Sunday, September 18, 2005

Wealth, Success… Happiness

First, in the last post I mentioned being a ‘Hot Rod’... a custom, one off creation. In truth, I believe we’re all unique, not just me. We’re each a little different from each other, yet fortunately we often share some ‘common ground’ with each other as well.

I’ve been in the process of redefining what’s important to me for many years now. Once I was entirely driven by success, making more money and having more things. Over the years I’ve come to believe that it’s not those things that make a person feel happy.

Don’t get me wrong, some money in the bank, the bills paid, a nice car and house are all things that we can look at, and take pride in. They are not however, in my opinion, the real components of happiness.

I know that most of my soul searching began after my Dad’s death. The hollow, empty feeling I had then went far beyond the loss of him in my life. I was grieving the loss to be sure, but, I was also adrift and without a focus for the first time I could remember.

In examining that, I realized that 95% of all the drive I’d had, the work that I’d done, the goals I’d achieved, had all been a direct result of my wanting to hear him say “I’m proud of you”. He’d died without ever telling me that.

So there I was, my reason for getting out of bed in the morning, the push behind my tireless efforts, my one true goal, no longer viable, forever unattainable.

I really had little other choice but to examine my life, my beliefs and what I felt was valuable in my life.

It was in this process, which continues today, that I came to believe that happiness, true happiness, comes from within. No other person; no drug, possession, or achievement, can give it to you. You have to give it, to yourself.

For me, that meant taking stock of, me. Who I was, how I lived my life and what I valued. It also meant identifying those things that caused me to not feel happy, and why that was.

I say I’m still in the process because, as much as I hate to admit it, I’m not happy, everyday. I’m happy more often than not, but my goal is to find happiness each day.

I believe that, I am the only person responsible for my happiness. Others can enhance, or detract from it, at times, but ultimately it’s how I process their actions that yields a happy, or unhappy, me.

I’ve been told that we can’t control our emotions that they just happen, that all we really have control over is how we react to the emotion when it rises. We decide how a certain event in our lives affects us by what we ‘feel’ when we experience it. Have you ever noticed that when experiencing the same event different folks can react in almost opposite ways? One person becomes enraged, another sad, yet another may seem ambivalent. It’s how they’re processing the event that yields this range in reaction. Or, at least that’s what I’ve come to believe.

So, with that in mind, it should be possible to minimize the amount of time (and energy) we spend on what I’d term ‘negative’ or ‘not happy’ reactions, and maximize the amount of time we spend in a ‘positive’ place.

I went through a course once, intended to lessen the chance of stress induced ‘burn out’. In presenting the course, the lecturer set a scenario where you and a friend went swimming. In changing into your suits, you placed your clothes and valuables into baskets and left them with an attendant.

Prior to setting this scene, he’d explained what he called the ‘body scale’, and how to use it to gauge how important an event (like getting cut off in traffic) really was. The scale ranged from a paper cut, through the loss of all four limbs (what he called the ‘torso’), and the idea was, to work your way up the scale in your mind until you found a pain or loss of a body part you’d be willing to endure to have the event not have happened.

So, back to the scene, as you and your friend are getting dressed after the swim, you discover your wallet (or purse) is missing. You’re obviously upset, and your friend turns to you and says, I know where your wallet is, how far up the body scale are you willing to go, to get it back?

It took me about 3 seconds to raise my hand… and when acknowledged, I said: “If a ‘friend’ of mine, said that to me, I’d go up ‘his’ body scale until he told me!”

Well, first, that’s not what he wanted to hear; second it got a decent laugh, but third, and maybe more importantly, at that time in my life, that’s exactly, what I would have done. It was also probably why the company put me in the class, but that’s another story.

Today, the truth is, I’d make a few phone calls, get some cards and ID replaced and when all was said and done, it would have been a minor inconvenience, not something worth getting upset about. How do I know that? Well, it’s happened on at least two occasions in as many years… not that it was stolen, but washed. For those of you that don’t know, washing and drying credit cards these days renders them all but useless…

The first time it happened, I got pretty upset, Maryan and I had a fairly major argument, and, when I cooled off a bit, I realized I was out of line, apologized and we just got things replaced. The second time it happened, we both just laughed about it.

I’m telling you this to illustrate that you can, and do, decide how you react to events in your life. The decision may not always be a conscious one, but it’s a decision all the same. So maybe, if you thought about that ‘body scale’ say the next time someone cuts you off in traffic, and realize that you’re not really willing to endure much at all to have it ‘not happen’, you’ll wonder what it is that has you so upset.

