The Story of a Rodent's Unrelenting Quest for Happiness and Fulfillment
Life Is a Cycle of Happiness, Sadness, Clarity, and Confusion - always in motion. The secret to happiness is also the secret to a long and fulfilling life. When most of us think about what makes us happy, we tend to focus on the “things” in life that we crave or long to own. These things may be concrete consumables or they may be intangible resources, such as “time,” “inner peace,” or “true love.” According to Dr. Suzanne Degges-White, it is easier for us to create a list of what we want the world to give us than it is to think in terms of what we can give back to the world.
Suzanne Dewgges-White PhD - at a Radio Station Interview
Dr Degges-White is professor and chair of the Counseling, Adult and Higher Education department at Northern Illinois University. She is a licensed counselor whose focus includes working with individuals and families facing transitions. "We live in a world of instant feedback and conspicuous consumption. It may be experienced firsthand through the 'Buy Now' button on Amazon’s website or through the obsession with following celebrities’ tweets or video reviews of products, films, and life, in general. It is amazing how many 'things' everyone seems to have in their lives – and how many more things we might desire that we believe will make us feel even better about ourselves in relation to how we think others feel about us. It is perhaps the paradoxical desire to divest to have more that has created the hot new trend for 'tiny houses' or the online tales of people who are living 'off the grid,' or the movement to make do in life with 100 possessions or less."
Actually, now that our cellphones can do just about anything that we need them to do – from finding our potential mate to preparing dinner via online ordering from nearby take-out places – making do with less isn’t as austere as it once might have been. Dr Degges-White explains that 'Down-sizing,' 'right-sizing,' or 'de-cluttering all reflect the same realization that is gaining momentum – possessions simply won’t bring lasting happiness to our lives. Happiness is a state of being, not a pile of stuff. She describes what she calls "The Big Four Happiness Factors: Friendliness, Cheerfulness, Compassion, and Gratitude."
Human beings are social creatures and being kind is a lot more likely to help you build your “tribe” than showing indifference to or disinterest in the people that you might someday need for support or assistance.
Friendliness: Some people can be described as “the type of person who’s never met a stranger.” These are people who meet the world with a pleasant temperament and an openness to new people and new experiences – regardless of who may be placed in their path on any given day. Friendliness is about offering warmth and good humor to those around you. It is about being willing to make the first move socially while recognizing that others may be a little slow to warm up and that the rewards for friendliness are not always immediately enjoyed. I once worked with a vibrant and delightful woman in her 70s who avowed that “every day is a new opportunity to add to your collection of friends!” She couldn’t count the number of friends she had and she couldn’t find words to describe the pleasure they brought her in life.
Cheerfulness: There are plenty of old songs that encourage us to “put on a happy face” or “smile when your heart is breaking,” or “don’t worry, be happy.” Many of us may feel a little confused about why we are always encouraging people to “lie” to themselves. Actually, there is a Zen koan or saying that states simply, “Practice smiling while peeling carrots.” My yoga instructor always encourages us to smile during the most difficult poses. So, ask the question, “Are you smiling because you are happy or are you happy because you are smiling?” Being able to offer a sunny disposition to the world, regardless of your inner state, actually encourages you to physically feel better! So when someone else is turning to you to help them deal with their problems, smiling at them will help you let go of your frustration and exhaustion and be present for them in an awesome way. Smiles are contagious, too, and if we are able to find the energy to offer our own smile to others, even when our inner world is falling apart, we are going to feel better when our smile is returned.
Seeing someone offer you a genuine smile has actually been found to be emotionally and mental healing. Did you know that simply imagining that you are being smiled at by someone you love is just as powerfully healing as having that person present? Close your eyes for a moment. Now, imagine being with someone you love and who cares about you and who isn’t here with you today. Now, imagine this person offering you a warm smile. Once you’ve locked that image in place, take a deep breath and slowly open your eyes. Did you find you were smiling just thinking about that special person’s smile? Did you feel warmth around their heart, like a hug, as you imagined that person? Yep, it works almost every time!
