Friday, April 23, 2010

How to Be Happy No Matter What

By Srikumar S. Rao

Many of us believe that happiness can somehow come only by great effort, and we spend a lifetime seeking it. But unending joy is actually closer to us than our own skin, and there is nothing we have to do or get or be to experience it. All we have to do is stop driving it away. And the principal way in which we drive happiness away is "if/then" thinking--believing that IF this happens, THEN I will be happy. The truth is you have everything it takes to be happy right now.

Here are 10 tips that will help you change your thinking about happiness and open wellsprings of motivation, resilience, and joy you never knew existed.

Srikumar S. Rao, Ph.D., is the author of “Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated and Successful – No Matter What” (McGraw-Hill, 2010). Dr. Rao has taught his course  on "Creativity and Personal Mastery" in many MBA programs, and is a former marketing executive. For more information and to order the book go to

Accept What Is and Learn from It

Thoughtful woman

Life is a university and you never graduate. Accept that whatever happens to you, no matter how terrible, is there to teach you. Your job is to learn and do what you have to. It is not so difficult to move on if you focus on learning the lesson rather than lamenting your misfortune. It also does not mean you are callous or heartless. On the contrary, you will become much more caring and empathetic when you are not wallowing in your misery.

Don't Label Anything That Happens as 'Bad'

Man with Open Arms

Look back at your life a year or two ago. Can you recall anything that happened to you that at the time you thought was terrible? Can you see now that it was not as bad as you supposed--and may actually have turned out to be "good"? Say your boss fired you and you got a severance package you thought was bad. But the company recently went bankrupt and your former colleagues lost their jobs and got no severance--and didn’t even get reimbursed for their business expenses. You never really know if anything that happens to you is bad, but labeling it as such increases the probability that you will experience it that way. Don’t do it.

Define What You Do by Its Purpose

Teaching Responsibility, kids learning to get organized

What do you say when someone asks you what you do? If you define it in functional terms like “I teach mathematics to middle-school students,” then you are either burned out or will be soon. If your response is “I help our leaders of tomorrow appreciate the beauty of mathematics and show them the flights of lofty imagination that enabled great scientists to formulate breathtaking theorems," then each day is a blast. What is the ultimate good to society of what you do? That is what you pour your emotional energy into.

Commit Intensely and Joyfully to Everything You Do

Do you feel bored and stuck in a rut? Is work drudgery? If so, you are spending far too much time bemoaning your fate and how the universe is not cooperating with your desires. Be present with and in your current situation. You will discover that there is more there than meets the eye. There are nuances that you were never aware of until you gave them the benefit of your full attention. When you do this, you have no time to be bored. Paradoxically, your work transforms itself in ways you could never conceive and propels you to greater fulfillment.

You Can Create Miracles—So Do It

woman in lightening storm

Let's say you're all dressed up, it starts raining, and you don’t have an umbrella. A cab pulls up right where you are to discharge a passenger and you take it. Do you describe what happened as a "coincidence"? If so, you have blown a powerful tool for bringing all manner of good into your life. Instead, recognize that what happened was a "miracle" and celebrate it as such. You allowed it to happen. The more you celebrate such "miracles," the more they will appear in your life. Maybe you will not be able to make a specific miracle happen – such as the 4:15 train coming 10 minutes late just so you can catch it – but you will be able to live a life where a steady stream of such miracles enriches your experience.

Remember That Like Attracts Like

Do you know someone who is constantly complaining? Who finds fault with people and things all the time? Who sucks your energy and leaves you feeling drained? Do you want to hang around with him or her? Odds are that, sooner or later, you will want to move on. Now think about what kind of feelings you evoke in others. Consciously be sensitive to others and try to elevate their level of consciousness. Don’t do this by being preachy and telling them that they "should" do this or that. Do it by raising your own level of energy and recognizing what's best in others. As you become imbued with this habit, the most marvelous, upbeat people will float into your life and elevate you even further.

Being Is More Important than Doing

A man I know desperately wanted to become CEO and was ready to do what it took. Family was a distraction, and he resented the demands they placed on him. He attended his daughter’s soccer games but spent most of the time making phone calls and replying to messages on his Blackberry. He thought he was being a good father until he overheard his daughter on the phone telling a friend, "My dad doesn’t care about me – he just wants others to think he is a caring father. He sat through the whole game playing with his phone and didn’t even notice I scored a goal." Who you are being will always show through sooner or later. Remember the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: "Who you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying."

Bounce Back Like a Daruma Doll

Daruma doll

A Daruma doll in Japanese Buddhist tradition has no arms or legs and is heavily weighted. Knock it over and it springs right back. You cannot keep it down. Keep that as a vision. As long as you are in the human predicament, stuff will happen to you. You cannot prevent getting knocked down. But you CAN get right back up again. And you do this by accepting what is and asking “Where do I go from here?” No complaints, no wailing, just a willingness to learn what can be learned and a readiness to then do what must be done.

Change Your Focus to Serving Others

Notice when you believe you are the center of the universe. No matter what happens, you only think in terms of what impact it has on you.  But living predominantly in a "me-centered" world guarantees that you will experience dejection, anxiety, boredom, and all the things that make life unhappy. By contrast, consciously think in terms of being of service to others and your life will flower.

A professor who used to bemoan the "stupidity" of the students in his class decided to change his self-centered focus. He started being grateful to them because they worked as waitresses and bartenders to pay the tuition that paid his salary that maintained his family. He began to see it as his task to get students to appreciate the beauty in his field, not theirs to provide him with intellectual stimulation. This led him to pay more attention to the design of his lectures. He won several teaching honors and was eventually offered a more rewarding position.

Let It Go

How to Face Your Fears

Watch a baby contentedly drinking his milk and take his bottle away. His face gets red, he screams, and there is no doubt that he is angry. Now give him his bottle back. In seconds he is back to his contented, gurgling self. He experiences his anger but then he lets it go! Our problem is that we don’t let things go. We harbor resentments, slights, memories and mental junk from years or decades. Drop that mess. Let it go. That, by itself, leaves room for joy to manifest.