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In “Step 1: How to be Happier Right Now,” I explained that we all must first recognize how we feel. You must own your feelings. The suffering you are experiencing, that sadness, that frustration, that anxiety; you must acknowledge it.
As people in business so often say, look at your situation, from 30,000 feet (you are the observer of yourself). What do you see? What feelings have been dominating your conscious and subconscious? If you started a journal, review what words you use repeatedly. Please take a minute and write it out.
To expand on how impactful these questions I posed above are, and how our lives are affected by our daily thoughts, another treasured book of mine is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. Frankl was a Holocaust survivor and an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist. Frankl tells a story late in his book about the power of our thoughts and the process we go through both mentally and physically.
In the passage, Frankl describes a man in his concentration camp. The man came to Frankl, describing in great detail a dream he had. In the dream, it showed a forthcoming liberation and subsequent freedom for everyone at the camp. Frankl, an astute psychoanalyst (although he would push back on that title), asked the man, “What date will this occur?” The man told Frankl the exact date he had seen in his dream. After the conversation, Frankl observed the man closely. As the day that had appeared in the man’s dream came near, and the man saw no sign of liberation, the man slowly deteriorated physically.
Frankl had seen this before in the concentration camps; when people mentally start giving up hope, they begin to deteriorate physically. Frankl went on to say that upon the day that the man’s dream proclaimed liberation, the man died.
Frankl argues a clear connection to the eventual loss of all hope and the death of this man.¹ To Frankl, the man had been surviving on hope and the feelings that it was generating. With hope came joy. Joy came from the thought of seeing his wife and children again; when the man saw, or subconsciously realized that it would not happen as he had dreamed it would, he lost hope and, eventually, he gave up all hope and his life.
Your thoughts are a lot more powerful than you think. Keep that in mind next time you replay a time you messed up and replayed the situation endlessly in your mind. At no point did that improve the case; the situation is done. When we replay times when we messed up, it does not help us to “improve” it deteriorates our confidence our sense of self. Although we are not in a horrible situation, such as a concentration camp, our minds can still play tricks on us, and we can feel trapped and hopeless.
These “tricks” were not of your design, nor are they unique to you. We have been “programmed” from a young age not to fail, to care what others think, to put all of your worth on what society expects of you. So, of course, we are hard on ourselves when we don’t fit in society’s norms or choose a unique path, or we simply err, as humans do. All I can say is, remember you are not the first to mess-up (I can write a list a mile long!), you will not be the last, and I hope you mess up again!
As Les Brown jokingly says in one of his motivational speeches about staying strong and continuing with your dream, “Send a telegram to Murphy’s Law. I am coming, and I ain’t stopping, no matter how many times I mess up!” If you didn’t mess up, I would genuinely be worried about you.
Another question I would urge you to think through is, who has been feeding thoughts to you that are defeating? When you have a great idea, who is the person you most worry about saying it to?
The last question is more powerful than we think. I have a family member who continually knocks down anyone I date. It has gotten to a point, unfortunately, where I don’t even discuss who I am dating with them anymore. This person, however, is great to have a good time with, and our relationship stays in that arena, nothing too personal is discussed anymore, and that is okay (I actually don’t think they’ve realized that I have pulled back). I have had to adjust my parameters around people, as people tend to project their sorrows, bad attitudes, and shame onto others. Please be careful who you get your “advice” or guidance from; they may not have your best interests at heart.
I remember going through the process of deciding whether I was going to get a divorce or not. The first time we separated, I asked everyone what they thought. (If you ever want to feel bad about yourself, ask everyone their opinions on a life event. Ugh! ) Wanting always to please, as is one of the habits I am working on, I followed what they said and stayed married. Let me tell you that it is not the path to happiness!
A few years later, a few “self-help” books, and a great therapist, and again I was separated. This time, I asked myself what I thought and worked through it with my therapist. I knew the answer the whole time. I knew it when we first separated. I was looking for validation and approval from others, and when I didn’t get it, I “stayed the course.” After the second separation, our divorce was finalized six months later, and it was a good decision for all involved. It was not easy by any means, and many people tried to say their opinion, but I said that I would rather not speak about it.
