The elusive quest for happiness

Research on happiness abounds these days – it’s a popular topic. For more than a thousand years, Eastern philosophies have advocated it; now books are being written about it, scientists are busy researching it and an iPhone app has collected data about it.
Stay right where you are
The big question – how do I get to where I can be happy? As it turns out, there is good news, although it may be mind twisting for some. Happiness is right where you are. Yup, the key to happiness is to be present in the moment, to Be Here Now. As Buddha says, “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
When we think about the past, it’s usually with regret. We wish we could change what happened or had behaved differently. When we turn to thoughts of the future, we typically are anxious about how events will unfold. We can’t change the past, nor can we control the future. So how do we find the sweet spot of happiness?
Pay attention
Research is being done on how to spot happiness, maintain it and acquire more of it. However, it’s not ‘out there’. External circumstances can’t provide happiness. It has become apparent that our level of joy depends on how present we are in the moment.
Richard Alpert, a Harvard University professor who would later become known as Ram Dass, wrote the book  “Be Here Now” in an attempt to convey a similar message: pay attention. What he realized (and science validates) is that when we are present in our lives, happiness grows. It’s not the flashy car, expensive house or corner office, but simply the ability to fully engage with what is right in front of us.
After completing research and developing an iPhone app to measure moments of happiness (or unhappiness), Harvard grad Matt Killingsworth and his team found the mind of the average individual wanders for 47 per cent of the time. This produces (shortly thereafter) unhappiness.  Afterwards, Killingsworth observed, “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind,”
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Nurture happiness by meditating
Killingsworth’s research underscores why many spiritual and philosophical traditions have always advocated for meditation. Even just a few moments of stillness each day can help by taming the mind. The effects are cumulative — the more one meditates and the mind is quieted, the more easily one can stay in the moment. Watching the breath and sensing the body are two traditional methods for creating awareness in the present.
How to Meditate

  • Don’t try to ‘think of nothing’. If this is your first time mediating, you may not realize you’re not in control of your thoughts.
  • Redirect Your Thoughts. Relax – your mind will wander, it’s normal and part of the ebb and flow. When you can catch your mind wondering, pay attention to the thought. Try not to get engaged thinking the thought but take a step back and notice what you were thinking of and how you feel.
  • Notice Your Body. Focus your attention by noticing everything you can about how your body feels, beginning with the top of your head. Focus your attention on your face, your eyes, how the air feels when you breathe in and out, the tension in your face, and so on. Move your attention down your body towards your feet and focus on each part of your body, noticing how everything feels.
  • Notice Your Breath. If you’ve checked how your body feels and still have more time left begin to pay attention to your breath. Notice how deeply you breathe, how much air is in your lungs, how fast you’re breathing, and so on.

(Source: The Key to happiness)
(Source: Successful Meditation)
Tips to Be Here Now
While it’s possible to be happy, it requires effort, a commitment and deliberate way of being.

  • Be consistently aware of your surroundings and what’s taking place around you.
  • Meditate at least once a day.
  • Clarify what’s important to you – write down your definition of REAL success.
  • Declare each day who you are going to be.

Stay in the present – bring your mind back from the present or future when it begins to wander.
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Goal – An Upset-Free Life

ID-10063200Something goes wrong – a disagreement with a loved one or a conflict at work – and our energy becomes focused on the upsetting situation. Attention may shift from what’s in front of us requiring our concentration or is a moment to be enjoyed, and instead, we dwell on what we perceive to be a threat. We may believe we’re not getting what we think we deserve or that someone has mistreated us. Whatever we perceive the situation to be, negative energy is created. Our thoughts and our conversations revolve around what’s happened and we become distracted; energy is drained and our effectiveness in other areas is reduced.
Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?
Something to think about. It’s human nature to want to be right, to feel vindicated. But in the long-term, does hanging onto your angry or hurt feelings serve you? Digging in your heels, refusing to budge or take the higher road. What purpose will that serve? Yes, you might eventually ‘win’ by having the other person admit they are wrong, but at what cost to you?
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The price of negative energy
There’s a cost to hanging onto your negativity. The loss of inner peace. When you’re in conflict and hanging onto it with fingernails dug in, your serenity and your ability to handle and enjoy the rest of your life is speeding out the door.
The big payoff
You can be happy no matter what your circumstances. It’s a choice. You can make the decision to keep fueling the conflict or you can choose ahead of time not to let life batter you. It’s up to you and it always has been. Gaining mastery over your reaction to what life throws at you is the key to a happy, upset-free life.
What are you going to choose?
Personal mastery is the power to think and act independently of your circumstances!
In the book You Can Be Happy Not Matter What, Richard Carlson writes:
Remember, in a low mood, we will always be able to point to reasons why we feel the way we do and we will be tempted to trust our thoughts. But our thoughts in a low mood will be distorted. “
The Pivotal Technique helps us to master our feelings around our circumstances, dissolving negative energy.
The Pivotal Technique:
Step 1. Describe where you are
Step 2. Describe where you want to be
Step 3. Once again, formally choose the result you want
Step 4. Move on
It’s always a choice – life is made up of many of them. The decisions you make each and every moment determine your peace of mind.
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The Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz
However wanted or unwanted your present circumstances may be, they function as needed feedback so that you can know the current status of the result you are creating.

