I once heard a guidance counselor tell my classmate, “There are two types of people in this world, prickly pears, and warm fuzzies, and you are a prickly pear.”
Robbie was in my 9th-grade history class. Although bright, he was critical, demeaning, condemning, and judging and an overall smart-ass to peers and teachers.
That was over thirty years ago (OMG time flies!).
Two years ago, Robbie and I met for coffee, and to my surprise, he had morphed into a transparent, self-actualized, warm fuzzy.
His snide, snarky remarks had been replaced with great questions, quality advice, and astute observation.
I’m a total brain nerd so I had to know, “How much hard work, blood, sweat, and tears did it take for you to change?
He said, “I didn’t want to be an asshole anymore.” Just like that.
I responded, “So, this new happiness was a choice?”
I had naively figured people were born with a certain level of happiness.
You know those cheerful, happy-go-lucky people, you meet out and about.
They’re homeless, toothless, disabled, or suffered a great loss; but they always smile and wish you a “blessed day” and mean it.
On the flip side, there are plenty of wealthy, beautiful, successful people who stay miserable.
Turns out being born with a “happy” or “unhappy” gene is only partly true (1).
You have the power to turn that genetically predisposed frown upside down.
Just like my buddy, Robbie did.
Robbie was smart enough to know that if he wanted to have successful relationships at work, with women, or with his brother; he had to hold his tongue, take deep breaths, and remember everyone is operating at different levels of awareness. He learned to keep his “superior” awareness to himself and he practiced this personality transformation until it became his nature.
Mindfulness is the key
Our attitudes and emotions change the chemistry in our brains. The good news is you can change from grumpy to giddy with positive personal reprogramming, meditation, and/or asking the right questions.
People who are happy choose to make happiness among their top goals in life (3). It takes a little mental work if you aren’t born that way. Robbie did it through a pure will. Happiness is a choice and it can be yours with some simple activities.
Positive Personal Reprogramming
Optimism is huge.
Practice looking for the silver lining.
Often, the silver lining is a hardship and you learn something new or become a stronger, more resilient human.
I know it’s not easy. Especially when the situation leaves you feeling helpless but there are ways.
Every time you find yourself on the negative side of the fence, catch yourself, find a bright side, or, if you can’t find a bright side, think of something you are grateful for. Remember your life is someone else’s paradise.
The science is pretty solid. In a few short weeks, the daily practice of writing down 3-5 things you are grateful for is a brain changer! It doesn’t take long before you find yourself automatically grateful for simple, daily events/circumstances such as no traffic, sunshine, good night’s sleep, coffee, etc..
Regularly grateful people have more permanent positive neurological traits overall and reject negative stuff over their lives. You can change your brain for the better (4).
Be aware of negative pessimistic thinking… keep reminding yourself (again and again) to shift your orientation. This is what Robbie did. Every time he was faced with “narrow mindedness,” he reminded himself, “I am not an asshole.”
I am surrounded by others who complain, blame, and play the victim card and it affects my mood. When I am with them, I imagine a giant pink bubble around me. This bubble doesn’t allow bad vibes to enter and I protect my good nature. Functioning from upset or judgment with somebody never does any good.
I listen but do not engage in other people’s viewpoints.
I also have a cleansing ritual where I take my hands and brush off bad vibes from head to toe (not in front of them because this could really annoy them if they knew what I was doing).
Who are the happiest of them all?
Buddhist monk’s happiness is off the charts! These men spend their lives deliberately forcing positive emotions through mindful meditation. Meditation sparks more left-brain activity and thus positive, joyful, emotions, and wires the brain for more joy (5).
Davidson found that if a person sits quietly for a half-hour a day just thinking about kindness and compassion, their brain will show noticeable changes in just two weeks. Subsequent research has shown that long-term practitioners of mindfulness meditation are significantly happier than non-meditators (6). Mediation is a powerful tool to change your brain for calmness, happiness, and bonus… you get smarter and feel younger too.
What if the willingness to ask questions actually opens the door to your happiness?
Research has shown that curious people—those who are constantly asking questions and looking for new possibilities enjoy life, have lower levels of anxiety, more satisfaction with life, and greater psychological well-being. (7)
Here are some samples of questions from Access Consciousness.
Access Consciousness is a set of tools to help you change what you think you cannot change.
These questions may seem weird at first but they are designed to empower your subconscious and create more possibilities.
Rather than saying, “This situation is so bad” or “Wow, this situation is amazing,” ask “How does it get any better than this?”
This question triggers your unconscious self to make an unpleasant situation better and an uplifting situation even greater.
Instead of believing that you are a victim of life and that happiness is given or taken, ask “Do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy?”
This question empowers you to realize that happiness is a choice and can be called upon at any time.
Instead of saying “I am stuck” or “I quit,” ask “What else is possible that I have never considered?” This question triggers your unconscious awareness to look for the various solutions and possibilities available to you.
“When you let go of how things have to show up, they can change and be created in a more magical way than you could ever imagine possible.”
You can choose to be miserable or you can choose to be happy. I like happy!
1. Lykken, David T. and Tellegen, Auke (1996) Happiness is a Stochastic Phenomenon. [Journal (Paginated)] http://cogprints.org/767/3/167.pdf
1. Tom G. Stevens, Ph.D. (2010), You Can Choose to Be Happy. Above Anxiety, Anger, and Depression)
1. Emmons, Robert, and Hill, Joanna (2002), Words of Gratitude : For Mind, Body and Soul
1. Richard Davidson, and Begley, Sharon (2012). The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live – and How You Can Change Them
1. Emily L. B. Lykins, MS, Ruth A. Baer , PhD,
Psychological Functioning in a Sample of Long-Term Practitioners of Mindfulness Meditation Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, Volume 23, Number 3 • 2009
2009 Springer Publishing Company DOI: 10.1891/0889-83188.8.131.52
1. Todd B. Kashdan, Paul Rose & Frank D. Fincham (2010) Curiosity and Exploration: Facilitating Positive Subjective Experiences and Personal Growth Opportunities, Journal of Personality Assessment, 82:3, 291-305, DOI: 10.1207/s15327752jpa8203_05