“Enthusiasm finds the opportunities, and energy makes the most of them.”
Henry S. Haskins (1878-1975)
One of my pet peeves, for a long time, was hearing people say, “I can’t help the way I feel… That’s just the way I am… or I’ve always been that way.” I thought they were wasting their lives. They were missing out on so many of the good things in life because they were saddled with a negative, self-limiting attitude.
Well I’m no longer peeved by those people. I’m actually a little saddened by their comments. I now realize that they’re simply ignorant. They don’t know how to change their attitude.
And these people aren’t alone in their ignorance. As Malcolm Ritter wrote in his Associated Press article, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” on November 27, 2006, “For decades, a widely accepted view has been that people are stuck with a basic setting on their happiness thermostat.” And good and bad events don’t do much to change your level of happiness. In fact, in 1996, two researchers said, “It may be that trying to be happier is as futile as trying to be taller.”
But there’s good news in the latest research.
=> 1. Your overall attitude and level of happiness ARE changeable.
You’re not necessarily born with a “happy gene” or stuck with a “bad attitude.” Ritter states, “Recent long-term studies have revealed that the happiness thermostat is more malleable than the popular theory would suggest.”
One study followed thousands of Germans for 17 years, frequently checking their happiness levels. About a quarter of them went up significantly in their basic level of satisfaction with life — proving that attitudes can be changed.
The same is true on the other side. A person’s level of happiness can go down and stay down for a long time — if a person doesn’t know how to take control of his/her attitude. Parenting is but one example.
Even though parents recall their years of child rearing with great fondness, studies show child-rearing takes a toll on marital satisfaction. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert says in his book, “Stumbling on Happiness,” marital satisfaction goes up as the kids leave home. He notes, “The only known symptom of ’empty-nest syndrome’ is increased smiling.”
The point is simple. Your attitude can be changed, and your happiness can be increased — if you work at it. So I would advise you to…
=> 2. Regularly practice a few attitude adjustment exercises.
After all, psychologist Ed Diener from the University of Illinois says, “Happiness is the process, not the place. So many of us think that when we get everything just right, and obtain certain goals and circumstances, everything will be in place, and we will be happy. But once we get everything in place, we still need new goals and activities.”
To get you started, here are a few exercises I recommend for your attitude-adjustment journey.
=> 3. Record the good things from your day.
At the end of each day, before you retire, think of three or more good things that happened during your day. Write them down. And take a moment to reflect on why those good things occurred.
Executive coach Caroline Adams Miller tried it. She thought, “It was too simple to be effective. I went to Harvard. I’m used to things being complicated.” She was given the assignment as a part of her Master’s degree program, and as a chronic worrier, she knew she needed the boost the exercise was supposed to deliver.
It worked. Caroline reported, “The quality of my dreams has changed. I no longer have trouble falling asleep, and I do feel happier.”
Give it a try. Those who have attended my JOURNEY TO THE EXTRAORDINARY program often find themselves listing 10 or 20 good things that happen in their days.
=> 4. Take an inventory of your personal strengths.
Write down 5, 10, 50, 100, 200 things you’re good at. Maybe you’re good at computers, managing people, raising kids, fixing a car, or teaching a class. Write them all down. The longer your list, the better.
Also write down 50 or 150 things you like about yourself. Maybe you’re persevering, kind-hearted, generous, or honest. Write them all down. Again, go for a long list — even if it takes you weeks and weeks to complete your list.
And then, every day for a week, apply one or more of your strengths in a new way. For example, if you’re persevering, spend 10 minutes on a task you’ve been putting off. Or if you’re good at leading your team, find something new — something you’ve never done before — that you could add to an upcoming meeting to make it more fun as well as more productive. You’ll re-affirm your competence as well as build your confidence.
=> 5. Do one or more five-minute attitude exercises each day.
You can do any of these activities. They’ll give your attitude a boost.
* Savor the little pleasures in your day. Notice — really notice — how good your morning shower feels or how good your breakfast tastes.
* Do a legacy correction. At some point in life, you need to write down what you want to be remembered for. Once you’ve done that, take a couple of minutes in your day to see how well your daily activities line up with your hoped-for-legacy. And adjust your daily activities accordingly.
* Practice random acts of kindness. Hold a door for a stranger. Do the dishes even though it’s your spouse’s “job.” Acts of kindness give both you and the other person a lift.
Your attitude is not something you are stuck with. It’s a W-I-P… Work In Progress. What are you doing to make sure your attitude is growing stronger and becoming more positive?
Action: Select two of the recommended attitude exercises in today’s Tip. Do them everyday for at least 21 days and notice how much better you feel.