Going nowhere….fast

I’m not going to shock anyone by stating many of us are on the verge of burnout. In October 2012, the Globe and Mail reported “work-life balance for Canadians is more off kilter than ever. Despite years of warnings about striking work-life balance, Canadians are in a deeper rut than ever. Almost two-thirds of us are working more than 45 hours a week – 50-per-cent more than two decades ago. Work weeks are more rigid, with flex-time arrangements dropping by a third in the past 10 years. To top it off, only 23 per cent of working Canadians are highly satisfied with life. That’s half as many as in 1991.”
(Source: Globe and Mail Work-Life Balance)
How many hats am I wearing today?
In the workplace, the expectation is that for a minimum of eight hours each day, we will perform our best. For many of us, it’s much more than eight hours. And most of us attempt to do that without doing anything to support us in our efforts, while still carrying out several other roles. We are also parents, spouses, friends, caregivers of elderly relatives and some of us take on volunteer commitments in our communities. On top of all of that, it’s important to take care of our own physical, emotional and mental well-being.
It’s no surprise balance among all these priorities is difficult to achieve, if not impossible. Few of us leave work at the office or forget about our personal lives when we walk out the door in the morning. A high percentage doesn’t take enough vacation time, letting it accrue, in spite of feeling exhausted and desperate for some time off. The fear of letting go of control and the image of the potential disaster awaiting our return seems to outweigh the benefits of relaxation and time away. Most people average between two and six weeks vacation per year with few exceptions; careers last on average 50 years with many exceptions because most people can’t afford to stop working.
A different approach
But here is some information that will surprise you — workplace and business demands far exceed the performance demands placed on professional athletes.
Why? Because the approach they take is holistic. Think about this – professional athletes are perceived as being superbly skilled at what they do, but the reality is they only spend about 10 percent of their time actually engaging in their sport and the other 90 percent of their time training in order to perform. Their entire focus is designed around expanding, sustaining and renewing energy through precise routines and rituals in all areas—eating, sleeping, working out, mental preparation and visualization.
There could be a lesson in this for the rest of us hard-working underachievers. Perhaps it’s time we shifted our own approach to managing our lives. Although it seems counterintuitive, could we reduce stress and burnout by working less and spending more time ‘training’, with the result being increased energy which would lead to being more effective in the hours we spend working?  If we reduced our work hours, could we get more done?
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The Four Dimensions
There are four dimensions that consistently influence our energy levels—physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Typically, many of us push hard in one or two of these areas and not hard enough or completely ignore the others.
Just as your car runs more smoothly and requires less energy to go faster and farther when the wheels are in perfect alignment, you perform better when your thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals, and values are in balance. –Brian Tracy
Why not incorporate this ‘training’ into your life by addressing these four areas of your life to build up energy.
A lack of energy is what drags us all down, causing stress and lowering productivity.
For quick energy renewal, try these tips:

  • Stretch at your desk a couple of times
  • Practice relaxation breathing techniques
  • Get outside at least once a day
  • Sit in silence for a few moments each day
  • Laugh as much as possible
  • Be grateful for the big & small things
  • Express your gratitude
  • Reflect on your day: What was your rose?  What was your thorn? What can you do to make tomorrow even more spectacular?

You Can Be Happy Not Matter What by Richard Carlson

  • Stress can be a friend – by letting us know beforehand when we are headed away from happiness, away from clear thinking.


  • Your past, as it actually exists today, is nothing more than the thoughts you have about it.
  • We have choices; in fact, we have a series of “choice points” in any situation.

Excuse Me, Your Life is Waiting by Lynn Grabhorn

  • The art of feeling good is not exactly something at which we are highly accomplished, so the goal is to learn how to do it on the spot.
  • Look for anything within the situation, or in your immediate surroundings, to appreciate or feel good about.

