As a child you were courageous, persistent, enthusiastic and energetic. You trusted others, laughed more than you cried, and found life to be an adventure. Can you recall the luster of youth? Can you remember how glorious it was to be alive?
Somewhere along the way, however, many of us lost our enthusiasm. We became jaded, cynical, and pessimistic. Hope gave way to doubt and life no longer sparkled. What happened? Life did not change, we did. The glory that once was, still is. Life remains as glorious as ever, but our perception of it has changed.
Surrounded by, engulfed in, and permeated with negativity, we have allowed it to change our way of thinking. After all, if we are forced to trudge through mud, how can we pass through it without getting muddy? It’s not surprising that we later forgot how glorious life was and how powerful we were.
As our consciousness of the magnificence of life declines, so does our ability to sense the wonder, beauty, and awe that lies before our every footstep. We slowly grow blind, unaware of our own blindness. But at least we feel the pull of discontent tugging at our heartstrings. It is a sign, a warning, that it is time to return to our former glory.
How can we free ourselves from the mud we seem to be stuck in? We can start by training ourselves to find the good in every situation. To do so, first do this exercise: on a sheet of paper, jot down ten legitimate complaints. They may be complaints about work, politics, dealing with others, illness, or natural disasters. Just make a list of the first ten things that come to mind.
After you finish your list, view the slide show at: http://www.suabnquahu.com/I%20am%20Thankful.ppt (Requires MS Office PowerPoint)
Next, return to your list of ten complaints, and change it to a list of ten things to be thankful for. By studying the examples you saw in the slide show, you should now be able to change any complaint that pops into your mind into something to be grateful for. Learn to become aware of your negative thoughts and get into the habit of transforming them into positive ones. Learn to look for the good, for that is the only way you will find it.
A second way to change our behavior is by monitoring it. The August edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine gives an example of how powerful this technique is. In a study of 1,700 overweight people, psychologist Victor Stevens and his team found that dieters doubled their weight loss merely by spending a few minutes a day recording what they ate during the day. The study was conducted at the Kaiser Permanente Centre for Health Research in Portland, Oregon.
If you want to regain the happiness you once knew as a child, you can do something similar. All you have to do is spend five minutes, three times a day, recording your level of happiness and doing a simple mental exercise. Yes, just 15 minutes a day can and will elevate and optimize your level of happiness.
Our emotions are dynamic. They are in flux, changing from moment to moment. For example, in a single day you may feel great upon awakening, get angry as a driver cuts you off on your way to work, feel wonderful when your boss praises your work, get annoyed when a team member fails to cooperate, enjoy lunch with friends, feel stressed as you try to complete a project before quitting time, and feel delighted as your spouse greets you with a kiss on your arrival home. By monitoring our ups and downs and practicing a few simple exercises, we can make dramatic improvements in our lives. A simple tool, I call the Happiness Meter, can help us monitor our progress.
About 60 years ago, sociologist Hornell Hart, of Duke University designed just such a system. After studying the research that others did decades earlier at the University of Chicago and Columbia University, Professor Hart refined their research and developed his own “Mood-Meter.” After exhaustive testing, he found it to be a potent tool that changed the lives of everyone who used it. You can learn more in his book “Autoconditioning: The New Way to a Successful Life, Prentice-Hall, 1956 (Tenth Printing, 1966).
Meanwhile, I have refined Dr. Hart’s “Mood-Meter” by designing my Happiness Meter. The three-times-daily, five-minute sessions to optimize your happiness consist of two parts. First, rating your level of happiness and entering your score in the Happiness Meter grid. This step takes just a few seconds. Second, one or two mental exercises are done, which take four minutes at the most. You can get your Happiness Meter by clicking on this link: http://www.personal-development.com/happinessmeter.pdf
After opening the document, go to the toolbar that is right above the top of the page and click on the second icon from the left (SAVE). Save the file to the desktop or your favorite folder. If you cannot open the file, you do not have Adobe Reader installed on your computer. Adobe Reader is used to read PDF files. Since most e-books are PDF files, I recommend getting Adobe Reader. You can download it for free here: http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html?promoid=BUIGO
HOW TO RATE YOUR HAPPINESS LEVEL
Print out a copy of the Happiness Meter and in the column that shows the day of the month, use a pencil to draw a circle showing how happy or unhappy you feel. If you are feeling happy, rate yourself on a scale of +1 ~ +7, +7 being the highest (most happy). When you are feeling unhappy, rate yourself -1 ~ -7, -7 being the lowest (most unhappy).
