My dawdling footsteps on the pavement were not going to stop the inevitable.
I still slowed and paused, allowing my fingers to trail through the leaves along the neat hedge line of our neighbour.
I hated what was waiting for me at home.
That’s what slowed my steps and sucked the joy out of me.
I didn’t notice the vivid green as my hands trailed the leaves.
Nor did I relish these moments of slowing down. Instead I was focused internally on what was to come.
The Potato lesson
Each day, my job on my return from school was to dig deep into the massive bag of potatoes (that was almost as tall as me) and scrub and peel them.
To save precious money, the potatoes we used to get were as close to straight from the farm as you could get. They were usually so covered in dirt that it felt like they were still in the ground.
I can still feel my fingers being rubbed raw in the cold water as I scrubbed and scrubbed for what seemed like a lifetime.
Money was tight so that the repertoire of meals at times was equally tight:
Mince and potatoes.
Potatoes and mince.
Mince and gravy…with a side of potatoes.
What I didn’t appreciate was the worry and strain that money (or rather it’s lack) caused for my parents.
Instead I felt it’s impact in the way that children do:
I noticed the things I didn’t have that my friends did.
I noticed the arguments and chaos that was often a by-product.
And I also swallowed, along with the mince and potatoes, beliefs about how the world works.
An ode to Joy
When we’re children, we create meanings around our experiences. It helps us build a framework for life so we can navigate it safely when we grow up.
Sometimes though, we give meanings to things in a way that isn’t helpful. It was true for us in the context that we lived in but it isn’t an objective truth that we need to carry forward.
The tricky part is that those beliefs and meanings are often hidden from our conscious awareness.
Instead they’re like an operating system working in the background. Everything we experience gets filtered through it without our knowledge or consent.
For me, my potato experiences (and the lack of money) taught me that life is hard and that there’s often no joy in the struggle.
It’s taken a while to change that.
How can you shine the light
Right now, things might be feeling tough for you.
Financial pressures are putting the squeeze on: whether for your family, your business or your workplace.
There’s uncertainty and fear: we're watching a war unfold with no idea what will happen.
Combine that with the fallout of two years of incredible upheaval, turbulence and collective trauma and it can be a recipe for suffering.
How is it feeling for you?
The Happiness Advantage
There’s a long history of research and interest in what it is that makes some of us able to rise above our personal situation and still thrive whilst others are battered and broken.
It can be tempting to think that it’s a black and white, all or nothing kind of a deal.
But actually it’s much more nuanced.
Sonja Lyubomirsky (http://sonjalyubomirsky.com/), happiness researcher and author of many studies and books, is one of many interested in exactly this.
Her research has shown that just 10% of our happiness comes from our external circumstances.
50% comes from our natural predisposition; you can think of it as your Tigger versus Eeyore tendency.
Which leaves a whopping 40% that comes from HOW we respond to our lives.
This is about how we interpret the things that happen to us and the happiness habits that we cultivate to help ourselves.
The Happiness Choice
I’m not suggesting that you can just think your way to happiness or "positive affirmation" your way to nirvana. Instead you can define happiness differently so that it’s not a destination but instead a practice. That what can make it attainable. There's a definition of happiness that I love by Shawn Achor, a happiness researcher from Harvard (go and look up his Ted Talk, it's awesome!) "Happiness is the joy you feel moving towards your potential" Happiness is not the same as pleasure. So how can you practice?
Four Happiness Habits that will change your life
As I’ve learnt to shine the light of conscious awareness on the ways that my potato story shows up, I have the choice to do things differently. Now when life is a struggle, I’ve learnt to approach things differently. Life is not about escaping suffering and avoiding pain - that’s part of being human. Here are 4 practices to get started on the journey to a happier life: 1. Practice Gratitude and Savouring It’s not always possible to feel joyful about the things that are happening, but gratitude is always available. I certainly wasn’t experiencing joy when I was peeling the spuds, but with a different mindset perhaps I could have been grateful that we had enough to eat. Savouring is another way to combat feeling unhappy. Recalling with all your senses the positive experiences you have as vividly as you can. We have an inbuilt tendency to strongly recall and prioritise the negative (like my cold hands with the potato scrubber). With a little practice, however, we can use our imagination positively to create mental connection to the delicious experiences too. Try it: Can you think of something that’s happened to you today that was a bit crappy. What is there to be grateful for in the experience? Even something really small or the fact that it’s over. And now close your eyes for a moment and recall a moment to savour: your warm bed before you got up, the first sip of coffee, the sun breaking through a cloud. Use all your senses: see it, feel it, smell it, taste it, hear it. Recall if vividly as if it was happening right now. 2. Watch how you think and dial up the kindness Most of us are good at beating ourselves up internally. "I can’t believe i let this happen again", "Why am i so rubbish", "I’m disgusting". When we start to listen in to the way we talk to ourselves it can be staggering. We speak to ourselves in a way we would never speak to anyone else. Far from motivating us, this makes us less effective and also makes us miserable. There’s lots of layers to combatting this but awareness and a touch of kindness are a great start. Try it: Think of a mistake you’ve made today, or something you could have done better. When you recall it, what do you notice about the tone of voice and words you use towards yourself? Kindness can start with simply acknowledging that you’re not being kind and that it’s painful to experience. This is a baby step to changing your experience and building happiness. 3. Scatter your days with acts of kindness for others Kindness doesn’t cost anything, it can be something tiny like holding a door open or offering a smile. But it’s ripple can be huge. The Dalia Lama describes compassion to others as "wise selfishness" - because it’s actually as good for you, the giver, as it is the receiver. Finding ways to be kind, even just with a kind thought, makes YOU feel good. Try it: Think of one small thing you could do for someone you care about today that would be kind. Maybe right now you could send someone a message to let them know you’re thinking of them. As you do it, try and focus less on how it is received and more about how it feels for you. Kindness can breed resentment if we do it expecting something in return. How cool it would be if it could be it’s own reward. What do you notice? 4. Connect to what matters to you (Values) This one can be tricky. What happens if you don’t know what your values are and what life it is you really want? Many of us are just going through the motions and following what we think we should be doing. Start by noticing what you care about and what lights you up inside. Those are your clues! Try it: Close your eyes and imagine it’s your 85th birthday party. Imagine you’ve spent every day from this day right now until then living as the truest and best version of yourself. Now imagine that the people at your party stand up to talk about you and the life you’ve lived. What do they say? What reflections do they have? What have you stood for in that time? What comes up for you as you imagine it?
Doing the deeper work
Happiness is achievable if we define it differently.
If it becomes about living a rich, full and meaningful life rather than always feeling "happy" then it’s not somewhere we get to.
Instead it’s something we commit to.
With my Be.More Programme, that’s what we uncover. How you can live a rich, full and meaningful life YOUR away.
Not someone else’s definition.
Not how you think you should be and do.
But a deep discovery and exploration into how to be with yourself differently and create a life you don’t need to escape from.
You can find out more here
If you’re feeling stuck and like it’s hard to make the changes you want, it might be time to do the deeper dive to change things.
Get in touch if you’d like to see if it’s the right programme for you. Just hit reply or email firstname.lastname@example.org and say "I want to know More!"
I’d love to help you find your Happy life.