How to feel happier right now
How can we feel happier, even in the midst of a major sh*tstorm or just the southerly squalls of everyday life dramas?
Tony Robbins (here he comes again) has the fix, and again it comes down to focus and conscious choice. (If you're itching to roll your eyes at what sounds like more 'positive thinking BS', stay with me for a minute.)
After 40 years studying the science of human achievement, Tony Robbins has turned his attention to fulfilment and what it means to live a fulfilling life. His latest advice is pretty simple and very useful. It goes like this ...
There are really only two states of being in this world: a suffering state and a beautiful state.
When you feel love, joy, gratitude, awe, playfulness, ease, creativity, drive, caring, growth, curiosity, or appreciation, you’re in a beautiful state. In this state, you know exactly what to do, and you do the right thing. In this state, your spirit and your heart are alive, and the best of you comes out. Nothing feels like a problem, and everything flows. You feel no fear or frustration. You’re in harmony with your true essence.
When you’re feeling stressed out, worried, frustrated, angry, depressed, irritable, overwhelmed, resentful, or fearful, you’re in a suffering state. We’ve all experienced these and countless other “negative” emotions, even if we’re not always keen to admit it! ... most achievers much prefer to think they’re stressed than fearful. But “stress” is just the achiever word for fear! If I follow the trail of your stress, it’ll take me to your deepest fear. (Tony Robbins)
Tony Robbins says we choose which state to be in, every moment of the day. Contrary to popular belief, our state doesn't depend on our external circumstances (what's happening to us) – but rather, what we're focusing on.
But here's the kicker: humans find it difficult to maintain focus on a beautiful state because our 'two million year old brain' is biologically wired for survival, not happiness. Our brain is constantly scanning for things that could hurt (or kill) us, so it's always looking for problems –which means, it's definitely not scanning for joy.
So, we can't really help feeling stressed, worried, self-pitying and so on, sometimes. It's the result of the undirected ancient mind. But here's the best bit: we don't need to stay in those suffering states. We can feel happier right now.
All we have to do is harness the undirected mind. We have to direct our mind.
The undirected mind leads us straight to a life of suffering, if we let it. And we let it by taking what Tony calls the path of least resistance. We decide what we'll focus on based on habit and old thinking, and our emotions and actions flow from that. We rarely question what we're doing or even who we are.
So, how do we direct the mind for happiness?
First, we have to work out our 'favourite flavour of suffering', as Tony Robbins calls it. Is it stress, anger, fear, worry, self-doubt, jealousy, sadness, self-pity? What's your go-to feeling, your emotional 'home'? We all have one.
Then, we have to acknowledge there are three triggers for our suffering of choice: loss, less and never.
Most, if not all, of our suffering is caused by focusing or obsessing about ourselves and what we might lose, have less of, or never have. (Tony Robbins)
Loss causes suffering when we believe we've lost something of value (e.g. love or an opportunity) because of something someone else did to us (e.g. broke up with us), or something we did to ourselves (e.g. procrastinated). Whenever we focus on loss, we suffer.
Less causes suffering when we believe we have or will have less of something we value as a result of something someone else did to us or something we did to ourselves (e.g. feeling like we'll have less love, less money, less recognition etc.). Whenever we focus on less, we suffer.
Never causes suffering when we perceive permanence around a situation; that because someone else did something or we did something, we will never have the thing we value (e.g. that love relationship, career opportunity, financial success etc.) or that we'll never recover from a situation. Whenever we focus on never, we suffer.
The biggest a-ha is that we can trigger suffering from these three thought bases whether we're right or wrong about an issue. That means, we can suffer dreadfully over incorrect assumptions or misplaced blame, because whatever we focus on, we give meaning to, which leads to our emotions and our actions. (Read this previous post to understand more.)
But once we're aware of being in our suffering state, we can actively switch to a beautiful state by focusing on something else. For example, we can ask:
What am I excited about?
What makes me proud?
What am I grateful for?
This is a conscious choice (unfortunately, we have to make sustained effort to change; there's no magic bullet). Tony Robbins says:
Either you master your mind or it masters you. The secret of living an extraordinary life is to take control of the mind since this alone will determine whether you live in a suffering state or a beautiful state.
When some of us (me included) hear advice like this, we think it's difficult to constantly redirect the mind in order to be happy most of the time (and often, we give up). But it turns out, the mind is like a muscle that we can train with practice and patience. It can be done.
Here's some extra encouragement from Tony Robbins:
Our lives are shaped not by our conditions, but by our decisions.
... what I’ve come to realize is that the single most important decision in life is this: Are you committed to being happy, no matter what happens to you?
To put this another way, will you commit to enjoying life not only when everything goes your way but also when everything goes against you, when injustice happens, when someone screws you over, when you lose something or someone you love, or when nobody seems to understand or appreciate you? Unless we make this definitive decision to stop suffering and live in a beautiful state, our survival minds will create suffering whenever our desires, expectations, or preferences are not met. What a waste of so much of our lives!
This is a decision that can change everything in your life, starting today. But it’s not enough just to say that you’d like to make this change or that your preference is to be happy no matter what. You have to own this decision, do whatever it takes to make it happen, and cut off any possibility of turning back. If you want to take the island, you have to burn the boats. You have to decide that you’re 100% responsible for your state of mind and for your experience of this life.
What it really comes down to is drawing a line in the sand today and declaring, 'I’m done with suffering. I’m going to live every day to the fullest and find juice in every moment, including the ones I don’t like, BECAUSE LIFE IS JUST TOO SHORT TO SUFFER.'
I just put this theory to the test by grabbing a piece of paper and jotting down 'What am I focusing on?' and 'What could I be focusing on?'. As predicted, the first list revolved around loss, less or never thinking, while the second list was all about potential, opportunity and abundance. That 5-minute exercise can make you feel a whole lot better right now, even if you do nothing else.
One final note: I think this advice is most useful for those everyday dramas that lead us down the rabbit hole of suffering (like feeling stressed or overwhelmed or let down or cheated out of a promotion etc.). Sometimes our suffering is a lot harder to find our way through. Be gentle with yourself and seek professional help if you need it.