Five Stepping Stones Towards Happiness
As I sit down to write my monthly column, the strongest desire I have is for it to have meaning and be helpful to my readers. On several occasions, I have received touching emails from people describing both their surprise and delight at discovering a column that addresses their own struggles.
But, synchronicity can be a two-way street as words of gratitude from readers also become inspiration for me. The ripple effect that appreciation, kindness and goodwill can have on others should never be underestimated.
This week, as I was working with a couple, the wife mentioned she felt “selfish” when asking her husband for a hug. It hadn’t occurred to her that while receiving affection from her husband’s hug, she was also giving it back to him; the hug was mutually beneficial. Seeking happiness is not a selfish act, because one’s happiness also affects the world around you. In fact, the process helps to make this world a better place.
This tiny miracle is based on a scientific theory called the “butterfly effect.” According to Wikipedia: “The butterfly effect is the phenomenon whereby a minor change in circumstances can cause a large change in outcome.” For instance, “a hurricane’s formation can be contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before.” How this translates to you: The next time your face lights up with a smile take extra pleasure in knowing that it is set to travel across the world.
The unique outcome of the ‘butterfly effect’ is especially needed during the Holidays. This time of year can come wrapped in lots of love and joy as well as hurt and disappointment. Whether you are with or without your family during this month, it can stir up a lot of “stuff.” But, if you are open to taking a different view of the same old stuff, you might be surprised at the power you hold to produce a better outcome for yourself and those around you.
I think a quote from Nobel peace prize nominee, Chico Xavier, really applies: “Although nobody can go back and make a new beginning, anyone can begin now and make a new ending.”
Here are five stepping stones towards creating happiness. (And, I won’t be insulted if you decided to re-gift it this season to another person.)
Step 1. Courage: Find the warrior within. I’m not talking warrior as in those found on battlefields, I’m talking about being brave enough to embrace all of who you are, even the messy, embarrassing parts you wish would just disappear. Our instinct is to run away, but our troubles will only follow. Instead, turn towards that which is injured and needs healing within you. When you bring a fearless attention and caring to your wounds you are able to benefit from their surprising and important lessons of transformation that they hold. It takes courage to be completely honest with yourself and accept who you are in a gentle, kind way without self-judgment. Learn to hold yourself the way a mother holds a child.
Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone in this struggle. You may not hear people talk openly about it, but everyone feels the pain of not feeling good enough at one time or another. Be open to learning new ways to ground yourself and remain centered, no matter what happens. A wonderful quote that really applies to these moments is from renowned author, psychologist and meditation teacher, Jack Kornfield: “When you lose everything, this is your opportunity to practice courage by standing up for what cannot be lost.”
Step 2. Compassion: After you have been brave enough to get to know those embarrassing places inside you, recognize them in others. When you are around difficult people who feel the need to intimidate or engage in some form of malice, recognize that it’s coming from a place of feeling very small inside. Don’t let that big scary persona fool you. Remember when someone feels good about themselves, it feels good to be around them. Engage your warrior and have enough strength not to let their hot air blow you down. Instead, connect to the frightened child within them that feels the need to puff up and appear big in order to protect themselves. That’s called having compassion. Learn to bring a wise and compassionate spirit to the circumstances of your life. Let compassion help you feel more connected to yourself and others.
Step 3. Gratitude: Challenge your feelings that nothing right is happening in your life–even if you haven’t gone out on an audition in three weeks and you don’t know how you are going to pay the rent. Recognize and remind yourself of the beauty around you. It’s there, find it. Don’t wait for someone to bring it to you, go after it yourself. Whether it’s the way a shadow dances on a ceiling or the innocent laugh of a child, don’t see the world as black or white—because it isn’t. Build mental muscle so you don’t go down the disappointment drain. Rely on gratitude to help bring balance to your view when it’s stuck in scarcity instead of abundance.
Step 4. Believe in yourself: Know that your core is made of basic goodness. Maybe you’ve lost your way right now and are struggling to make some tough decisions, but trust that you will find your way back home to the person you were meant to be. Learn to recognize your own beauty, your own genius. We need reminders to trust ourselves and learn how to awaken our inner knowing. “You were designed to journey through the full measure of beauty and sorrows in life and survive,” says Kornfield. Realize that you were born with a sparkle inside of you that is waiting to shine brightly.
Step 5. Live in the present moment: Don’t put your life on hold waiting for something better; this is your life right now. We don’t have control over what is going to happen tomorrow. Yesterday is gone, so enjoy the gift of the present. Endless worries about the future and playing the reruns of your past are only going to get in the way of enjoying the present. Build a practice of staying in the present moment through mindful meditation. The capacity for sustained moment-to-moment awareness, especially in the midst of emotional turmoil, is a skill. Fortunately, it is a skill that can be learned. Mindfulness can be utilized as a tool to uproot entrenched habits of thinking that cause unhappiness, anger, envy or self-destructive behaviors. Mindfulness is a softer light – like a candle- bringing awareness to our difficulties and bringing healing through understanding. The present moment becomes the doorway to true peace and happiness.
My gift to you this season is the wish that these steps enable you to transform your difficulties into a guiding light on your journey towards happiness.
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
— T.S. Eliot
Bonnie Katz is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice. One of her specialties is working with artists in the Entertainment Industry. Her skills and training as a psychotherapist and mindful meditator enable her to work with clients in an atmosphere of warmth and understanding. For more information on Bonnie’s psychotherapy practice,visit her website.Follow her on Twitter and Facebook
Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.