I give talks on happiness and lead workshops on gratitude. I’m into feelings. Big time.
But some people – lots of people – are not.
That doesn’t mean they don’t want to be happy; we’re all hardwired for that from the word go. It does, however, mean that many of the tools touted for achieving happiness can feel grossly out of reach to them.
I’ve run into this dichotomy in my own home: neither my daughter nor my husband are big fans of feelings. They don’t like to talk about them, wallow in them, or really even think about them much. Both of them would prefer doing to feeling any day.
That’s why I wasn’t at all surprised when a woman at workshop I was leading raised her hand and asked, “But what if you hate feelings?”
Her fellow attendees chuckled and were clearly confused, but I had heard those same words from my child just a few weeks earlier.
What do you do if you hate feelings?
There’s no avoiding feelings- and any attempts to do so will end with unpleasant, messy, unpredictable results.
You have to feel the feelings.
But you don’t have to:
Feel them all at once.
Check out the video for three practical ways to feel those pesky emotions a little bit at a time, and then get on with your life!
(Odds are if you’re reading this blog you are pretty comfortable with feelings. Consider sharing this post with someone you know who thinks that’s crazy.)
She’s a writer; I’m a writer. She has blonde, curly hair; I have blonde, curly hair. She’s been accused of being a self-absorbed oversharer; I’ve been accused of being a self-absorbed oversharer. TWINSIES!
This week, my dreams were realized and suspicions confirmed when I met Elizabeth live and in person.
We hugged. We took selfies. We laughed about 14 year olds and their superior knowledge of all things tech.
It was a very eventful 90 seconds.
Technically, we didn’t become friends, exactly – only because she didn’t have sufficient time to fall in love with me while signing books and taking pictures – but she did affirm everything I already knew to be true.
Namely: Elizabeth Gilbert is amazing.
In addition to being wise and inspiring during the talk she gave, she was also gracious and kind while greeting fans afterwards. She told us that she most wanted to be known for being a nice person, indicating to me that she is as decent a human being as she is a writer.
It’s nice when your heroes show themselves worthy of your admiration.
I wish that I could share with you every single second of that night so that you, too, could be as inspired and encouraged as my fellow attendees and I were. Alas, the best I can do is share a few of the snippets I hurriedly typed into my phone.
Some of my favorites:
She talked about how we each imagine that our fears are unique and special and interesting, but that if you took them out and flipped them over “you’d see Made in Taiwan stamped on the bottom.” This made me laugh and nod my head because almost every single person I talk to is just certain that the thing they are afraid of is specific and different enough to possibly be rational, and yet… no.
Our fears are common. They are basically “stay away from the unknown or something horrible will happen.”
There is comfort, I think, in realizing fear is not that complex.
There is also comfort in knowing that…
I loved that in a talk about creative courage, Elizabeth’s overriding message was that “it’s just art.” Seriously. Relax.
I often joke that I find my courage to do crazy things in remembering that I am probably not going to die or go to prison no matter how badly my latest experiment goes. (Death and arrest are, apparently, my personal deal breakers.)
When Jared and I were planning our epic sell everything and move into an RV for a year adventure, I liked to remind him that “worse case scenario, we end up living in your parents’ basement – and it’s a pretty nice basement!” He was rarely comforted by that possibility, but I maintained that the worst case was relatively not that bad.
Truly, most of us are not in a position where attempting to make things – or even chase our dreams – is going to kill us or anyone else. And yet we agonize over our choices as if our lives were on the line.
The question we should really be asking ourselves is:
Not the familiar, if you knew you couldn’t fail – but what if you knew you would?
Elizabeth said that she kept writing through the years of rejection because she loved writing more than she hated the failure. She admitted that her ego was bruised early and often, but that the hurt was never as bad as the joy of writing.
Go to the place where the certainty of failure can be trumped by the enjoyment of the process, of the actual doing.
That is where the magic happens. That is where your purpose lies.
Oh, and your purpose might not be what pays the bills.
Elizabeth admitted that she never demanded that her writing support her financially. Instead, she worked tons of odd jobs and vowed to support her writing. Her extremely practical advice to the audience was to figure out how to not going in debt while making things.
I love inspiration that can coexist with reality.
But my biggest takeaway from the night was not a quote; it was the simple reminder that stories are powerful.
Elizabeth’s entire speech was basically a string of well-told stories and poignant observations. With these stories she made us laugh, think, and feel deeply connected. I resolved right there in my seat at Carnegie Music Hall to practice storytelling more and pontificating less.
When I hear the phrase life coach I picture a middle-aged woman backlit by the afternoon sun and wearing a peasant top. She uses words like manifest and Universe.
