person. I was self-employed selling nutritional supplements, and was horrifically horrible at it. “It’s raining—I don’t feel like working. It’s sunny—I don’t feel like working.” Maybe mighta been a bit of a discipline issue there as my boss was apparently a slacker. I had been married for about 9 years, and on my second marriage to boot, and it was starting to look as if I was horrifically horrible at that as well. Several friends of mine in the same nutrition business, who were all freakishly successful, told me about a three-day seminar that had helped them immensely with their business success and their overall happiness with life. Sign me up. I’m in.
So I went into the weekend with two goals: 1) to jumpstart my business and build a successful career, and 2) to either jumpstart my marriage or get a divorce. It should be noted that my husband was not aware of either goal.
Three days later I had come to the following conclusions: 1) Self-employment (at that time) was not for me and I accepted a wonderful job with a company and former colleagues that had been trying to recruit me for awhile; 2) it was amazing how much my husband had changed in three days and I had forgotten how awesome he truly is, and 3) every single thing in our lives is a choice. Every. Single. Thing. I chose happiness. This past New Year’s Eve, superhubby and I celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary. (And now I’m also actually quite good at being self-employed—go figure.)
It’s turning out there’s actually a science to happiness and it’s been studied and quantified for decades. I was recently at a business conference and the keynote speaker was Shawn Achor, author of “The Happiness Advantage” and one of the world’s leading experts on studying the connection between happiness and success. He also has one of the highest rated TED talks on the happiness and work connection, with over 16 million views. He’s a big deal in the world of happiness. Which goes to show the size of the rock I live under as I had never heard of him or his work. I’ve now ordered the book and plan to carve out some time to watch the TED talk as he makes a whole lotta sense.
One of the biggest takeaways from his speech at the convention was we, as humans, equate achieving goals to success and to happiness. But then we continually move the goal. So happiness continues to be out there, in the future. “When (blank) happens, I will be soooo happy.” He doesn’t whitewash the stress in our lives, but talks about acknowledging the stress and identifying the meanings we assign to it. Which took me right back to that first seminar 22 years ago and remembering that I, as a human being, am a rockstar of a meaning-making-machine. Which is a much longer conversation, but we all tend to do it. Again, to the forefront, the realization that in my life, I get to choose, and I choose happiness.
When I returned home from the conference, I learned that Jane Marczewski had died on February 19 of cancer at the age of 31. Known by her professional name of Nightbirde, I—like many others—first heard her sing during her audition for America’s Got Talent last year. Her voice was incredible, her smile and personality infectious, and she was Simon Cowell’s golden buzzer. The progression of her disease caused her to miss the semi-finals of the competition, but she made such an impact on people during her short time here. During her audition, she sang an original song simply titled, “It’s Ok,” but it was her words after that caught my attention the most. She said, “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.” Read that again. “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.” There’s some big ol’ power in those words right there. That’s the legacy she left us: our circumstances don’t have to define us.
So, if you’re feeling a little off in the happiness department, you can make the choice. Pick up the tools, read a book, listen to the talks, take a class, get really connected to the things to be grateful for in your life, have a 5-year-old tell you a joke. If you need a joke to tell a 5-year-old, give me a call. I’ve got a million of ’em. (Ok, really I only have two, but they’re really, really good.) And yes, my whole life I’ve been called a Pollyanna—sometimes with a fine swear word in front of it—and I’m totally ok with it. It beats the alternative.