Happiness is not something
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At a conference in Las Vegas a couple months ago, I had the opportunity to meet and chat with Dr. Joel Wade, a psychotherapist who has dedicated his career to discovering what it means to live well. As a life coach, his practice is about helping people create and embody a truly extraordinary life.
His lecture was “Mastering Happiness: Practical Skills and Ideas for Living Well.” When Dr. Wade uses the word happiness, however, he isn’t talking about more parties, laughter or high times. He’s referring to something larger: having a sense that you are flourishing, of feeling fully satisfied with your life.
This is something we all desire, consciously or unconsciously, and virtually anyone can move closer to this ideal. Living a more satisfying life, Wade insists, is a skill that can be developed. It is mostly about the attitudes you embody and the choices you make. Like any skill, however, it requires time, attention and dedication.
To illustrate his point, Wade demonstrated how easy it is to feel miserable. All that’s necessary are three simple steps:
- Be as self-absorbed as possible. Make sure every situation at work or at home is primarily about your thoughts, your feelings. Make sure the point of every action is to accrue some personal benefit. Always ask “what’s in it for me?”
- See yourself as a victim. Observe that life has conspired against you. View others as the source of your problems. Blame them for your frustrations and setbacks. Tell yourself that you are helpless in your particular set of circumstances.
- Spend a lot of time ruminating. Go over past negative events again and again. Think about things that make you angry. Dwell on what makes you bitter. Remember how you were hurt in the past and who was responsible. Spend a lot of time reliving and re-experiencing these events in your mind.
Just reading this short list, you probably feel a little bummed out. People who make these steps a habit are well on their way to a life of dissatisfaction and misery.
The good news is that doing the opposite is a tonic – and will almost certainly add to your satisfaction with life. In other words:
- Absorb yourself in your work, friends, family relationships and outside interests. Instead of asking “what’s in it for me?” try “how can I help?” Get absorbed in what you’re doing. Remind yourself what you are trying to achieve. And if you don’t have personal goals – dreams with deadlines – set some.
- See yourself as in control of your destiny. We all have problems and setbacks, but things only begin to turn around when you take ownership of your situation. Then you can begin to move forward.
- Focus on what’s right with your life. This is a tall order in some cases. Many of us are dealing with unfortunate economic or personal circumstances. Still, you can’t wallow in it. Accept that the past is past. Forgive any transgressors, not for their sake but for yours. Start imagining how things could improve. This is the predisposition to action.
Dr. Wade points out that the best way to achieve a higher sense of well-being and life satisfaction is to cultivate a sense of gratitude. He suggests taking a moment each evening to recall three things that happened during the day to make you feel grateful. It could be a problem resolved, an unexpected call from a friend, a smile from someone you love or just a good meal on a starry night. Psychologists report that it is impossible to feel grateful and unhappy at the same time.
These steps may sound simple – and they are. But that doesn’t mean they can’t make a profound difference in your quality of life. As the British essayist Erich Heller observed, “Be careful how you interpret the world; it is like that.”
Alexander Green is the Investment Director of The Oxford Club. The Oxford Club Communique, whose portfolio he directs, is ranked among the top investment letters in the nation for 10-year performance by the independent Hulbert Financial Digest. Alex is the author of three national best sellers including, most recently, Beyond Wealth: The Road Map to a Rich Life. He has been featured on Oprah & Friends, CNBC, National Public Radio (NPR), Fox News and "The O'Reilly Factor," and has been profiled by The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Forbes, and Kiplinger's Personal Finance, among others. He currently lives in Charlottesville, Virginia and Winter Springs, Florida with his wife Karen and their children Hannah and David.