Stress: The Greatest Obstacle To Happiness

Drive carefully. It’s not only cars that can be recalled by their maker.

In the last 30 years, I’ve given more than 2000 presentations in 48 US states and several foreign countries. I’ve spoken to more than a million people, having in my audiences everyone from entry-level workers to top executives. And as I’ve travelled the world for work and play, I’ve found one common denominator — everyone wants to be HAPPY.

Now that’s fine and dandy, but I began to wonder, “What is happiness? How do people define it?” So I asked thousands of people to give me their definition, and I listened to what they told me.

Surprisingly, their answers were fairly consistent. Happiness, they said, was having one or more of the following elements in their lives:

* Good health,
* Strong relationships,
* Meaningful work,
* Significant achievement,
* Financial independence,
* Positive attitudes, and/or
* Spiritual fulfillment.

In fact, I discovered these elements were so critical that it was difficult… but not impossible… to be happy if a person had a deficiency in any one of the elements.

So it’s no wonder people keep asking me the same questions. Everywhere I speak, people want to know…

* How can I be healthier… or have less stress and more balance in my life?

* How can I build better, stronger, and more productive relationships at work and at home?

* How do I make sure I’m doing meaningful work… in a growing career… that I truly enjoy?

* How do I achieve my goals or make my dreams come true… once I’ve figured them out?

* How can I make more money or be free of the money hassle?

* How do I keep an upbeat positive attitude all the time… despite circumstances?

* How do I live a spirit-filled life, make a difference and have peace of mind?

But for today’s sake, let me address one of the major obstacles to those elements of happiness — and that is STRESS. It’s so widespread that more people spend more time coping with stress than they do pursuing happiness.

Of course, some of you may be thinking, “Yep, that’s me. I just plain feel overwhelmed too much of the time.” In fact, some research indicates that 1 out of every 3 people is stressed out, burned out, or has a life badly out of balance.

Others of you may be thinking, “I’m in business to make a profit — not to care about someone’s stress and happiness.” Big mistake! When the Gallop Poll surveyed employees, 17% of them reported so much stress in their lives that they were not productive at work. That means… if you’ve got a group of 100 employees, about 20 of them are costing you money instead of making you money.

In the next few “Tuesday Tips” I want to give you a number of strategies that will help you manage your stress, prevent burnout, and balance your life. And to do that, you need to realize there are 8 dimensions in life: Physical, Recreational, Financial, Occupational, Relational, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual. To have true balance in life, to neutralize as much stress as possible, you need to have EVERY one of the 8 dimensions in good to great shape.

In today’s Tip, I’ll focus on just the Physical dimension, and I’ll give just one Tip — but it’s a doozie. You’ve got to nail this one down or you’ll never be in great shape. The tip is simply to…

=> 1.Be honest with yourself.

If you’re going to conquer stress, you have to start by admitting you have too much stress. It’s like the disease of alcoholism. Unless the alcoholic admits he has a drinking problem, he’ll never do anything about the problem.

So take a look at yourself. Be honest with yourself. Do you have too much stress in your life?

Look for the signs. Perhaps you carry too much weight, seldom exercise, and eat junk food. Maybe you worry too much and sleep too little. You may even lack the zip and zing you used to have — feeling more tired these days, getting sick more often, or have too many aches and pains.

The strange thing is… lots of people refuse to see these signs as a call for change. As one comedian asked, “Ever notice that people who spend money on beer, cigarettes, and lottery tickets are always complaining about being broke and not feeling well?”

You see, your body is a marvelous communication system. It will always tell you when you’ve got too much stress. Whether it’s a headache, a cold, a tight neck, or a dozen other signs, your body will tell you when you’re out of balance. It’s giving you a chance to intervene and make a change that will eradicate the stress. But if you don’t pay attention to the dis-stress, you often get dis-ease. In other words,

** You’ve got to be RUTHLESSLY HONEST with yourself…

BEFORE your stress gets out of hand. After all, we all know people who say, “I’d give every penny I’ve got if I could just get my health back.” No one ever says, “I would give up all my health if I could have a few more bucks.”

It’s not easy to give up your excuses, forget your rationalizations, and take a hard, cold, honest look at yourself. But you’ve got to be honest about your health — or lack of it — if you want less stress and more balance in your life.

When I learned that lesson, my health went from very poor to very good. It happened when I was 40 years old.

For about two years during that time of my life, I lived in constant pain. I would wake up in the morning with muscle spasms in all parts of my body. Nothing seemed to kill the pain.

And to make matters worse, I thought, my wife wasn’t very sympathetic. She kept telling me “You’re killing yourself. You’re working 12 hours a day — 7 days a week, skipping meals, refusing to exercise. No wonder you hurt all the time.”

I was defensive, to say the least. I thought, “What does she know? She’s a wife. Not a doctor.”

After months of pain that didn’t go away, I had to admit I had a problem. I made an appointment with the Mayo Clinic, where they gave me dozens of x-rays and blood tests over the course of three days. It truly was the most thorough medical examination of my life.

At the end of the three days, the doctor sat me down to review the results of my exams. She said, “Your x-rays look good, and your blood checks out normal.” Basically, she said, “You’re killing yourself. Your pain is coming from stress and an unbalanced lifestyle.”

Then I got defensive. I said her answer was unacceptable — that she couldn’t find the cause of my pain so she nonchalantly blamed it on stress. I pointed out several people who worked as hard or harder than me, and they didn’t have the pain I experienced.

The doctor looked at me and gave me a sentence that changed my life. She simply said, “We’re not talking about THEIR body, are we?” In other words, if I was going to get better, I had to get my crazy schedule under control. I had to admit my body couldn’t take the torture I was giving it. I had to acknowledge the fact I had a stress problem before I would ever do anything about it.

The same goes for you. To move towards a healthy work-life balance, it all starts when you’re RUTHLESSLY HONEST with yourself. You can’t be like the disgruntled, former executive suing Mattel, the toy company, for inflating its sales totals. As comedy writer Jerry Church noted, “Come on! Who would ever expect realistic figures from the maker of the Barbie doll?”

In the next few weeks, I’ll give you several strategies for managing stress and balancing your life. But no strategy will ever work if you skip this first tip.

Action:  Where have you pretended to be stress-free when you did… in fact… have a lot of stress?

What are three signs your body gives you when you have too much stress?