Mom #1, we’ll call her Chelsea, is an attorney and mother of two teen girls. Although rewarding, her career is demanding, and she often finds herself feeling drained at the end of the day when she needs to be there for her kids. Each time Chelsea sets a goal at work or home, she promises herself that if she reaches it, she will be happy. Yet when she attains the goal, she immediately reaches for the next horizon, feeling that if she allows herself to be happy she’ll become complacent.
Chelsea wants to encourage her children and instill in them an invigorating sense of accomplishment so they can excel, but fears that her pep talks are only empty words as a result of her burnout. Chelsea tells herself she will be happy when her daughters are accepted to top universities and is currently pushing toward that milestone. But she secretly worries that happiness will continue to evade her even if her daughters breeze through their SAT’s and she reaches the very top of her field.
Mom #2, we’ll call her Bethany. She’s Chelsea’s neighbor, a financial advisor with two teen daughters and a 12-year-old son. Chelsea can’t help but notice how enthusiastic Bethany is; her sense of humor is infectious, and her family reflects her fun-loving attitude. She and her kids always appear to be focused yet relaxed, even during hectic times. Bethany seems to derive a great deal of satisfaction and happiness from all aspects of her home life and career, yet Chelsea knows Bethany’s career presents similar challenges to her own. Chelsea wonders why Bethany never seems to suffer from burnout. She wishes she knew her secret.
Bethany’s secret is the art of being unconditionally happy. She knows that happiness is a state of being. It is a way of thinking, a conscious choice. Lots of people think the “pursuit of happiness” is a linear process, so they live in a state of expectancy, or hope of happiness arriving…someday. They pursue, hoping to overtake happiness when the conditions are perfect. But you can experience happiness in the present moment if you give yourself permission to be in the moment.
There is no need to meet any requirement, fulfill any quota, or compete with rivals in order to allow yourself the liberty of carrying unconditional happiness inside you every moment of the day. Here are three strategies you can employ to discover and develop the art of unconditional happiness:
- Recognize that happiness is available now. One way to increase your “now awareness” is to take a break. Set aside a few minutes during the day to focus completely on the present moment. Relax and become conscious of your breathing. Channel your mental energy away from your thoughts—allow yourself to simply be here now. Observe your inner and outer environment, without judging anything. Accept sensory input, or the lack of it, as part of the moment. Listen to the background noise in your home or office. Experience your emotions, your physical sensations, and a sense of your body. Look at your hands, your kitchen table—or close your eyes, if you like. The object is to experience life in the moment, unfettered by thoughts of past or future. Consciously relax the muscles in your neck and shoulders, and practice letting go of your tension. Practice smiling, inwardly, outwardly, or both, without feeling the need to justify it.
- Choose to think positive, self-enhancing thoughts. Begin by making a list of at least five positive statements, or affirmations. These statements may describe both skills or qualities you already possess and those you aspire to develop. When you compose this list, make sure you describe yourself in present tense, for instance, “I am enthusiastic about my life,” rather than, “I will be enthusiastic about my life.” Read your list aloud to yourself daily, tapping into feelings of happiness, peace, satisfaction or joy. The idea is to become conscious of, and to emphasize, all the attributes you bring with you into your workplace, your thought life and your personal life.
- Harness the power of the moment to choose happiness. Once you recognize the significance of the present moment, you can begin making the conscious choice to be happy. This is not denying the existence of stress but rather accepting and acknowledging the existence of beauty, love, gratitude and happiness, even when pain and problems present themselves. Often people find it easier to accept negative aspects of life than to accept all the positive forces surrounding them. Breathe in slowly, breathe out, and make this declaration to yourself: “Happiness is here, it’s free, accessible, and unconditional. It is mine any time I want it. I don’t need any obvious reason to be happy!”
Having made your declaration of independence from conditional happiness, start walking the walk. Be mindful of increased options, choosing to think optimistic, kind, loving, generous, and forgiving thoughts as you move through life. Let go of the burdens of self-doubt, of comparing yourself or your children to others and fearing the future. The future is born of the present. Live your life in the present moment, consciously accept life as enough in itself, and slip into the joy of being alive.
Feel better? That’s unconditional happiness.
How do you find happiness?
One key to happiness is striking a balance that works for you. We asked our Facebook fans how they achieve balance in their lives and relationships and here is what they said:
• Reminding myself that I am only one person and just to do what I can do. – Nicole C.
• To see a counselor. – Karen P.
• Communication, calendar and remembering God is in control, not me. – Robin D.
• I don’t get my work e-mail sent to my phone anymore. It was too much of a distraction during my family time. I do my best to keep my work at work and my home at home. – Jennifer L.
• Pray!! – Laura G.
• Remember to breathe! – Myshel B.
• Having a daily plan and preparing as much as I can the night before (making lunches for the kids, laying out the clothes, getting backpacks together etc) and having a calendar with all the activities for the family. I think it's important to have family dinners around the table with the TV off and cell phones away so that at the end of the day, we can connect as a family! – Chrissey P.
• Exercise!” – Bonnie H.
Join the dialogue at www.facebook.com/MetroFamily.
Marti MacGibbon, CADC II, ACRPS, is a certified mental health professional, inspirational motivational speaker, author. Her memoir, Never Give in to Fear, is available through her website, www.nevergiveintofear.com.