Saturday, November 10, 2012

What Happy People Know


What is it that happy people do or know that allows them to enjoy a human existence? 

So far I have come up with three rules for happiness. I call them Steinman’s Rules for Happiness.[1]

1.  Allow yourself to feel what you are feeling, when you are feeling it. Talk about it.

Let’s unpack that a bit.
Happy people know that being unhappy is not a problem or a disease.  It’s part of the human experience. Before you go all crazy on me, please know that I am NOT talking about the very real and debilitating experience of chronic or clinical depression. I’m talking about the blues. Rather than trying to fix their blues, happy people are present with their feelings. Rather than suppressing their anger, they find healthy ways to be in it and express it. Happy people understand that a fully human experience is dynamic and rich and most certainly includes joys and pains. That is the way we are built folks. Happy people accept that it is natural to have a range of emotions.

2.  Do things that you can be proud of.

Unpacking time:
Happy people have  a self-esteem predicated upon some pretty healthy criteria. They behave in ways that they can be proud of. It happens to be a great yardstick by which to measure your behavior; is this something I can be proud of or not? When we behave in ways that will plant the seeds of shame, we are practicing being miserable. This ties into rule number one. Often when you are behaving in a way that you are not proud of it is because you are trying to protect yourself from feeling shame, or fear, or anger, or sadness. If you allowed yourself to stay present with the feeling when it came up, you might not be defending yourself in such a maladaptive way. The antidote for these uncomfortable feelings is doing things that you truly can be proud of. The tough part is figuring out what that is. Doing it is relatively easy.

3.  Be in loving relationships.

No big secret. Again, it’s the way we are built. We need it and we need to give it. Imagine a loveless life……no thank you! The thing is, caring and sharing are essential for our own happiness. I can’t help thinking about my grandfather when I talk about this. He was not an overtly loving or demonstrative man. But put the man near a puppy or one of his beloved dogs and he radiated joy. It was the simplest of affections, give the dog a treat or a scratch behind the ears and the old man was home. 

One quick diversion into “loving yourself”. I always hated that saccharine flavored sentiment. It always sounded like something from a poorly worded book jacket in the self-help aisle. Be kind to yourself feels a bit more authentic. Happy people don’t go around “loving” themselves. They really don’t take themselves too seriously, and love just seems too serious a word. What they do is extend the everyday kindnesses to themselves as well as others. Look you are going to mess up….a lot. Happy people just don’t spend a whole lot of time beating themselves up over this. Unhappy people spend a great deal of energy on self-flagellation. It’s one of their favorite pastimes. Happy people are a forgiving lot. They may not throw a parade for all the screw-ups that permeate the human experience. Nor will they waste too much time agonizing over that stupid slip of the tongue at so and so’s wedding ten years ago.[2]

Being a happy person might just be that simple:
1.     Do things that you can be proud of.
2.   Be in loving relationships.
3.   Allow yourself to feel what you are feeling, when you are feeling it.
    -Talk about it.

Oh and be nice. Mean people suck.

[1] I teach a very concrete group of kids, if it’s not a “rule” than it doesn’t count.
[2] Full disclosure time- I may not qualify as a happy person, I cringe every time I think about that wedding and bang my hang against the wall to make all the stupid go away.