I seem to have been doing a fair bit of coaching recently with homeless people, and particularly with homeless people who would say they are suffering from some kind of ‘addiction’.
I realise you may feel, therefore, that this week’s musing isn’t particularly relevant for you… but bear with me! There may be a nugget in here that’s useful for you, your business, your team or your family.
At our core, we’re all looking for the same thing. (See my previous musing “What’s the Cheese you’re looking for?”) There are as many definitions of Happiness as there are self-help books.
But I think we could all agree that we all want to create an enjoyable and meaningful experience of life, we want to feel fully alive, we want peace of mind, we want to love and be loved, that we’re growing and contributing, that we’re tapping into our own creative potential, and we want to feel comfortable in our own skin. All of these things exist already in the potential of our mind of course in any moment – inside ourselves.
As a culture, though, most people still make the innocent mistake of thinking they are to be found out there… in the world of circumstance.
(As an aside, I went to my hairdresser this week, and she asked the inevitable “Have you been on your holidays yet?” question, as though this is the pinnacle of my year, and the other fifty weeks are just the grinding price we have to pay to have our fortnight in the sun! A very small part of my vision for humanity is that, instead, we will ask each other: “What was your experience of life today?”, or “What have you done with your wild and precious life today?”, or “What’s been the most joyful moment of today?”)
Addictions, of course, come in many forms. Sometimes it’s alcohol, drugs or food. Sometimes it’s numbing ourselves with mindless TV. Sometimes it’s achievement, or money, or shopping, or status, the next promotion, or England winning the Cricket Test as a topical example! Sometimes it’s the adrenaline that comes from just being super-busy.
There are a growing number of professionals in the ‘recovery’ business who are pointing people back home – back to where our experience of life comes from – with tremendous results.
So I thought I’d share the ‘Truths about Happiness’ that some of these recovery centres are sharing with their clients. These seem to me to be as true for a busy-minded, stressed CEO as they are for the person with the can of Tennent’s Extra sleeping rough on the streets of London.
Truth 1: Happiness is Always Within
True contentment is always inside waiting for our thinking to settle down enough, like a well with an unlimited supply of fresh, clean water that has simply been hidden beneath the interference of our imagined challenges, problems or stressors. Understanding this allows us to stop chasing Happiness ‘out there’ and move through our lives with ease and grace.
Truth 2: Tread lightly when emotionally charged
Emotions are useful indicators of the quality of our thinking at any given moment. The issue is that they make us more charged, and more biased. When you begin to feel the rush of intense emotions, your thinking is now filtered through the cloud of that emotion, which can make things seem worse (or better) than they actually are.
We’ve all looked back at certain experiences and realized that, with hindsight, they weren’t as big as our thinking made them out to be. The Mark Twain quote comes to mind here: “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened”. Being able to recognize quickly that your thoughts are ‘ramping up’ is often enough to help you see new, fresh choices in the moment.
Truth 3: Your Thinking isn’t the Authority
Your thoughts about the situation you’re in are often misguided or completely wrong. (See “How clean are your Glasses?”) Let’s go back to the Cricket. Imagine a bunch of people at the Oval today. Some people are there because they’re passionate about England, or Australia, winning. Some people have been dragged along by others, and don’t give a stuff about who wins.
There are people who just want to feel connected to others in the crowd. Every person there is having a different experience – created by their own thoughts, feelings and physical health at the time. Your experience is never NOT skewed in some way. Knowing this means you can take it all less seriously, even when your experience seems less than ‘perfect’.
Truth 4: Life is only experienced through this Moment
Life is only this moment, and we’re all experiencing this moment, in every moment. How many moments do you spend thinking about the past, or imagining the future? This doesn’t mean there’s no point in sensible planning – if you want to fly to Mexico, you probably do need to book a plane ticket! But most of us go much further than this, we imagine scenario after scenario, and depending on our thinking habits, this can create anxiety, stress or overwhelm.
All of this takes us away from the present moment, and is one of the biggest interferences to our happiness.
Truth 5: Life isn’t what happens to you, it’s what you think is happening to you
I’m not going to go all “Matrix” on you here – and try to convince you that there is no spoon! But when you do hit one of the inevitable tripwires, understanding your own innate health, well-being and resilience gives you a really practical navigation system, allowing you to be stuck less often, and for shorter periods of time.
I’m reminded of one of my favourite stories – the one that catapulted me into this new understanding and created a real and lasting shift in my experience of life: Imagine a scene from an old-fashioned Western Cowboy film. You are one of the cowboys (or girls), and you’ve been surrounded by Red Indians, intent on peppering you with arrows. They are whooping and firing arrows. (This story doesn’t feel very politically correct any more!) You are in a circle of wagons, and there’s not much hope.
The Indians are gaining ground, and you’re hiding behind a wagon – hoping and praying that the cavalry will come and rescue you before it’s too late. Finally, over the crest of a hill, you hear the sound of a galloping horse. One single rider gallops right up to where you’re trying to dodge the arrows.
The rider jumps off the horse, and says to you: I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that the cavalry isn’t coming. The good news is that you’re imagining the Red Indians!
I’d love to know what you see and hear in all this!