The Art of Sustaining a Happier Frame of Mind


I caught myself dancing in the kitchen this morning as I waited for my coffee to drip. Rain was coming down at about two inches an hour, but it couldn’t drench my mood. I’ve been feeling happy. Really happy.

We all know the happy feeling. We smile as we do our chores. We’re not stressed about any particular thing. We’re not hungry or sad, not in pain or suffering any grief. At our lowest moments, we’ve all wondered when or if we’d have the happy feeling again. We get so blue, we can’t see the sky even on the sunniest fall day.

If anyone else is hooked on Netflix’s series Maid, you’ll recall the scene where domestic violence victims are asked to remember happier times. They write and share as part of group therapy. The point is to learn how to feel happier at any time, by remembering when they were happy.

Just watching this show makes me grateful my own challenges are so small. I’ve thought about my happiest days a lot since that episode. I was happy at the start of my 60s. Biz was good. I was in the trenches building a fancy new house and loving it. If someone had said, “You’ll be divorced in three years,” I’d have said, “No way.”

We can count on change, and we can count on challenges ahead. Always. When we need a mental health day or even a mood-brightening moment, the practice of recalling happier times and remembering the happy feeling can help. We’ve all got happy triggers, just like we’ve got hot buttons.

I was a teenager when my dad died in a farming accident, ending what I consider a storybook childhood. Mom taught me an important lesson about a week after his funeral.

“There will always be better days,” she said. “No matter how bad it seems now, things will always get better.” She told me the best way to get out of the mopes was to go make someone else happy, even if it was a stranger in line at the grocery store.

“That’s what your dad would do. Go make someone happy.” Then she booted me out the door, back to my college dormitory with a piece of advice that’s served me well through life.

Spreading happiness makes us feel better almost immediately. Some call it fake it ‘til you make it. But it works. It is almost impossible to make someone happy without putting a smile on your own face first.

When I started dating again, I did what the experts tell you not to do. I looked for the same type of person I’d been with for decades. After a few dates, I realized I didn’t need a retired guy looking for companionship.

I needed someone as ambitious as I am, someone who could see the sparkle in my old house with its overgrown garden. I needed someone who’d throw a Frisbee to my puppy without complaint while I soak in the tub with a glass of wine. Bingo!

We chase dreams that aren’t our own and end up unhappy. I had a dream job when I was fresh out of college, but I soured on corporate life quick. What really made me happy was running my own show, and I was lucky to make my way to Florida and find a niche in vacation rentals.

I’m a people girl, so my guests became my family. With the advent of VRBO, my work became all consuming. I didn’t notice how my marriage was disintegrating.

I picked up a little book at the library called The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra. In case you’re curious, here are the laws:

  1. Pure Potentiality,
  2. Giving,
  3. Karma or Cause and Effect,
  4. Least Effort,
  5. Intention and Desire,
  6. Detachment and
  7. Dharma or Purpose in Life.

It got me thinking: maybe, when we reach a certain stage and aren’t chasing a paycheck or raising a family, happiness really is success. We’ve been through enough hardship and sadness; we know we will recover from the next bout.

We feel right in our skin and our consciousness. We’ve done enough, though we can do more if we choose. We can appreciate this moment without one single gripe.

At one of my life’s lowest moments, I picked up the phone after a long pity party, and I called my almost ex. “You ruined my life,” I screamed at him through sobs. He hung up on me, but I immediately felt better.

Sometimes we use anger as a coping mechanism, but it rarely helps to stay angry. We’ve got to deal with pain and crappy emotions to get past it, but there’s usually a way to choose happy, even when it seems everything sucks.

A walk with Mother Nature helps. You can always go talk to that person in line at the grocery store. Like my fortune cookie told me at lunch, “A single kind word can keep one warm for years.”

If we are chasing an ideal, we are living in the gap. If we recognize our achievements and where we are now, we’re in the gain. It’s a concept familiarized by Dan Sullivan who wrote: “The way to measure your progress is backward against where you started, not against your ideal.”

I’ve been accused of being driven, and that used to bother me. Truth is, I lived most of my life in the gap. Until I read more about gap and gain, I didn’t understand why so many high achievers are miserable. Now that I’m retiring and in a good relationship, I get the gain. I have made huge gains since screaming at my ex on the phone. Huge.

Bob Marley said, “The day you stop racing is the day you win the race.” I don’t think that means we should ever quit taking the ride. We just need to enjoy more of what we see along the road as we go.

When was your happiest time in the past year? What about the past decade? What progress have you made in your life to this point? Are you happy with your progress? If you aren’t, what do you think you’re lacking?



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