For a large part of my life I was unhappy. It wasn't that I was unsuccessful in any conventional sense. I had a successful career, in good years I earned over $200,000, and for 35 years I've been married to a happy, lively and patient wife. The problem was that I didn't know how to be happy and I find it sad that I didn't even know that I was not happy. I simply never gave much thought to the subject of happiness.
Like most people, I was so engrossed in earning a living and trying to be what I thought I ought to be, that it simply never occurred to me to think about being my natural self. I have to admit also that I was engaged in a running battle with some powerful adversaries; these included: anxiety, guilt, worry, rejection, arrogance and a self image based on a potpourri of images taken from a disparate variety of sources. You could say that I was running on too much passion (mainly anger) and not enough compassion.
Like many other people I had made the assumption that if I succeeded in my career, had a nice house, a nice car, and all the other trappings which advertisers would have us believe are the visible manifestations of success, then I would be happy. So, the way I had set up the game, I needed to achieve in order to feel happy. If I had taken the trouble to do some basic research I would have discovered that there is no automatic connection between success and happiness. The happy, smiling faces of children in ragged clothes in Third World countries or Mardi Gras revelers in Rio de Janeiro bear testimony to the fact that happiness is not related to prosperity.
In his book "How to Practice" His Holiness the Dalai Lama comments that: "on more than one occasion, when I have visited very nice homes in rich communities, I have peeked inside the medicine chest in the bathroom and found some medications to provide energy for the day and others to induce sleep at night. Contentment might do both of these jobs better, since it reduces anxiety during the day, paving the way for sleeping peacefully." At least it's nice to know that I'm not the only one who fell into the trap of chasing an illusion.
Why happiness is so important
Research carried out by Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center has demonstrated that it is possible to be happier - to feel more satisfied, to be more engaged with life, find more meaning, have higher hopes, and probably even laugh and smile more, regardless of one's circumstances.
I believe wholeheartedly in Dr. Seligman's findings, however, one of the mysteries of my life is that I did not realize how unhappy my behavior was making me. I also didn't realize that happiness can be a conscious choice. I tended to think of it as something which would come as a result of achievements or events. Yet, somewhere inside of me, a small voice, must have been trying to make itself heard, because about four years ago, whilst browsing in a book shop, I picked up a book entitled "The Art of Happiness." This book quite literally changed my life. The effect was not sudden and dramatic; indeed, nothing changed after the first time I read it. But a seed must have been growing because it gradually became more and more important for me to make changes in my thinking and my behavior simply so that I could enjoy the experience of being happy.
When I came to take stock of my life, one of my conclusions was that I had a number of habits which prevented me from being happy. Most of these habits were connected to the way that I habitually reacted to situations. For instance, I found traveling stressful and, as a result, I would spend the entire journey looking for opportunities to become grumpy and bad-tempered rather than looking for opportunities to enjoy the experience.
How I changed
If you have ever tried to change a habit that you no longer want, like smoking or over-eating, you'll know just how difficult it can be. I would like to think that a combination of my NLP Master Practitioner training and my years of working as a Business Coach, helped me to realize that it would be easier to change my self-image, than to try to eliminate all my unhappy habits.
So, when I decided that I would focus all my attention on being a happy person, my first objective was to change my state. I set out to change from being a grumpy old man to being a happy person. It sounds simple, doesn't it? In a way it was simple because the motivation was very powerful; the moment I took the decision to be happy, it was as if a switch had been thrown in my mind. Suddenly, my focus on building my business and making money, decreased. In its place, I found myself drawn, more and more strongly, to focus my attention on helping others.
When you read this you may find it strange that someone who has been a successful professional coach for over 10 years, should suddenly start to focus more strongly on helping others. I certainly did! The only explanation I can offer is that my original motivation for becoming a coach was twofold. Firstly, to help others achieve their potential and secondly to make a living. Perhaps I had focused my attention slightly in the wrong place. It is not that I have anything against profit, far from it, but rather that I was focused on developing people's potential, not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of their employers who were my paymasters.
All I can tell you is that when I shifted my focus of attention to happiness I immediately felt compelled to move away from the world of business, where I had worked with success, but also with a lack of happiness, for some 40 years, and towards helping individuals, who, like me, have struggled to find happiness in their lives.
The moment that I started to work on my web site, I felt a buzz of energy and personal happiness. I already knew that I get a great deal of satisfaction from coaching and developing people in the business environment, but this was as nothing compared with the happiness that has come from helping people unravel the knots in which they have tied themselves as they have tried to find a way is to manage the situations with which life has challenged them. The motivation of helping people find happiness so as to open the doors to successful careers, relationships and ample wealth, has made a huge difference to me.
Copyright © David Ferrers 2006
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