AS a mother pondered on how good times had come to an abrupt end, she said to me: “Things were all just going too good. It couldn’t have lasted.”
It was as if the shutter had been closed on happiness.
While it is most necessary to acknowledge and honour the past, it is more important to attend to what is in the present and to commit to taking the next step in the direction of true happiness. What will your next step be? Put the sign up in the window of life for you and all passersby to see: ‘open for business – open for happiness’.
Research studies confirm that most people’s relationship to happiness is u-shaped. We are naturally happy at first. Then comes the fall and we lose our way and eventually we remember what happiness is and our score rises again.
Robert Holden, author of ***Be Happy***, invites us to do the exercise he calls ‘The happiness timeline’. The horizontal line measures your life in five-year intervals, beginning with birth, up to your present age, your near future and into the rest of your life. The vertical line measures your happiness score or the percentage of happiness corresponding to that particular time in your life. Your past scores are based on memory, the present score is based on what you feel now and your future scores are based on what you imagine and hope for.
The ‘happiness lifeline’ is made up of the significant events of life during those five-year intervals. These events include both very happy and positive occasions and they also can include childhood traumas, family difficulties, personal rock-bottoms, dashed hopes or dreams or health problems. The ‘happiness timeline’ teaches you to respect your whole life. It helps you to see that happiness is an open road and that every moment can teach you something about happiness.
The open road is not really a physical path; it is your open mind and your open heart. Your openness is the key.
So, how open are you to happiness? Your answer is significant because it indicates how much happiness you are likely to enjoy today and also how much happiness you will block and reject. The younger you are, the more optimistic you will be about your future happiness. With youth on their side, young people believe they can be happier than their parents. Their ambitions and expectations motivate and encourage them to be adventurous.
However, when tough times come and optimism is sorely tested, the temptation to give up becomes real. The more knocks you come up against, the more pessimistic you might become about happiness. It might even lead you to think that you don’t deserve to be happy or you’ll never be happy. This is where you need courage and openness.
The willingness to be open and to stay open is essential to both happiness and healing. It is what helps you stay alive for your whole life. Openness creates possibility, invites help and gives you strength. This openness releases you from the past and gets you back on track for a changed and better future. Your openness enables others to share themselves fully with you and to help you take the next step.
To be happy, you need to be open. Happiness is not about closing in on yourself and setting out on a lonely, independent or self-sufficient journey. You might feel safer, more secure and protected, but Robert believes from all his work that ‘happiness is a great big letting go. Happiness is giving up your ego. In practical terms, this means being willing to let go of plans, drop expectations and give up ego tantrums’.
Planning is a great discipline that can help to create successful outcomes. That said, life does not always go according to plan. A common cause of unhappiness is holding on to an old plan for happiness that is too limited, too small, too future-focused and not imaginative enough. To be happy, you have to be willing to let go of your plans for something better. Like everyone, you have a lot of expectations about everything, and this is absolutely okay, as long as you don’t expect them all to happen.
When expectations become demands, you cause yourself much harm, your relationship with others will suffer and your life can become an endless power struggle. When you drop your expectations, healing happens. You feel more peaceful and happiness returns.
The ego-tantrum is a way of not accepting the unrealised expectations and plans. A tantrum is a complaint or an incredible sulk. It can take the form of cynicism, pessimism, silences or sarcasm. Tantrums can keep you stuck in the past and block happiness. Tantrums require personal attention and self-compassion. They are signs that you need to grieve the passing of an old plan and to mourn the demise of a dashed expectation.
Nothing or nobody can make you happy, except you. They can contribute to your choice for happiness. Your willingness and commitment to take another step on the open road to happiness makes the difference. Even to be 10% more accepting, 10% more receptive, 10% more honest, 10% more authentic, 10% more optimistic, 10% more trusting, 10% more grateful, 10% more present, 10% more open.
Be open for more happiness at least 10% more each day!