When we have a legal issue, we call in a lawyer. When the pipes burst, we ring up a plumber. When tax time rolls around, we schedule an appointment with our accountant. So why, when it comes to one of the most instrumental aspects of our personal and professional lives—being happy—are we so remiss about deferring to the experts? To help you make up for lost time, we consulted a squad of qualified sources, from lifestyle coaches to licensed psychologists, who were only too happy to share their insights and ideas about how to put—and keep—a smile on your face and a spring in your step. After all, shouldn’t happiness be a top priority on your daily to-do list?
Gregg Steinberg, author of the best-selling self-help book Full Throttle says, “Happiness in everyday life is all about mastering our emotions. You can be miserable even when you are successful, and you can be happy even if you are not successful. Your emotional mastery is key to your happiness.”
Steinberg, who is a tenured professor of human performance and teaches a course called “Mental Health and Happiness” at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn., coaches people to develop an emotional toughness that will help them achieve their best possible state and to create effective emotional habits so that you will return to your best state under pressure. One of his favorite tips involves dealing with colleagues who drain you and create unhappiness. “To change this [dynamic], I tell people to make up a story about the colleague so that they see that person in a more empathetic and compassionate way. For instance, for a colleague who is very annoying and is constantly needing your attention, you can make up a story about how that person never got any attention at home from their mom and dad as a child, so they seek out attention elsewhere to make up for this deficiency. With that story in mind, you will see the colleague as less annoying and you will be happier and less drained.”
Retrain Your Brain
At 19, Joseph McClendon was broke and living in a cardboard box. Depressed and ashamed, he felt he had nothing to live for. While riding his motorcycle one day, he contemplated swerving into oncoming traffic and ending it all. But then, in the blink of an eye, the semi-truck in front of him blew a tire, and everything changed. McClendon remembers the incident in his new book, Get Happy NOW! “Seconds before, I wanted to die. But now I had no choice, and I watched in horror as a 100-pound chunk of flying, jettisoned rubber propelled backward toward my head. A part of me welcomed the irony and an end to my pain, so I braced for the impact. But instinctively my physical reflexes kicked in and I ducked. The chunk missed my head, but it hit me in the shoulder hard and knocked me off my bike, sending me cartwheeling like a rag doll…. Life has a way of shaking you up.”
From that moment, McClendon realized he wanted to live. That awareness initiated the transformation of a once-homeless man into one of the top performance coaches in the country, with a client list that includes Fortune 500 executives. In this latest book, he explores happiness—“a fundamental element of life that so many humans are missing.”
Here is one of many exercises in the book—this particular one “designed for clarity and focus.” Get out a pen and give these three areas some thought:
1. Take a moment to think realistically about where you are and what you want to change. Think about the things that stress you and detract from your success. If it’s paying bills late and accruing hundreds of dollars of late fees as a result, be open and honest with yourself about why you avoid looking at bills…. If you have problems in business or in a relationship, write them down. The point of this exercise is to honestly understand where you are, in order to navigate out of it.
2. I’m successful in many areas, but the things I’d like to work on to be happier overall are: _____________.
3. I could be much more understanding, patient or focused on certain things. I could increase my character traits (patience, love, giving, joy, discipline) and become better at: ______________________ .
Now, with these insights in mind, you can move forward to solutions, and one small step at a time, implement habits that result in a happier you.
Another exercise McClendon recommends, substantially shortened here, helps you replace negative thoughts with positive ones the instant those rotten thoughts crop up. So if you’re at work and you find yourself thinking, I suck at numbers. I can’t do this, immediately replace that put-down with one of McClendon’s favorite positive phrases: I freakin’ rock!