A side note, if you are ever looking for a way to tell someone that the subject they are “inquiring” about is off-limits, just say, “I would rather not speak about it.” It is amazing! You sound so polite and refined, but you are really telling them to go…well, you know what. As Don Miguel Ruiz wrote in The Four Agreements: “Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive — the risk to be alive and express what we are….We have learned to live our lives, trying to satisfy other people’s demands. We have learned to live by other people’s points of view because of the fear of not being accepted and of not being good enough for someone else.”²
“Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive…”
After you have reflected on what you wrote to the questions at the beginning of the article, did you notice a pattern? Are there feelings that reoccur each time? Did you feel anxiety when you were writing? What/who is holding you back from feeling more “alive” and happy?
What would happen today if you do something on your “bucket list”?
I am not a fan of bucket lists; honestly, get rid of the name, please! (I love all things lists, but don’t call it a “bucket” list.) You don’t know when you will die!
Why not just make a list of things you want to do and put an actual date you want to accomplish it by? Call it something like, “I’m the Shit List” (yup, that’s my sense of humor). Take your bucket list and make a new list, start writing. Go wild! Money is no object today! Then, reorganize it with dates. If surfing in Bali is on your list, that won’t be happening in the next few months, even if you have the money. Stay home and be safe!
I want to be sensitive to the pandemic, but it is good to have things to look forward to. For instance, today would be a great day to start training for that 5k or go platinum blonde. I did platinum blonde a few years ago and again during quarantine in March (see my profile picture, lol)…I felt really insecure after I did it the first time. I thought everyone would judge me (this is when I should have read The Four Agreements).
Oh, I’m sure people had their opinions. My boyfriend at the time was awesome; he is a lawyer (they are known for being a bit conservative), and he told me he thought I looked like Daenerys Targaryen (a strong female protagonist in the Game of Thrones series). It made me feel like I was channeling Khaleesi, and I was stronger for it. Whether my boyfriend knew it, because I sure didn’t, he had said what I needed to hear. But I shouldn’t have had to rely on him for that feeling. Thankfully, I am evolving, and two years later, during quarantine, I didn’t ask anyone what they thought; I just did it!
I get that my hair going blonde is not life-changing, but your list doesn’t have to consist of only life-changing things or larger than life experiences. Put some “little” things on there that you’ve wanted to do but have not actual done.
Examples would be:
· Get a massage every month · Kiss in the rain · Watch the sunrise · Write a letter to your future self · Give blood · Create your own cocktail · Reconnect with an old friend
Game of Thrones Courtesy HBO
After you have finished your list, please write on a little post-it, “So what?” and put it somewhere you can see it every day. It is just a little reminder to yourself that you are living your own life. So what if people will judge you for what you are doing. If people chose to be mean to you, talk about you, or tell you that you are not good enough, it sounds to me like they are not good enough to be your friend, and they are projecting their insecurities onto you.
Kick toxic people out of your life. It’s a perfect time; quarantine has become a great excuse to review your own life and what people are contributing to your happiness or detracting from it.
“At the end of the day, life is a fight for territory. And once you stop fighting for what YOU want, what you don’t want will automatically take over.” — Les Brown
As Don Miguel Ruiz says, “Imagine living your life without the fear of being judged by others. You no longer rule your behavior according to what others may think about you. You are no longer responsible for anyone’s opinion. You have no need to control anyone, no one controls you, either”
Your body, your soul, your mind are human. We have a lot of baggage in our history. Don’t let that baggage or other people’s baggage hold you back from happiness. Be unique! Be you!
1. Frankl, Viktor E. (Viktor Emil), 1905–1997. Man’s Search for Meaning; an Introduction to Logotherapy. Boston :Beacon Press, 1962.
2. Ruiz, Miguel, and Janet Mills. 1997. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. San Rafael, Calif.: Amber-Allen Pub., 1997.