Think of a rating of +7 as the equivalent of euphoria, elation, bliss, or great joy. A rating of +1 expresses a subdued state of happiness, such as satisfaction or contentment. Use the in- between numbers in a way that is meaningful to you. They can be used to represent states such as pleased, cheerful, happy, delighted, excited, and thrilled.
It is similar for negative states or unhappiness. -7 would be the worst state, such as depression and -1 would be mildly unhappy, discontented or dissatisfied. The in-between numbers could stand for states such as uncomfortable, distressed, sad, resentful, angry, and furious.
Use the same column to rate yourself three times during the day (morning, afternoon, evening). Each time you rate yourself, use a pencil to show your score. The three circles for the day reveal your mood swings. To get your score for the day, subtract your lowest score from your highest. When subtracting two numbers with different signs (plus and minus), always use the sign of the largest number. Here are a few examples: +7, -2 = +5; -9, +4 = -5, and +1, -6 = -5. There are more examples in the separate Happiness Meter documentation.
Indicate your score for the day in ink and join the scores of the day with straight lines to form a graph. Example graphs appear in the Happiness Meter documentation. Example A of the documentation (page 4) shows a typical graph of the average person, someone who is not monitoring. Example B on page 4 shows the changes that occur with monitoring. Mainly, the graph moves upward, into the happiness zone, so even though one experiences ups and downs, he or she never leaves the state of happiness.
THE MENTAL EXERCISES
As stated earlier, each five minute session consists of rating your happiness level on the Happiness Meter and one or two mental exercises. Here are the exercises:
1. Mental exercise for use when your score is in the happy zone (a plus number).
After rating yourself on the Happiness Meter, take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, and reflect on five things that you are grateful or thankful for today. This should take no more than two minutes, probably less. This exercise is to maintain or possibly further elevate your happiness level. No other exercise is needed.
2. Mental exercises for use when your score is in the unhappy zone (a negative number).
When your score is in the unhappy zone, do TWO exercises. The first is the same as the above exercise; mainly, reflect on five things that you are grateful or thankful for today. The purpose of this exercise is to elevate your spirits. For the second exercise, choose one of the following, varying your choice each time you are in the unhappy zone. These additional exercises will help you develop the habit of facing your difficulties and coping with them, rather than running away from them. As you face and overcome your problems you will be filled with exhilaration, pride, and happiness. Each exercise should take no longer than two minutes to do.
a) Take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, and ask yourself, “How can I benefit from this situation? What good can come out of it? How can I resolve it?” Look for solutions and they will appear. Perhaps not at once, but the answers will appear. Learn how to become solution-oriented. Look for answers, not excuses.
b) Practice what you learned in the slide show to change your complaints into statements of gratitude by saying “I am thankful for…” If you need help with this one, watch the slide show again (http://www.suabnquahu.com/I%20am%20Thankful.ppt).
c) Choose to be happy. If you’re feeling a negative emotion, change it to a positive one by taking these five simple steps:
i) Ask yourself, “How do I feel?” The answer could be, “I feel upset.”
ii) Ask yourself, “How do I want to feel?” The answer may be, “I want to feel calm.”
iii) Ask yourself, “How do I choose to feel?”
iv) After you choose to feel calm, ask yourself, “How do I feel NOW?”
v) If needed repeat the above steps until you feel as you want and choose to.
d) Adopt a hero, living or dead, real, fictional, or mythical.
Face your problem and ask yourself, “What would my hero do?” Then do it.
e) Think of people you know or have read about that have overcome problems far greater than your own. Their lives exemplify the powerful inner resources we all have. Resolve to join their ranks and commit yourself to taking advantage of your own inner resources to conquer your problem.
f) Embrace, welcome, and be thankful for your problems, for without them you cannot grow more powerful, skilful, and self- reliant. Thank them and move on.
g) Plan a pleasurable event or something to look forward to. This will lift your spirits.
h) Read a short inspirational story or quotation to inspire you.
i) Think of something you don’t feel like doing and do it. Prove to yourself that you can do what you don’t feel like doing. As you experience your self- discipline, you will grow in confidence and happiness.
Unhappiness or negative thinking is harmful because it blocks, cripples, obstructs, limits, and keeps us from success. Yet, if we choose to work with the Happiness Meter, we will find that despair turns to hope, dissatisfaction gives way to optimism, and disappointment is replaced by expectation. But, to bring about this change, we have to devote 15 minutes a day (five minutes at a time, three times a day). Only you can decide whether that small effort is worth recapturing the glory that once was.