Happiness is the joy we feel striving towards our potential.
-Shawn Achor, author, The Happiness Advantage.
I can’t begin to tell a story without sharing why it matters. There was a time when I thought happiness disappeared from my life forever. I felt I had everything I needed for a happy life, and then in one day it changed.
I could no longer access what joy felt like because my previous life was over, and a new one was waiting in the wings.
There’s a reason people say, “in the blink of an eye,’ because things can happen just that fast. One day my 16-year-old son woke up with a fever and the next day he was gone. The doctor misdiagnosed it. He had an aggressive form of bacterial meningitis. And in the blink of an eye that chapter of my life ended, and I had no clue how to go on.
But this story isn’t about loss… it’s about restoring happiness.
After reading The Happiness Advantage, I looked back on the reasons I survived such a devastating loss. I discovered the importance of finding meaning, even in the most tragic events of our lives.
Dr. Viktor Frankel, a Holocaust survivor, neurologist and psychiatrist said, “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.”
Writing helped me find that meaning. I’d written two books before my son’s death, but this one would be different. I was writing a legacy. Not mine, but his.
I’d wake up each day excited to begin sharing my story in a way that could help other parents survive the loss of a child.
In The Happiness Advantage, Achor says: “The chief engine of happiness is positive emotions… because above all, happiness is a feeling.”
Writing helped me restore that feeling.
Happiness is more important than you thought.
Achor suggests that happiness does more than just make you feel good. “Research has proven that “happiness is an indispensable ingredient of our success.”
In a study of 275,000 people, researchers found that happiness leads to success in nearly every domain of our lives, including marriage, health, friendship, careers, jobs, and businesses.
Think about that… Happiness is NOT a result of success, but a key ingredient to success.
Didn’t you always think it was the other way around… that if we could just be happy, we’d be successful?
There are several proven ways to raise your happiness level,and these five steps really resonated with me. I’m convinced they were components for helping me restore my life after devastating loss.
Consider these steps:
1. Find something to look forward to. Keep putting things on the calendar for the future! Even if you can’t afford a vacation, start planning one. Sometimes your mind triggers the process to make it happen!
2. Spend Money. I love this! But not on stuff! Spend on Experiences!Achor points out that the most memorable and emotionally profitable expenses have come from experiences like vacations, dinner with friends, concerts… In general, time with other people provides a greater sense of satisfaction.
In an article by Amanda Macmillin in Coastal Living Magazine, she says that research shows that spending money on experiences also makes you a better person.
She quotes researcher and author Jesse Walker, a psychology graduate student at Cornell, who says that “experiential purchases may elicit more gratitude because they don’t trigger as many social comparisons as material possessions do. In other words, experiences may foster an appreciation of one’s own circumstances, rather than feelings of falling short or trying to measure up to someone else’s.”
3. Commit conscious acts of kindness. Giving to friends and strangers decreases stress levels. It doesn’t have to be big expensive acts of kindness. It can be taking a pot of chicken soup to a sick friend, or meeting someone for coffee who just lost a loved one, or taking your child to a pottery studio for an afternoon of painting. All of these little acts of kindness will bounce back to you, building your happiness bank account.
4. Your physical environment influences your mindset and sense of well-being. If I am struggling with the day, I take a walk or work in my garden. Getting outside to feel the energy of the sun, the trees, and breathing fresh air is the quickest way to get myself back on track.
But the inside of your home and office matter, too. I used to be the host of an AM talk radio show, Passion by Design. The program focused on creating a beautiful environment and keeping it fresh and new.
Just as the seasons change, your home and office should have small changes to keep it fresh!
Move paintings and photos around to different rooms. New paint is a quick and not too expensive makeover for a room. Bring in fresh, seasonal flowers for your kitchen table. Change the colors of your linens in your bathrooms. And one of my favorites… have a couple of different sets of beautiful dishes to change up the look of your meals. Table settings are more affordable than ever at places like Target or Home Goods. It makes each meal feel unique and new.
5. Find your signature strengths. Everyone is good at something. Revisit things you did as a little kid. Maybe you loved making cookies with your mom, or painted colorful pictures, or loved to make up stories and wear costumes. If you loved playing dress up, maybe your gift is to help someone re-do their wardrobe. If you love organizing, consider starting a business as a professional organizer. If you loved baking cookies, maybe you have potential in the foodservice industry. If you loved creating stories, perhaps it’s time to finally write that book.
The more you use your signature strengths, the happier you will be.
Help! How do I find out what strengths I have?
Here’s a tool you’ll find useful to define your signature strengths from the Via Institute on Character. It’s a non-profit organization focused on “bridging the science and practice of character strengths to build a better world”: www.viasurvey.org
Here’s what I learned after taking my assessment and getting to know myself better!
1. I love learning, mastering new skills, and knowledge. I love to read! I love taking classes and courses! It keeps me growing intellectually and spiritually.
2. I am creative. That’s the writer in me, but in other ways too. I’ve always included creativity in my daily activities, whether it’s painting, calligraphy, gardening, cooking… all are a form of my creative expression.
3. My home is my “meadow.” So is my yard. I love keeping a home that surrounds me with beauty. I’m always changing things around, freshening the decorating, and keeping it clean and organized. It gives me a sense of peace.
4. I appreciate excellence. I call that the “awe” in me. I admire people who exhibit qualities of excellence in their field of expertise or their daily lives. I look to them as mentors whether I’ve met them personally or not. I seek them out to learn from their wisdom.
5. I am strong in areas of leadership and guidance. I love teaching what I’ve learned and sharing it in my writing. I love speaking to others and offering the wisdom I’ve gained from life experiences.
6. And the most important of all is LOVE… I make every day an opportunity to express love.
You might take a moment to listen to Dr. Neal Mayerson, the founder of Via Character on the importance of flourishing through our signature strengths and character:
When I lost my beautiful child, it broke every expectation I had for my future. I thought I would never find happiness again. But I was wrong. My son’s life and death had meaning beyond his 16 years, 3 months, and 10 days; it held the keys to discovering my own strength. I learned to embrace life for the gifts I have.
The secret is to focus on what I do have and to be grateful.
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
– Dr. Viktor Frankel
And change myself, I did. I learned that I had inner resilience that would not let my spirit die. In fact, I rebounded stronger than I ever imagined.
Happiness comes from knowing who you really are and using that knowledge in your every-day life as you strive for your potential. Learn to tap into your inner resilience and use your strengths as stepping stones… guiding you along the way.
Each day is a gift and an opportunity to express love. It’s the guiding light for your next steps into a greater life, one of meaning, purpose… and, yes, it will make you feel happy!
A version of this post was previously published on Medium and is republished here with permission from the author.
Have you read the original anthology that was the catalyst for The Good Men Project? Buy here: The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want to join our calls on a regular basis, please join us as a Premium Member, today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: iStock