And then there’s Tim Brownson. Tim is so not that life coach.
Tim is a balding Brit who’s more likely to drop an f-bomb during a session than the M word. He is a rabid critic of the Law of Attraction. He is not afraid to use controversy as a marketing tool.
And he is a really good life coach.
I’ve worked with Tim before. He was excellent at catching my negative self-talk and limiting beliefs and knocking me out of my own head. He is tough, smart, helpful, and encouraging.
This is what Tim has to say about happiness.
How do you define happiness?
So glad you started off with such a simple question Britt!
Happiness is so difficult to define and people often confuse it with pleasure. People think they are happy when they receive that pay raise, go on vacation, buy a new house or any other number of things, but what they are really experiencing is pleasure.
I think happiness resides in a more abstract and certainly less materialistic space.
If a person is in alignment with their core values, then I think t here is a case to be made for saying that by and large they will be happy. But as we know, happiness like pleasure or any other human emotion for that matter is fleeting. It comes and it goes.
A person could be living the dream in every aspect of their life and practicing their core values, but the death of a loved one, a serious medical illness diagnosis or receiving any really bad news can remove their happiness in an instant.
The people who I admire the most are those who have cultivated total peace of mind and equanimity. I think they are some of the happiest people in the world because they don’t get bogged down by the vagaries of life. They live it day-to-day without the need to fret about the future or feel regret about the past.
In other words I have no fucking clue, sorry!
How do you make happiness a priority in your life?
I’m not sure I do, at least not on a daily a conscious level. On the other hand I left a very high paying career ten years ago to pursue coaching because I knew it was what I really, really wanted to do.
Sales was killing me and I was stressed senseless, so I guess at that point I was making being happy a major priority.
You can tell I’m making this as I go along because I just realized that I meditate every day, and what is that if not a conscious effort to be happier and keep my stress levels to a sensible level? I also go to the gym 3 or 4 times per week and I always get a happiness boost from that, and I listen to stand up comedy every day because I just love laughing!
So I guess the answer is meditation, exercise and lots of humor.
Oh and loud music, I listen to a lot of dance music.
What “shoulds” have you let go to pursue happiness?
I think the biggest is that I should earn a certain amount of money. I have never earned as much coaching as I did in my last full year in sales and I couldn’t give a crap.
Not that I’m averse to having more cash, in fact I aim to hit that figure in 2015. But now money is a byproduct of delivering massive value and helping others because the pleasure I get from my work is worth waaaaaaaaay more than living in a house with 9 bedrooms, a swimming pool and a Butler called Butler.
I have also let go of the feeling that I really should grow up.
I’m not going there, it’s a trap and my brain insists that I’m 22 not 52. My body has other ideas, but who cares because my brain is running the show?
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about happiness?
Oh bloody hell Britt I have no frickin’ clue! The problem is like you, I have read so many books, watched so many talks, done so much training and spoken to so many people that everything blurs for the most part.
I think the most important realization I had, and it may have come in the form of advice I honestly cannot remember, was that we spend half our waking lives at work and as such it should be doing work we love. My last 10 years in sales were for the most part miserable (at least when at work) and I wouldn’t encourage anybody to do a job ‘for the money’ if it has them dreading every Monday morning.
Don’t compromise with happiness, it simply isn’t worth it.
As a life coach, what do you wish most people knew about happiness?
That it doesn’t come from external crap. Everybody gets the concept of money not buying happiness, but they get it for everybody else and not themselves. They still think the 20% raise, the Mercedes SLK or Jimmy Choo shoes will make them happy because buying such things raises our status and the brain releases lots of lovely dopamine in recognition of this.
But as humans we’re amazing at adapting to our circumstances (both good and bad), so whereas those things may well bring short-term pleasure, that will soon wear off and another dopamine fix is needed.
Hang on I may need to reassess. My wife just came in and she said the Jimmy Choo shoes really do deliver happiness and I should buy her a pair so she can prove it. This is your fault Reints!
In my defense, I only do it when I’m stopped at a red light. But still.
There is absolutely no good reason for me to be putting myself and everyone else on the road in danger. And make no mistake: that’s exactly what I’m doing when I check out of driving (even partially and temporarily) and into my phone.
I’m also distracting myself from a few moments of nothingness.
As a society, we’ve gotten really bad at coping with nothingness.
We never have to sit and do nothing. We have mental stimulation at our fingertips all the time.
I think having unlimited information, connection, and entertainment options literally in my pocket is pretty dang cool. I’m #teamInternet all the way.
One of the greatest blessings of my life is that I get to meet really cool people – people like Leah Lizarondo.
