Happiness - Maximize Each Day by Paying Attention
by Barbara Bartlein, The People Pro
One of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, recently passed away. Best know for his novels, Slaughterhouse Five, Cat's Cradle, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, he also wrote a Broadway play and numerous short stories. But some of my favorite Vonnegut quotes come from his college commencements speeches, celebrations he describes as "delayed puberty."
Vonnegut often referred in his speeches to his Uncle Alex, who was a Harvard graduate and worked as an insurance agent in Indianapolis. Vonnegut states, "One of the things that Uncle Alex found objectionable about human beings was that they so rarely noticed it when they were happy; He himself did his best to acknowledge it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, "If this isn't nice, what is?"
It makes me ponder how many great moments at work, at home, and in life, have drifted by me without any acknowledgement of their significance. It is so easy to always "be busy," with new projects, initiatives and strategic plans that you miss the payoffs. Happiness and fulfillment are ignored rather than celebrated as the outcome of hard work. Too often, we are so focused on the future and what we "have to do," that we miss all the pleasures of the present.
The latest Associated Press poll on happiness found that for most people it is a U-shaped phenomenon. That is, we are happiest at our youngest and oldest lifetime points. People are reported to be most unhappy at age 40. Is this because we are just SO busy at this point in our lives? Or are our expectations unrealistic? Whatever the cause, here are some suggestions to maximize your happiness:
• Take note when you are happy. Pay attention to the little moments and clear your head to let them in. Researcher David Myers of Hope College believes that "biological wisdom" is a factor for happiness. Taking note of pleasurable times each day fortifies the neurological system and stress and anxiety are less likely to capture your attention.
• Stretch your happiness. University of Minnesota researcher, David Lykken, suggests that we can adjust our level of contentment by paying attention to what makes us happy and what brings us down. Seeking out simple pleasures like taking a walk, working in the garden, or reading a good book can "stretch" our happiness.
• Avoid Comparison. Whether it is physical appearance, money or possessions, comparisons always leaves someone coming up short. According to Danial Gilbert, author of Stumbling On Happiness, people tend to make systematic errors when predicting future happiness. That is, they are overly optimistic how a future change will affect their happiness. Whether it is losing weight, having a new car, a new job, or a new spouse, trying to keep up with the Jones will lead to unhappiness.
• Celebrate successes. My grandfather was a carpenter and crafted beautiful woodwork and furniture. He had a habit of sitting down and admiring his work whenever he completed a project. I would often sit with him to discuss the work and how nice it turned out. Take time to sit down and admire what you have accomplished. Celebrate your successes at work and at home.
• Turn off electronics. Take a walk without your cell phone, Blackberry, and electronics. All these devices pull you out of the moment and deposit you in cyberspace. These distractions prevent you from noticing and appreciating the present.
• Acknowledge and appreciate others. Too often the employees that get the most attention are those that are poor performers. The folks who dependably get their work done and on time are ignored precisely because they are so reliable. Let others know how much you appreciate their efforts. Write notes, give coupons and just stop in your busy day to connect.
• Acknowledge and appreciate yourself. Sometimes the person we are the hardest on is ourselves. Savor your successes and bask in your achievements. Reward yourself for the completion of difficult projects. And yes, it is OK to tell yourself that you did a good job.
I recently had dinner with my daughter at a sidewalk café on Madison's State Street. Watching the sunset and laughing about our shopping earlier in the day, I remarked, "If this isn't nice, what is?"
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Barbara Bartlein, is The People Pro, and President of Great Lakes Consulting Group, LLC, which helps companies sell more goods and services by developing people. She can be reached at 888-747-9953, by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at http://www.ThePeoplePro.com
Barbara Bartlein, The People Pro may be contacted at http://www.ThePeoplePro.com or barb@thePeoplePro.com