After a heated dispute, we each undertook an assignment for the next class: to engage in one pleasurable activity and one philanthropic activity, and write about both. The results were life-changing. The afterglow of the “pleasurable” activity (hanging out with friends, or watching a movie, or eating a hot fudge sundae) paled in comparison with the effects of the kind action. When our philanthropic acts were spontaneous and called upon personal strengths, the whole day went better. One junior told about her nephew phoning for help with his third-grade arithmetic. After an hour of tutoring him, she was astonished to discover that “for the rest of the day, I could listen better, I was mellower, and people liked me much more than usual.” The exercise of kindness is a gratification, in contrast to a pleasure. As a gratification, it calls on your strengths to rise to an occasion and meet a challenge. Kindness is not accompanied by a separable stream of positive emotion like joy; rather, it consists in total engagement and in the loss of self-consciousness. Time stops.”
Martin E.P. Seligman, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment

Happy Can Be Very Hard

“Are you mad at me?” Donna smiled, pulling back from the computer screen, hands over face. “I totally didn’t get to my homework last week. I just hung the signs up today!”

“Mad at you?” I smiled back. “Are you kidding me? I am over the moon happy right now.”

Last week’s session with my client Donna was intense. She is doing the hard work of moving through the three phases of The Heartlift Method, and I couldn’t be prouder.

Distant, yet so Close.

Donna and I do “distance counseling,” and this week when we connected, she was radiant and so expressive. She experienced a breakthrough and we celebrated, as if I was in the room with her.

“How on earth could I be mad at you, right now?” I said. “The joy you feel is radiating through the screen. I can feel it, too.”

Her joy delivered an important message.

“Donna, you didn’t hang your ‘healing words’ physically around your house, you actually wrote them on your heart and mind, and that is even better! That work brings lasting change. It comes from the inside out.”

I leaned in, real close to the screen, as if Donna was right in my office with me.

“I promised that if you stay with and pray through the hard work (Practice 5, Overcoming Hurtful Words: Rewrite Your Own Story) of processing your History of Hurts that in due time your negative narrative will begin to fade and the new narrative will unfold. You’ve made it to that place,” I smiled. “Let’s be sure to celebrate.”

“Well, I’m determined to continue practicing smiling,” she said. “It sounds crazy, but I’ve been stuck in my negative ways for decades. There was a moment this week where I thought, ‘I have to stop being a grouch and start smiling more. So, I’m making myself smile, relaxing my legalistic edges, and being easier on myself.”

Sometimes We Have to Practice Smiling

Happy Can Be Very Hard

“Happiness is not the belief that we don’t need to change; it’s the realization that we can.”
Shawn Achor

Donna’s a-ha breakthrough moment is a lesson for us all. With her consent, I can tell you she’s been negative and harsh and angry for many decades. She reached out to me as a last resort, really, as she’d been in and out of counseling for years. There have been times when she was bottom-of-the-barrel-hopeless, but this time she was committed. Leary, yes, but committed.

Sometimes it takes decades to really get sick-and-tired-of-being-sick-and-tired. I know, I’ve been there. For Donna, a close family member urged her to try yet again. Thank God she listened.

Sometimes, happy can be very hard. When you’ve been stuck in unhappy (and unhealthy) behaviors for decades, rewiring the brain and rewriting the narrative can be extremely painful. Your brain needs time to acclimate to the new. But when it does, it feels so good.

Continue the Conversation

It’s about living in the moment and appreciating the smallest things. Surrounding yourself with the things that inspire you and letting go of the obsessions that want to take over your mind. It is a daily struggle sometimes and hard work but happiness begins with your own attitude and how you look at the world.”
Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun

I invite you to continue this conversation:

  1. Listen to Episode 8 of this week’s podcast: Happy. And if you like what you hear, please subscribe and leave a comment.
  2. Over on our community Facebook page: Speak Healing Words

And, be sure to practice smiling! It will make you and everyone in your sphere of influence…happier!