Blended: The Happiness Advantage

Shawn Achor has written a book that a lot of people are talking about.  Achor is part of a movement known as positive psychology.  It’s the study of what makes people happy, unlike traditional psychology, which typically focuses on what makes people unhappy.

The book is remarkable.  In it, Achor discusses how so often people say, “once I lose five pounds, then I will be happy,” or “once I get that promotion, then I will be happy.”  So often people assume that they will be happy once they reach a goal.  But research has shown that it’s the opposite.  We become successful when we are happy.  We get the promotion when we are happy.  Our brains literally work differently and we are more creative when we are happy.

Being part of a blended family is a challenge for most people.  The divorce rate of blended families is high.  Members of blended families may think, “if only I didn’t feel _____, then I would be happy,” or “if only my spouse supported me more, then I would feel happy.”  In applying Achor’s principles, we realize that we must first make ourselves happy in order to achieve our goals.

This is why it is so vitally important to care for yourself and to focus on making yourself happy.  No one else will be able to make you happy or should be charged with trying to make you happy.

Take the time each day to raise your spirits.  Do whatever it takes to make you happy for at least a few moments.  On your way to work, listen to your favorite song.  I love soundtracks to movies.  If you’re ever preparing for something challenging, listen to the soundtrack to the movie Rudy.  It is hard not to feel empowered and inspired while listening to the music from Rudy.

Of course, there is always mediation, yoga, and exercise.  These are essentials to a healthy lifestyle, but we need to start with baby steps, and sometimes exercising just can’t be part of the day.  Don’t beat yourself up.  Instead, inspire yourself in some way.  Don’t ask anyone to do it for you or to be part of it.  Do it on your own and on your own behalf.  Retreat into yourself for at least a few moments every day to take care of yourself.

Now think about your present situation.  What are you thinking about that is making you unhappy?  Are you worried about what your partner is thinking?  Are you worried about what your children or stepchildren are thinking?  Are you worried about what your boss is thinking?  Are you worried about your weight?  Are you worried about your future?  Stop the worrying for the moment.  Write down a positive goal for your future.  In a perfect world, what would you want to feel right now?  Try not to make it about things — like a clean house or a finished project or a weight loss goal.  Instead, how would you feel?  Do you feel happy and relieved?  Do you feel hopeful?  Think about a time when you have felt these emotions, and visualize yourself feeling them again.

Take this time for yourself.  If you begin to take care of yourself and your emotional state, you will be much more able to support others.  You will stop blaming others and will more easily give others the benefit of the doubt.  Try to stop making your unhappiness about other people.  Are you sure your partner, your children, or your stepchildren are causing you to be unhappy?  Or are you playing a part in your unhappiness?  is there something you can let go of that will allow you to be happy?  Can you be more accepting?  Can you start doing less for others so that you can do more for yourself?

If you’re used to blaming others and looking outside yourself for the causes of your distress, you are not alone.  This is so easy to do.

But realize that the more you do it, the easier it will become to do it.  Recent research about our brains shows that we create pathways in our brains, and we train our brains to think in certain ways.  As a lawyer, I have trained myself to see risk, to think 20 steps ahead of where I am, to obsess over small details, and to protect and argue my position.  These traits can be beneficial in my job, but they can be devastating in interpersonal relationships.  I may win an argument, but at what cost to others?

I try so often to send my focus inward.  I find that when I do, I am so much happier.  Instead of critiquing others around me, instead of seeing flaws, instead of seeing the negative, I have been trying to focus on myself.  What am I thinking right now?  Am I thinking about someone else and what they’re thinking about?  If so, I will invariably be unhappier than if I think about things that inspire me.

I am blessed with an opportunity to be inspired on a daily basis.  If you don’t have the same experience, think about how you can change your environment so that you can be inspired at least once a day.  Sign up for an inspirational quote to be sent to your email every day.  Partner with a coworker to chat for five minutes every day about something that inspires and uplifts both of you.  Watch your favorite uplifting movie at night when you get home instead of the nightly news.  Spend five minutes before you go to bed reading an uplifting article or watching an inspirational video.  Ask your partner for the support to take an afternoon for yourself to do whatever you want to do, whatever fulfills you.  Your partner will feel good giving you this support, and you will be calmer when you return.

Do not resist change, but lean into difficult times.  Experience the emotions, and do not be afraid.

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