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Kool-Aid anyone?

ID-100114184It can be said that leaders are defined by the behaviors of their followers – if yours aren’t willing to crawl over broken glass to work with you, your leadership and your organization may be at risk.
Recent research shows these frightening statistics:

  • Only 29 percent of employees are engaged – that means 71 percent – nearly three quarters of the workforce –  are not engaged or are actively disengaged (source: Gallup Poll)
  • More than 50 percent of the workforce plans to look for a new job once the economy improves
  • 86 percent are working against their natural talents and true nature
  • Up to 70 percent of the population will exit from the workforce within 10 years.

If you take a hard look at your organization, could one or more of these findings represent what’s going on in your company?
How do you make followers of them?
Understand that relationships count more than structure – Anonymous
If you’ve looked at your own situation and can see disconnection is rife in your organization, here are some steps you can take:

  • Connect with your people — engage head and heart
  • Be Deliberate — unplug from the addiction of busyness and be present
  • Make every conversation count — give your employees the experience of being heard, seen and understood so they’re motivated to bring more of themselves to work
  • Be Self-Directed — increase awareness of your own part In the results you see
  • Genuinely invite others to tell you what they’re really thinking — see that your view is only one perspective and that multiple perspectives exist, all of which are true
  • Dare to discuss the ‘undiscussables’– be genuine and vulnerable and let others be real with you so energy goes to what really matters

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Wholehearted leadership
When was the last time someone listened to you whole-heartedly? What difference did that make for you?
Wholehearted leadership means choosing vulnerability and transparency. If we are unwilling to be genuine and authentic, to expose ourselves, meaningful engagement can’t occur.
Be willing to be seen
Stop covering up shortcomings, weakness, doubts and failures. Share more than just your successes. Simply telling our ‘glory stories’ often means sharing what no one else can relate to, meaning nothing is given in the process.
If many of your employees aren’t reaching their potential or have become so dissatisfied they’ve got one eye on the door, changing the way you lead to a more complete and genuine style can make the difference between success and failure for your business.
Behind every great leader are great followers. Help them to move from disenchanted employees to engaged and productive followers.
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Leadership is an Art – Max Depree
Being Generous – the Art of Right Living
Generosity, as an exercise of inclusiveness, can help bridge misunderstandings or alienation, and create connections despite disagreements.
We consider generosity a prerequisite for problem solving, and therefore not to be approached casually.
Humility seems passive and unassertive. Yet it takes strength and resilience to tame the ego.


Growth doesn’t come without discomfort

Every year I look forward to the first signs of spring. It’s one of my favourite seasons. New buds and leaves materialize one day and growth and renewal begin to emerge all around us. A friend told me one day that some leaves grow from the edges – interesting.
In our personal and professional lives, times of growth and change also appear, invited or uninvited. Life, like the seasons, isn’t static and through choice or circumstance, we must adapt and change. But it isn’t always easy. Some of us struggle more than others with change; we focus on the negative and our shortcomings, worried that we can’t make the leap.
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Growth is often accompanied by discomfort and pain. We may not like where we’ve been, but we’re usually comfortable with it. A few years ago, I was going through a time of change, focused on the downside and feeling disempowered. The coach I was working with at the time compared how I was feeling to being on a slippery slope, one where I was setting myself up for failure. We explored my reaction to what was going and reframed how I was thinking about it.
Instead of focusing on the negative, I learned to choose a different perspective, one where I welcomed these ‘slippery slopes’ as confirmation I was moving out of my comfort zone and expanding. That experience opened the door for me to have many opportunities where I faced growth and change with open arms.
Challenge yourself
Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is your typical reaction when you are on a slippery slope?
  • What is the conversation with yourself that keeps you playing small?
  • What is something you hold as true about you–something that if you gave it up greatness could emerge?

And remember this quote, “If you believe you can or believe you can’t—you are right.” Anonymous.
Maintaining balance on the slippery slopes

  • Breathe – it is the quickest, fastest way to transform your inner state
  • Renew – your commitment to yourself and to your goal
  • Choose it – choose to have the experience, as it is
  • Appreciate – there is something in your life to be grateful for – be that!

Laugh – don’t take yourself too seriously.
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Thinking Better – Tim Hurson
The Opposable Mind – Roger Martin
The Art of Possibility – Ben Zander
Book clips:
Thinking Better – Tim Hurson
The Art of Possibility – Ben Zander
The Art of Possibility