One day, I was taking a train. I got on at one of those little milk run stops between two cities. It was one of those little stops where you bought your ticket at the station before you boarded.
Once on the train, after a few minutes, I could hear a man coming up the aisle, calling out “Tickets please, tickets.”
He was an older gentleman with white hair and a pleasant demeanour. He, of course, looked very official in his deep blue and red suit and conductor’s cap.
By the look of him, you could imagine that he had done that walk up the train aisles hundreds, if not thousands, of times.
When he got to me, he asked me how I was. “Fine, thank you,” I said, a rather standard response that doesn’t really tell anyone how you are.
I said, “How are YOU doing today? He answered, "Oh, I have my moments.”
I’m not sure why this rather unusual response has stuck with me all these years. But I remember thinking at the time, “What a great response”.
It seemed to say that there were some occasional highlights in his day and that was good enough for him.
He seemed happy and content.
We think we need things and other people to make us happy.
The way he said what he said gave me a sense of calm. And, to be honest, I try to use that response whenever I can. It seems to lighten people’s mood and always gets a little laugh. It’s not a bad way to start a conversation.
Contrast that with folks who you meet who always tell you how unhappy they are with something.
That train conductor could have said, "Well I've got sore feet and can't wait to retire from this job."
He didn't say that but we all know a couple of people who think that way. They always have something to complain about and, I don’t know about you, but they’re not on my list of people to spend my time with.
Isn’t it odd though? No one wants to go through his or her life being miserable but it’s fascinating how some people just do. They complain about their job, their kids, their house, nothing seems to be right. Ever!
They say things like, “It’ll be better when I get a new boss”. They say, "it’ll be better when I get a new job" or, "it’ll be better when my kids get older!”
But even if those things do happen, chances are they won’t be happy very long. That's because there are a couple of things that get in the way.
First, there is the Hedonic Treadmill.
"The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, (or happiness set point) is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes." - Wikipedia
In Gretchen Rubin’s book, "The Happiness Project", she cites current research on our levels of happiness with genetics accounting for about 50 percent, life circumstances for 10 to 20 percent and the remainder a product of how we think and act.
So it appears that if we're going to be happy, we need a bit of a strategy.
What we Can do with that Remainder.
It’s different for everyone and I can only go by what I have found works for me. But I think that’s just it. You can learn a lot about happiness by observing and talking to people about what makes them happy.
For instance, there is the amazing waiter I met last summer. He was by far the happiest waiter I have ever seen. You can read about him in this post.
I look for Golden Nuggets.
No, not some new breakfast cereal. This is what I mean:
The other day, I had to deliver a talk to a corporate audience. I was due to hit the stage at 9:00. No big deal, right? I've done it thousands of times. However, this particular gig had some unusual challenges.
The main one was setting up. I had to be at the venue to load in and set up 400 instruments as well as microphones and cameras before anyone showed up. That meant a 6:30 AM load in on a cold winter morning.
I had choices as to what I could focus on.
If I focused on the several hours of pre-packing the instruments the day before, and the loading of them into a truck, and that I was up at 5 AM, and the meticulous set up, and the super fast tear down and pack up after, I’d be worn out before I even started.
Instead, I focused on the fact that I was going to help 200 people learn to collaborate like never before. I was going to help them listen to each other and see what that can lead to. I was going to help them get out of their comfort zone and grow as human beings. And all this while I was going to get to be on stage, doing what I love to do, playing my drum and making some music with people. It doesn’t get much better for me.
Those are some of the golden nuggets that keep me at it every day. This choice of focus has let me move all kinds of gear for over 30 years without even noticing it. But I could tell you lots of Golden Nugget stories about the people I’ve met through being on stage.
So where are YOUR Golden Nuggets?
The golden nuggets are the things you can do to create your own happiness. These are the things and actions that make your job and your life amazing.
Yes, sometimes people do things to make us happy. Sure, but I would suggest you see these things as bonuses to the happiness you create for yourself.
Here are a few suggestions:
1)Think about who you help.
The reason most jobs exist is that they help someone somehow. Does what you do help someone? Does what you do help your family? Does what you do make someone’s life, an end user perhaps, better in some way? If, for some reason, you’re not helping anyone, then go volunteer. It will make you feel happier.
2) Stay away from negativity.
People have all kinds of things to complain about. There are their bills, the roads, governments, taxes, and other people. The list goes on. You need to avoid these people like the plague. They will only bring you down with them. Don’t bother getting into arguments with them. (Unhappy people love arguments). You know the saying - misery loves company.
3) Realize your future is up to you.
Studies show that change is not the ultimate fix to your being happier. Yet there is one type of change that you can do that will help you be happier, and that’s when you invest in yourself.
Learn something new, take a course, start a new hobby. Do something that makes you grow as a person.
These are changes that you can take with you for the rest of your life. There are no rules about who you can become in your life. Who cares if you’re not great at it, if it makes you happy – do it.
4) Not happy at work – get involved.
I remember working at a place where I hid away most of the time. I only did what I was hired to do. I felt the management and I came from different places and they had nothing to offer me other than problems. The problem with this attitude of mine was that it always put me on the defensive. I was always trying to figure out how I was going to react to the changes that were occurring around me. I resented that fact that management never did anything to help me out. Guess what? I wasn’t even on their radar.
Then as the years went by, I smartened up. I became more involved. I went to more department meetings instead of avoiding them. I had meetings with management to discuss issues that were important to me. After a while, I began to have more control over things that affected me. I began to have more influence. This made me happier because I had a say in what was going to happen.
5) Be appreciative of the things you’ve got in your life.
I’m sure you have heard this before but I’m not sure you (we) can hear it enough.
I know this myself yet I find myself falling into the trap of being envious, or feeling hard done by sometimes. This, of course, is ridiculous and I know better, but it happens. So any and all reminders are good!
The way I am appreciative is by taking some quiet time and reflecting on a day, a week or sometimes a recent series of events that have occurred in my life.
Sometimes I'll sneak into my kids’ rooms at night and peek at them while they’re asleep. (They’re not teenagers yet so I don't mind being near them).
Sometimes I'll grab a quiet moment and look around at something I've built, like my backyard ice rink, a real labour of love. The interesting thing about the rink is, I hardly ever use it, but my kids and the other kids in the neighbourhood certainly do and that makes me feel good.
Something else I learned from Ms. Rubin’s book is that we actually have to put some thought and effort into what it is that makes us happy. If not, it will never happen.