Tyler’s Note: This is a Riskologist Field Report by Maria of Fitness Reloaded. Field Reports are written by readers just like you, so be nice, enjoy the story, and take action on the lesson. To contribute your own Field Report, go here.
One of my 2012 resolutions was to be happier. Not by reaching some goal, but by being happier anyway.
And being happier anyway…needs practice. However, I’ve found it’s a learnable skill. And it does produce results. Like sleeping better. Or becoming more productive. Or boosting your creativity. Or dealing better with uncertainty.
In this field report I’ll describe the strategies I used during the last month to learn the art of being happier along with the lovely results I’ve experienced so far.
But before I get started, let me explain my motivation.
Why happier? Well, because this is my aim in life! My purpose is to live a happy life. The sooner I learn how to do that, the better for me! Plus, it feels awesome.
Sometimes we act dumb. We cannot control conditions, yet we keep trying. Yes, we all hate uncertainty, but that doesn’t justify worrying about things we can’t change!
As riskologists, we should know better!
For example, we may worry about the weather—will it spoil our trip? We may worry about someone else’s reaction even though we have no power in making that person feel the way we want them to. Agh, how we hate uncertainty!
However, what we can control is our emotional response. E.g., bad weather can make me feel bad, or maybe good. It’s my decision how I’ll react.
So, in 2012 I decided I’ll try to control conditions less, but will try to control my emotional responses more.
This is actually something within my power. This helps me be more positive with life. Plus, being positive has proven to make me more productive, spot opportunities I wouldn’t see before, become more likable, etc. Not to mention that it just FEELS better!
Here’s a list of what I initially expected to get learning to be more positive:
- Feel better, generally.
- Get away from feeling bad faster.
- Become more productive, efficient, and effective.
- Become more creative and relaxed.
- Spend more quality moments with my husband and friends.
- Sleep better.
- Increase mindfulness.
Measuring Happiness: The Emotional Scale
I started the year learning about happiness techniques. Practices like meditation and feeling appreciation (or “counting your blessings”) are renowned for making people feel better.
However, I felt they weren’t enough.
Luckily, I came across this book: “Ask and it is given”. It’s a Law of Attraction kind of book, but it’s the best manual I’ve discovered when it comes to actually learning how to feel happier!
The method below is based on this book’s teachings…
In our lives there is a range of feelings we might experience. If we were created an emotional scale, it’d look like this:
- Love and gratitude
The idea is to move up the emotional scale by purposefully guiding your thoughts.
Some thoughts feel good; some feel bad. The more good ones you choose, the better you’ll feel. The more bad ones you choose, the worse you’ll feel.
Can’t be simpler than that, right?
The task is to choose to feel a bit better. Then a bit more. Then a bit more.
This is a great way to cope with the uncertainty that governs your every-day life, but also to manage the few big risks we decide to take.
But it’s not just about managing something stressful. It’s about being happier no matter what.
Engineering Happiness: The Experiment
Anytime during the day, I may check myself to see how I feel. Am I hopeful? Am I worried? Am I content? Am I Angry?
Then, I start thinking how I can make feel slightly better. Slightly is the key. If I try to jump from despair to contentment, it only brings more. But despair can move to misery (yes, misery feels better than despair, so that is progress!).
Even though it sounds simple, actually applying the concept proves tricky.
So let me start by showing this method with a simple example:
Initial situation: “I don’t like my car. It’s old.”
Attitude improvement attempt #1: “I wish I had the money to get a better one.”
This attempt fails because it makes me feel worse.
Attitude improvement attempt #2: “I love the smell of a new car!”
This attempt works; it makes me feel better!
As you just saw in this example, the point of this practice is to adjust your stance in any situation. You can do that by changing your thoughts. And yes, there is a lot of trial and error involved until you actually understand what works for you and what doesn’t.
Now let me give you a trickier example:
Initial Situation: I was stressed with my blog and had no idea why. I didn’t know what to do feel better. I had a hard time concentrating and my mind was wandering.
Attitude improvement attempt #1: Meditation by focusing on my breath.
Meditation is generally a good strategy, but it failed in this situation; I was too stressed for it.
Attitude improvement attempt #2: Counting my blessings.
This technique also failed. Again, I was too stressed for techniques like appreciation to work.
Attitude improvement attempt #3: Thinking why I had every reason in the world to be optimistic. Feeling angry at everyone (incl. myself) who would even possibly dare to question this! (This is a kind of anger-determination feeling)
Example thought: “Conventional wisdom makes people feel guilty when not exercising. This is so wrong. This is why people should listen to me!”
Well, getting angry did provide relief! Once I thought of the “whys” I did become angry, but it felt better.
Generally, thinking of reasons you deserve to have, be, or do something is a strategy that works even if you rank low on the emotional scale.
Let me give you another example:
“I should go on a round-the-world trip because my actions will help inspire other people to do it too.”
Just to remind you: Angry is higher in the emotional scale than overwhelmed. Getting angry actually provides relief when you’re feeling overwhelmed!
Engineering Happiness: Results after 1 Month of Practice
I’ve been experimenting just a month but have already experienced results:
1. I’m more aware of whether what I am thinking helps me feel better or not.
Example: One of the activities I love is stretching. But I get injured easily, so I usually can’t do it.
On those days (or months) I may think: “You don’t take good care of yourself and this is why you get injured”.
Oops, I just felt worse. But at least I noticed that it happened.
When I catch a thought that makes me feel worse, I discard it right away! In the past, I wouldn’t even notice it, but now I know better.
Next step: Notice more thoughts that have a bad effect on me and replace them with positive ones.
Back to my injury example: “I’ve felt this before and it will pass just as it’s passed before.” Victory!
2. Even though I am not yet good at managing myself when stressed, I am becoming better at making myself happier when I’m already optimistic.
It’s an irresistible chain of events that start from the night before and expand to the next day. I feel so joyful and content before I sleep (because I’ve added mediation and appreciation thoughts), that I’m looking forward to those moments every day.
I go to sleep feeling happy and optimistic, so I rest really well.
I don’t need an alarm clock to wake up because I do it on my own. I’m rested so I can just get up and don’t need to stay in bed whining that the day’s started.
When I get up, I feel optimistic and excited to do my work. The result is that I decide to start working earlier: My usual routine involved an hour of coffee drinking and waking up time before actually working. This hour doesn’t happen often now because I wake up feeling like I can’t wait to get started!
The work I do is better, my writing is better, I get better ideas, etc.
Next step: Make this routine happen every day rather than once in awhile.
3. Unintended consequence: I am now a better friend.
Instead of rushing to tell my friends why they shouldn’t feel as bad as they do (this never works), or trying to get them to be happy, I understand they can’t go all the way from despair to hopeful in one leap. So I try to get them angry instead. This works!
Summary of My Happiness Experiment and Results
This is how I’m doing compared to what I expected at the beginning of this experiment:
And some strategies I‘ve found to work:
- Feeling appreciation works if I am optimistic or happier.
- I have found meditation to work starting from angry and up.
- Thinking “why” works regardless of current status on the emotional scale.
So what about you? Do you have a strategy to feel happier and manage uncertainty? My guess is that—as a fellow riskologist—you must have some techniques to cope better with stress and risk than most people. Please share your experiences in the comments.
Maria is a Stanford Engineering graduate, an ACE certified personal trainer, and founder of Fitness Reloaded, where she already has 70+ videos to help busy people get fitter even if they have no time or motivation! Subscribe to her newsletter to get exclusive fitness tips not published on the site!
Image by: ernohannink