October 18, 2017

To Be Successful, Start by Being Happy

I recently read a fascinating interview with Amy Blankson of the UN’s Global Happiness Council. In it, Blankson notes that 90% of our happiness isn’t determined by genes or environment, but by our ability to be optimistic in how we view various situations. This was a huge epiphany for me. I don’t think my life has been any better in the last few months than it has been any other year of my life – but I’ve started focusing on all the things that make me happy and reframing the things that don’t.

As a result, for the last few months, I’ve found myself pleasantly surprised by how generally happy I am. I hadn’t even realized this until a new friend pointed it out in August. “You are always so happy. Don’t you ever have a bad day?!” I stopped and thought about it, and I couldn’t remember a day in the last few months that was truly bad. No, not everything is perfect in my life – but when things go wrong, I’ve somehow learned to look on the bright side.

The last really big bad thing I can remember was back in March, when I had the aphasia incident on the plane where my brain was being weird and I couldn’t read or speak. I was terrified that I had suffered a stroke, and the variety of opinions from different neurologists didn’t calm my nerves. While I waited for test results, I worried and thought about what I would do if I got the worst possible news.

What would I change if I had, say, six months to live? I realized my answer was: almost nothing. I’d probably try to work a bit less (maybe take it to around 50 hours a week?), but I love my job and the people I work with, both coworkers and clients. I’d also try to travel a little less frequently, to have more time to spend at home. But otherwise, I’d keep everything exactly the same. How’s that for being happy with life?

This is what running with friends on my neighborhood trails looks like. Colorado life = best life.

As Pollyanna-ish as it sounds, I’m grateful that the aphasia forced me to reflect and realize how good I have it. Ever since then, the question of “what would I change if I knew I were going to die soon” pops back into my head – and while it’s a pretty morbid question, it gives me even more pleasure that my answer continues to stay the same.

While I was going through all the medical tests to figure out what was wrong, I had one misdiagnosis that really terrible – and started bawling right there in the doctor’s office. When I got home, I posted on my Instagram Stories about what had happened. (Okay, fine, I’m an Instagram Stories addict.) Based on just that post, within an hour, two of my best friends dropped everything and showed up on my doorstep, knowing that I needed support. More than the scary doctor and life-changing diagnosis (which thankfully was inaccurate), that’s what stuck with me about that day – the fact that I had not just one but two amazing friends who were going to make sure I wasn’t alone. How lucky am I for that?!

Theodora Laura Christmas Cookies
And for all my other amazing friends too.

So, what made me flip these bad experiences in my brain and see them in a different light? I know that even a few years ago, I wouldn’t have been so positive – but I’m not entirely sure what made me change to become such an optimist. It certainly wasn’t a conscious effort on my part, but I think there are a few contributing factors.

This year, I started making seasonal bucket lists. (I’m not sure why I chose to call them “bucket lists” instead of “to-do lists”, like Marla does with hers, but it does work rather well with all my morbid talk of dying above.) This season, my fall bucket list includes activities like exploring a corn maze, celebrating Oktoberfest, eating cider donuts, making chili, and carving a pumpkin. I know this next statement makes me sound pathologically Type A, but: life is better with a list of goals! I’ve really enjoyed spending each weekend checking off a few things on my list. I’ve had a lot of fun new experiences as a result, and even though I know the list doesn’t matter, I feel like it gives me a purpose to work on it.

Life goal: get better at hoisting (and drinking) beer.

In the Heleo interview, Blankson talks about using a gratitude journal to make yourself happier, which is advice I’ve often heard but never really felt inspired to do. However, it occurred to me that whenever I post on social media about the good things in my life, those posts serve the same purpose as a gratitude journal.

I’ve been posting on Instagram a lot more in recent months. While I try to be totally honest about the not-so-good things that happen (like my recent series of three missed connections in three days – ugh!), I often unconsciously frame them in a lighthearted way that shows I’m not taking these things too seriously – which probably helps me reframe them in my own mind as well.

This wasn’t just a case of fake it till you make it – I was genuinely in a good mood Sunday and Monday even when I got stranded at airports two nights in a row. The Westin DTW was really nice, and the bed was incredibly comfy! I was happy to get an extra night of Starpoints, since I’m mostly at Marriotts lately.

I also learned from my medical scare that while dark humor might seem creepy, making jokes about my problems really helps to make them seem surmountable. On Instagram Stories, I make it a point to laugh at myself when I’m frustrated by something – and that really does make me feel like it’s all going to be okay. So maybe social media can be a tool for happiness after all? I’m sticking with it.

No picture example here because I like that my goofy faces on Instagram Stories go away after 24 hours, rather than being recorded for posterity 😉

Overall, I’m incredibly heartened by the idea that happiness leads to success, rather than the other way around. More successes in my future? Yes, please – I’ll take them 🙂

Finally: I just learned that Blankson will be leading a free webinar next week called “Can Technology Make Us Happy” – you can register here. I’m looking forward to joining and learning more about strategies for making technology a positive force for change; let me know if you attend too and would like to discuss!


2 thoughts on “To Be Successful, Start by Being Happy”

  1. Having a positive outlook is so important, and I think really contributes to my overall quality of life. It’s not exactly the same, but this post made me think of a goal setting training I just led for my new employees this week. I had everyone make a “Hell Yeah!” list – aka a list of all of their accomplishments they are most excited about over the last twelve months. Not necessarily the things they’d bring up in an annual review or list on a resume, but the things that make them feel truly accomplished big and small. Then you look at the list for patterns, and notice the type of things that you’re proud of. Then we wrote personal and professional goals that reflected these patterns, not the goals that you think you “should” have. It was really fun to do, and I think it’s a super positive, useful way to look at goals – not what you’re lacking, but what you are excited about.

    1. I LOVE the sound of that exercise – what a great idea! That also gives you a deep idea of what you find personally fulfilling.

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