I believe we all wake up each day with a specific amount of ‘emotional funds’... and once we’ve spent them, we’re borrowing from the next day, or drawing from the funds we didn’t spend the day before. So, I try, sometimes with success, sometimes without, to choose when and why I spend those funds. I may need them more tomorrow, than I do today.

The result is, and that’s the point, the result, I’m happier more days than not. When an event comes along that really requires, or simply takes, a huge amount of emotion, more often than not, I have enough left to spend on it.

I really believe, that this one little thing, changed not only how I look at events in my life, but, my overall happiness and satisfaction levels as well.

Hey, try it, if you find it works for you great, if not, it really didn’t cost you anything to try.

So, tell me, how do you handle stress, simple ordinary everyday stress, or the bigger life altering types? What’s your secret to finding calm, staying happy?


Comfort Addict said...

You've got some good ideas, Bill. I try to do apply them, too (with varying degrees of success). The older I get, the better I seem to handle things.

When I get stressed, I focus on what's important (from a life standpoint, not a work one) and forget about as much other stuff as I can. The most important word for me is balance (don't let whatever is stressing dominate your time).

Bill said...

CA - it is a journey after all... I agree completely that the older I get, the better I get at handling things.

Balance is a very essential, if not key, component to handling stress.

Your suggestion of not letting the 'stressor' dominate your time, is in fact, the most difficult thing for me. Regardless of what my rational mind knows, when I'm stressed, I convince myself if I just work "hard enough" at it, I'll relieve the stress.

My previous employer is who convinced me, that no matter how hard I worked, there was always another 'emergency' around the corner.

My new mantra is:

"A lack of planning on your part, does not justify and emergancy on mine"

Thanks for stopping in, and sharing your thoughts.

Beth said...

Bill, I've had a lot of it lately. I think for me, I just don't do the worrying game. I never expect things to be terrible. I truly believe in the old saying, "Hope for the best, cope with the rest."

When I cope, it's with humor.

Bill said...

Beth (GK)... I almost didn't recognize you! With all you've had going on, I'm glad you had a moment to stop in here.

Hope for the best, cope with the rest."

Can we really do much else? A couple of days ago one of the managers at work asked my how things were going (making conversation at the coffee pot)... I answered "Same as always, one day at a time"... She looked at me with this quizzical expression... and I added, "That's all I can do, I only get one day at a time"

I'm still not sure she ever 'got it'...

I hope you're feeling better soon!

Spirit Of Owl said...

I think that the idea that I should work until the stress goes away has really caused me a lot of damage in the past. Then, I have nothing left. So, clearly I identify with what you're saying.

But although I understand, I'm nowhere near being able to do anything about it. I still either overcompensate and over-DO to try and rectify anything and everything, or I shut down and leave everything undone. Middle ground is not my middle name. Balance neither.

I'm trying though, and it's certainly inspirational to know that, in the long run, it's the way to go.

Bill said...

Spirit -

"I don't know why I go to extremes"

That could have been, or was, my theme song for many, many years.

I'd swing widely from one extreme to another, balance a place I could not find.

I still struggle with it today, finally I have it at least as many days as not, and on those days where I can identify what's pulled me from that balanced place I try to understand how it happened.

Just try to remember it's a process, not an event.

And yes, I remember all too well screaming (at no one in particular) that I *wanted* an event!! I wanted to be there already!!

Trying is half the battle, not giving up the other half! :)

Always good to see you here.

Firehawk said...


I think you're totally right. Things are as bad as you choose to make them. If you have a rough day, maybe your "funds" run low, but the key thing for me is to keep from "gnawing" on things--playing them over and over, staying mad about something for way too long.

I like to think of my policy as this, "No problem." That's not always possible, but if you can remain objective about it, just getting angry about something rarely helps. The best thing is to figure out what's next, then go for it.

Unfortunately, there's always something that'll overload those "reasonable" circuits in your brain and make you into an angry ape with a thigh bone. You just try to avoid those circumstances the best you can.

Again, a good column. Thanks for being around.

Bill said...

Firehawk -

"the key thing for me is to keep from "gnawing" on things--playing them over and over"

Man, isn't that the truth!! If I keep that demon at bay, life is oh, so much simpler!

"The best thing is to figure out what's next, then go for it. "

That's my 'policy' if I have one... don't complain, hold a pity party.. just decide what needs doing next, and get to doing it... focusing on what's next helps me not do the first thing too!

"overload those "reasonable" circuits in your brain and make you into an angry ape with a thigh bone"

Heh- heh... so *that's* what it's called!! I knew there had to be a name for it (other than 'Mr. Hyde')

Thanks Firehawk, I'm glad to be here, even happier y'all are here too!