Happiness is not Hidden from You. You are Hidden from It

Many, many years ago in North Africa there lived a chief. He was very rich and had many wives and children. But he was not happy. He thought, “I have everything. But that does not make me happy. What must I do to be happy? I don’t know.”

Once he shouted angrily to his servants, “Why can’t I be happy? What must I do to be happy?”

One of his servants said, “Oh, my Chief! Look at the sky! How beautiful the moon and the stars are! Look at them and you will see how good life is. That will make you happier.”

“Oh, no, no, no!” the chief answered angrily. “When I look at the moon and the stars I become angry. Because I know I cannot get them.”

Then another servant said, “Oh, my Chief! What about music?

Music makes a man happy. We shall play to you from morning till night and music will make you happy. ”

The chief’s face became red with anger. “Oh, no, no, no, no!” he cried. “What a silly idea. Music is fine. But to listen to music from morning till night, day after day? Never! No. Never!”

So the servants went away. And the chief sat angrily in his rich room. Then one of the servants came back into the room and made a bow, “Oh, my Chief,” he said, “but I think I can tell you something that will make you very happy.”

“What is it?” asked the chief.

“It is very easy to do,” said ‘the servant. “You must find a happy man, take off his shirt and put it on. Then his happiness will go into your body and you will be as happy as he!”

“I like your idea,” said the chief. He sent his soldiers all over the country to look for a happy man. They went on and on. But it was not easy to find a happy man in the chief’s country. But one day the soldiers found a man in a small village who said, “I am the happiest man in the world.”

He was poor. But he always smiled and sang. The soldiers brought him to the chief. “At last I shall be a happy man!” said the chief and took off his shirt at once. “Bring the man in!” The door of the chief’s room opened. A small, dark man with a happy smile walked in.

“Come here, my friend!” said the chief. “Please take off your shirt!” The happy man with a little smile came up to the chief.

The chief looked at him and saw what did he see?

The happy man, the happiest man in the world, had no shirt!

 If you rely on unreliable objects – people, possessions, money, status- for your happiness, happiness will forever elude you. None of these can offer you a guarantee of happiness because they are outside your control.

“Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are it solely relies on what you think.” Happiness is not hidden from you. You are hidden from it. Reveal yourself to it by appreciating what you have at this moment.

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Your Brain Has a Negativity Bias

A study of negativity bias in the English language has found that there are more negative emotional words (62 percent) than positive words (32 percent) in the English dictionary.

Have you ever been kissed by a giraffe? Had your hair dyed a nice shade of red by orphaned elephants playing in red soil? Been involved in a Water buffalo stand-off? Had a dip in a geothermal spa? Me neither. Until last week that is.

Last week I got to play hostess and tourist. I got to see my country through the eyes of a friend who was visiting it for the first time. I am not one given to the comforts of complaining but it’s not always a battle I win.

Any place one chooses to reside in can produce much to complain about but it can also give you much to be proud of and much to fall in love with. Repeatedly. I tend to forget this and in an effort to understand why I learned that my brain (and yours too) has a negativity bias.

Negativity bias is the name given by psychologists to the human tendency to be much more likely to be influenced by and to recall negative experiences, instead of neutral or positive experiences. It was first documented by psychologists Roy F. Baumister, Ellen Bratslavsky, Kathleen Vohs, and Catrin Finkenauer in an article titled “Bad is Stronger than Good”.

The Science

Studies conducted by John Cacioppo Ph.D., then at Ohio State University, now at the University of Chicago showed that our attitudes are more heavily influenced by bad news than good news.

The study involved showing people three types of images.

  • Images known to arouse positive feelings (say, a Ferrari, or a pizza).
  • Images certain to stir up negative feelings (a mutilated face or dead cat).
  • Images known to produce neutral feelings (a plate, a hair dryer).

As these images were being reviewed, Cacioppo and his colleagues recorded electrical activity in the brain’s cerebral cortex that reflects the magnitude of information processing taking place. Their findings revealed a greater surge in the brain’s electrical activity when viewing stimuli it deemed negative.

Before you threaten your brain please know that its tendency towards the negative is a result of evolution geared towards our survival more than anything else. It’s what helped our ancestors to stay alive.