Research has shown that when patients grimace during medical treatments or procedures, they actually feel MORE PAIN than those who do not. Gritting your teeth and bearing it is not the best option. Letting yourself smile in the midst of struggle is what brings a change in perception. Be empathetic to those who might seek assistance from you and offer them extra support by way of an encouraging smile. When you use your warm presence to help them get through difficult times, the pay-off can be huge!
Compassion: Offering compassion to others is another charitable act that positively influences the giver. When we accept others’ shortcomings or cut others slack for their own wrongs or missteps, we are actually valuing humanity over someone else’s personal flaws. Most of us are truly doing the best we can at any given moment. Sure, some days our “best” is far from “enough,” and there are days when we know that we are guilty of giving less where we probably should have tried harder to give more. No one is at 100 percent of their game every day. However, if you accept the shortfall of another, the windfall for you is a happier life.
Gratitude: Whatever you have in life and wherever you are, you can find some reason to be grateful. Today, you may be anxious, but you showed up, for instance. Acknowledging your own good fortune – no matter how seemingly slight or minimal at the moment – can actually enhance your overall wellbeing. Researchers have found that being truly grateful for what you have can yield important physical benefits – we sleep better and enjoy better relationships! Not only that, but researchers have also found that your level of gratitude is inversely proportion to your level of depressed feelings or sadness. The more grateful you are in life, the better the chances are that you will actually enjoy what you have!
Being happy is that simple. But maybe you’re wondering, “Why bother being happy”? There’s so much drama with politics, healthcare, the economic crisis, global warming, domestic strife, you name it! I get it. Sometimes it seems that if you’re expecting the world to make you happy, it simply isn’t going to happen. However, you might realize the value of instilling these four practices into your daily life if you realize that choosing to engage in health-promoting behaviors will positively influence your own satisfaction with life – as well as of the lives of those around you! Happy people enjoy less stressful lives! Happy people are protected against some forms of chronic illnesses. In fact, happy people actually live longer, too!
You Just Need to do Four Things:
- Meet the world with a positive attitude
- Smile at and befriend others
- Cut us all a little slack
-Be consciously grateful for all that you do have rather than worrying about why you do not
Let’s admit it: there are definitely those days when we are permanently glued to our desk chairs, too engrossed to take a bathroom or lunch break. When we finally have a moment look at the clock, it’s 6:30 p.m. already. We drink from the fountain of coffee and soda from our student center vendors just to pump ourselves full of caffeine. We try (and sometimes fail) to resist the wafting aroma of french fries from some unnamed fast food chain just around the corner from our offices. It’s easy to fall into an unhealthy lifestyle after a while. I learned my lesson the hard way: I acquired high blood pressure during grad school at the ripe age of 23. But, how can we possibly balance it all? We preach to our students about maintaining balance in their lives, but we rarely consider it for ourselves. One technique that I’ve found helpful is using the SPICES Model of Wellness.
The SPICES Model explores six dimensions of our lives that require balance: Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Career, Emotional, and Social. Look at the model and evaluate which areas you prioritize and which fall to the wayside. The elements are portrayed in the model as six different circles in our lives. To visualize our priorities and talk about how balance is essential to maintaining not only quality of life, but quality of work as well. To visualize our priorities and talk about how balance is essential to maintaining not only quality of life, but quality of work as well cut out a number of different sized circles, ranging from tiny to average to large and label each circle with one of the six SPICES elements. The larger (or smaller) the circle, the less balanced the element is. Try to remember that it’s not about making sure that all of the dimensions take up the same amount of your time, but that you have to find a balanced fit. Every time you look at this model, you re-evaluate what’s going on in your life. It’s neat and clean, easy to teach, and fun to take time out of your day to reflect. Take some time to shut down your computer and let the SPICES Model challenge you to identify your priorities in the Age of Weisure.