Several months ago, I watched an online course entitled “Creativity and Personal Mastery” presented by author and speaker Srikumar Rao. Since it was in the context of a business course, I thought I would hear some of the usual suspects - how to increase my productivity and engagement at work, how to build a culture that fosters creativity and innovation. Boy, was I surprised. When the webinar was over, I felt like I’d just read a self-help book unlocking the keys to living a happy life. I recently stumbled across the notes I took during this course and thought I’d share some of my key takeaways with all of you.
“There is nothing you have to do, be, or get to be happy…"
Rao argues that happiness is our natural state. We may not be experiencing that state currently because we’ve spent our lives learning to be unhappy, but if we can shift the way we think about our lives, we can re-learn how to live in this natural state of being happy. Sounded a little out there to me, but what he said next made a lot of sense.
How have we spent our lives learning to be unhappy? We’ve all bought into the idea that we have to get something, be something, or do something to be happy. We buy into the “if…then…” mental model. Think about it - we fall into this trap all the time. We tell ourselves things like, “If I get this promotion, I can work less, spend more time with family, and be happy.” or “If I lose weight or go to church, I will be happier.” In addition to what we tell ourselves, we also are constantly bombarded with advertisements telling us which products we need to buy in order to be happy. Since we buy into this “if… then…” model, when the thing we’ve done or bought doesn’t make us happy, we think we just need to try another thing.
Rao sagely advises that there isn’t anything we can put on the “if" side of the equation that will result in happiness because the model itself is flawed. Here’s his insight: We will only be happy when we accept the world exactly as it is. Accept what life has given to you, and you will be happy.
Outcomes are out of our control, the only things we can control are our own actions. He says we shouldn’t invest in the outcomes we want to achieve; instead, we should invest in the process. Goals are good for giving direction, but he argues that we shouldn’t pour ourselves into our goals, we should pour ourselves into doing whatever it takes to get there - that’s the only way to enjoy the journey rather than being fixated on the destination. Instead of the “are we there yet?” attitude that will only leave us feeling frustrated and unfulfilled, we have to be more detached from the outcome and focus on what we’re currently doing. Enjoy the ride.
“Stare adversity in the face, and laugh."
The second takeaway that really stuck with me from this presentation is related to the first. Rao pointed out that it is only when we label something that has happened to us as a bad thing that we begin to suffer. Things that happen are neither good or bad until we assign meaning to them. So, we are ultimately responsible for our own suffering. But, the good news is that means we are in control, and we can change our response to situations that cause us suffering.
How do you do that? Before you label an event in your mind, ask yourself if there is any way that what just happened to you could be considered a good thing? How can you look behind the curtain and see the good that could come from this situation? Even if the good isn’t immediately apparent to you, the act of asking that question will diminish your negative feelings and open up avenues to explore that will lead you to happier thoughts.
Sounds easy enough in theory, but my guess is that it would be pretty difficult to do in practice. But, I challenge you to give it a try. Next time you are in a situation that would ordinarily be annoying or difficult or anxiety-provoking for you, try thinking first of how it could be a good thing. Stuck in traffic? Perfect time to think up a topic for your next blog post, or a great chance to really talk to your kids. Laid off from your job? Tougher to see the positive here, but maybe if you look down the road, you’ll find an opportunity that enables you to really tap into your passion and potential in ways your current position did not.
I hope you find this as interesting as I did, and I hope you take a moment to stop where you are this very moment, accept your current reality, and be happy!