Dr. Rick Hansen, in his book “Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence,” describes our ancestors as living in a world of carrots and sticks. Carrots being rewards (food, sex, shelter) and sticks being punishment (predators, disease, injury). He writes that “Over hundreds of millions of years, it was a matter of life and death to pay extra attention to sticks, react to them intensely, remember them well, and over time become even more sensitive to them.”

Left unchecked, the negativity bias can become a serious impediment to our productivity, happiness and quality of life. Here are some strategies to keep it at bay.

1. Dr. Rick Hanson recommends that we should always be mindful of the degree to which our brain is wired to make us afraid. He also encourages building an awareness of the forces around us that beat the “drum of alarm.”  When you know the immense power of negativity, you’ll be less likely to invite it into your environment. This goes for things as well as people. He cautions though against donning rose colored glasses or sticking one’s head in the sand.

2. Make it a point to take a moment to savor positive experiences. No matter how small. By doing so you engage fully in the experience and are conscious and mindful of its every detail. This will help you create an area of refuge” a strategy recommended below.

3. Gretchen Rubin—owner of “The Happiness Project”–recommends that you create an “area of refuge” in your brain. A place you can think of whenever you find your mind wandering to a negative memory. That “area of refuge” can be made up of good memories, inspiring quotes, or lines from poems etc.

4. Keep a gratitude journal. By focusing on the good you’ll gradually be rewiring your brain for happiness. Robert Emmons, a psychologist at the University of California, Davis, and a leading expert in positive psychology offers several tips on keeping a gratitude journal. Some tips include focusing on people rather than things. Savoring surprise events. And writing in your journal only once or twice per week, but writing with depth.

5. Practice realistic optimism. This tip comes from Tony Schwartz, chief executive officer of The Energy Project. He recommends telling yourself the most hopeful and empowering story possible about any given circumstance without denying or minimizing the facts.

“The more you’re able to move your attention to what makes you feel good, the more capacity you’ll have to manage whatever was making you feel bad in the first place.” ~ Tony Schwartz

The brain’s negativity bias is powerful and fighting it will take time. But it will be well worth the effort.

Thanks for reading! If this post resonates with you be sure to click the like button below. Do share this post so that others may benefit from it too.

Make This Choice and Watch Everything Else Start To Fall Into Place

My most profound rejection was delivered via the following statement. ‘I love my life’.  He may not have realized it but I did. He chose self-love. My higher self, albeit slightly crushed, was honestly impressed.

Self-love is an active practice. A practice that sometimes may seem quite elusive especially if you have been on the receiving end of everything but love. No matter how old you are or how low you feel about yourself, it’s never too late to begin to love yourself.

Here’s how you can start.

Continue reading “Make This Choice and Watch Everything Else Start To Fall Into Place”

Mistaking Comfort For Happiness

Untitled designI live for creative expression in home decor. The less it costs and the more creatively it was imagined the better. One of my favorite shows that does this is The High Low Project featuring the fantastic creations of designer Sabrina Soto and craftsman extraordinaire Christopher White.  The show starts by asking homeowners to imagine their dream room without the pesky hindrance of a budget = the high. The dream room is revealed and then the fun begins. Soto & White are tasked to recreate the room a second time with the homeowners budget strictly in mind = the low.

During the dreamy budget free stage of the project, are the homeowners seeking comfort or happiness? Comfort is often equated with happiness but is there a difference?

Comfort tends to be the default of human existence. Why? Because it’s  easy and you can buy it. Without much thought or effort, you can accumulate comfort. Be it in things or relationships. Comfort makes us focus on stuff/people because we think it/they will bring us some desired feelings. When dissected, comfort is the pursuit of pleasure. There is nothing wrong with seeking comfort/pleasure. You just have to find the right balance that does not invalidate your life and only you can figure out what that is.

Happiness, on the other hand, takes work. It takes risk, confronting your fears, and quite often, getting uncomfortable. This is why we tend to opt for the cruise control option.  Happiness requires a sense of adventure. A strong desire to engage all gears. It focusses on the journey and not the destination. It’s about letting go of an imagined result and making the necessary decisions to change what needs changing.

Be brave enough to live creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You cannot get there by bus, only by hard work, risking and by not quite knowing what you are doing. What you will discover will be wonderful; yourself. ~ Alan Alda ~