Leah is a fellow TEDx speaker, food writer, super successful blogger, public policy expert, former CEO of a non-profit, wife, mother, and fabulous dresser. I can’t think of anyone else I respect or admire more than her.
She also has a mega-watt smile that is frequently on display, so naturally I had to harass her into doing a happiness interview with us!
How do you define happiness?
This was a hard one for me and I think being older has really helped. Its like what you say — letting go of the “shoulds” — but really along with that is not giving a fuck about what other people think. Not to say I put my whole life out there in the open. But when you let go of the “shoulds” and not give a flying F, you suddenly realize that you’re free.
Freedom, the MANY definitions of it, is happiness.
I say many definitions because freedom is not one concrete thing. There’s a lot of self-consciousness in our 20s and 30s and with that we allow ourselves and our actions to be defined by what other people think–whether it’s society at large, your parents, your boyfriend, your friends. I think that’s why I moved to NY in my 20s; I wanted to be away from everyone who knew me and just be free to explore, do things, and make mistakes. And boy did I push the envelope. I made TONS of mistakes. But I would never trade it for anything else. I look back at it now and I think, well, that was fun.
Fast forward almost 2 decades later, I realize that freedom, happiness, all these things comes from our own energy and drive.
How do you fit what makes you happy into your day-to-day life?
First, whenever I hear myself say “should” its a signal for me to think again. Its a constant exercise. We are programmed by shoulds (I even find myself saying it to my kids!) so its take a lifetime to deprogram.
I also try to move towards happiness every day — even on the hard days. That may mean: pulling out my yoga mat even for a 15 minute practice no matter how tired I am, making sure I tuck my kids in and have a few moments of sweet conversation with them on a particularly busy day, doing one thing that moves a work goal forward no matter how small, eating something that makes me feel nourished.
What “shoulds” have you let go of to pursue your happiness?
I’ve had to balance my values as a parent and the pace that I want to have with my work. That’s the biggest thing — all the work shoulds.
I never changed a diaper or really ever held babies before my first child, but as soon as I give birth my whole life changed. That sounds like a cliche but its true. Before I gave birth I was 100% career at the expense of everything else. But after, I just couldn’t — and didn’t want to — do the same. From not holding babies, I became an attached parent in all its Dr. Sears textbook incarnations. I co-sleep, my kids nurse well into toddlerhood, and I like to spend time with them a lot.
Time is finite. Something had to give, and it was work.
That decision did not come without much hand wringing. Even just recently, I let go of a plum project that many people would give their right arm for. But, it would have required really long work weeks and being away too much. That decision was hard, but I have a little 21 month old who will grow up too fast (and I know that because I look at my 9 year old and think, wow, how did that happen?)
I’ve had to adjust my expectations — not in what I want to achieve work-wise (I’m just as goal-oriented), but in the time bounds.
I’ve also let go of a lot of relationship shoulds. I used to think that every relationship had to be fixed, to be just right, but really there’s freedom in embracing imperfections. And, some relationships require just walking away from. That is OK. Relationships also don’t have to be constrained within conventional definitions, social mores. Convention changes all the time — so I’ve had to set my own definitions.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about happiness?
From yoga, and the hardest to be mindful of:
That in itself is a meditation and really hard to understand sometimes. I’m still working on this!
What do you do when you’re feeling unhappy?
I drink and do drugs. Just kidding.
I go out, see my friends, be out in the world. I learned that when I am feeling unhappy, it’s usually a feeling of disconnection — whether its with myself, where I am, with someone.
If I surround myself with good friends, good people, HAPPY people, I reconnect. And, as you know, studies have shown happiness is contagious (all kinds of energy is) and good energy is very attractive (and sexy) so I seek it out. Pretty soon, I feel so much better. Humans were designed to connect and I am a voracious connector. I love people.
I also do things that I know are GOOD FOR ME but not necessarily easy. In other words, taking care of myself.
Women have a hard time doing that. Moms I think sometimes feel guilty.You know how in those airplane safety demos they ask you to put the oxygen mask on first? I used to think, well, that’s counter-intuitive, but hey you have to keep yourself alive to be able to care for others. So I do things that make me feel alive. I make myself do yoga, I drink a green juice or two, I get a massage, I go somewhere alone or with friends.
I think of “the greatest love of all” and I used to think, that’s selfish. But really, sing it with me, “learning to love yourself…”
Thank you, Leah, for making me google the lyrics to that song and discover that it is not about being pregnant but about loving yourself – only 30 years after it was released!
Your turn! What do you do that is GOOD FOR YOU but not necessarily easy? Tell us in the comments to inspire and encourage others.