Over the years, I’ve noticed that there two categories of people: those who like to complicate matters and those that prefer to simplify them. I’m a simplifier. While I was earning my Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, I was the student who everyone would look to for making simple sense of what erudite, bookish, and scholarly professors were pontificating about. I’ve always enjoyed seeing a clear, straight path to where I’m headed, free of psychobabbles, unnecessarily complicated scientific jargon, conflicting research findings and often pointless information that seems to benefit the writer more than the reader.
It’s precisely because I like to simplify things that I’m going to share with you 3 simple tools to achieve happiness, a tripod if you will, that over the past 40 years of practicing psychotherapy have been proved to advance wellbeing, reduce tension, improve relationships, and turbo-fuel happiness. Not bad for just three simple tools, right?
These tools will not only create happiness but do so by improving your self-esteem and self-compassion. What’s so special about these improvements? They create a healthier life, a better marriage, more positive friendships, and even lead to earning more income and improved productivity in your career. These tools involve guarding 3 aspects of your life: your words, your judgment and your heart.
Tool 1: Guarding your words
Do you want to create tension, strife, conflict and stress in your life? Be a scandal spreader. That’s right, gossip about others, bear tales about others, and spread rumors – true or worse, not true – about others. Spread any derogatory or damaging information about another, or simply repeat what others have told you about someone else to that person, and your wellbeing begins to suffer. You create discord and contention. How can that help you lead a happier life?
The power of your words goes far beyond anything you can ever imagine. You are literally “reducing” another person with your words. No, it’s not murder, or even physical injury – but it certainly can elevate blood pressure and cause venomous anger. In extreme circumstances, it may even lead to physical harm – or worse. You are damaging other people.
To illustrate how difficult it is stop gossip, take your favorite feather stuffed pillow, cut it open and toss the pillow around, spreading the feathers in the wind. Now attempt to gather those feathers. Can’t collect them all? It’s the same with spreading malicious words. That’s why it’s better to prevent it in the first place. Stop yourself from starting, since asking for forgiveness later is like trying to gather all of those feathers. Remind yourself that gossip separates you from people. Is that what you want?
Do you want to enjoy people and create healthy relationships based on positivity? Remember that you have teeth and lips. Huh? If your teeth don’t catch the gossip, perhaps your lips will. Those earlobes you have? When you begin hearing gossip, you’ll know what they’re for – pull them up and you’ll prevent yourself from hearing negativity.
You see, gossip hurts the person speaking it, the person it’s about and the person hearing it. It’s inviting negativity into your life, infects your mindset and that will never promote healthy positivity.
Tool 2. Guarding your judgments
Are you someone who often views the negative in everything? Are you the one who focuses on the thorns on the rose bush rather than the roses? If so, your judgment is askew and you are paying a hefty price in terms of your health. You walk around negative, downtrodden, disappointed in others and with circumstances around you. Choosing to see the good in others will determine how you feel about yourself, and how well your daily life goes.
Most likely you are one of those people who doesn’t give the benefit of the doubt to others, and therefore, quite likely, not even to yourself. When did you learn to judge others for the worst? Imagine if you judged others for the good, and saw others more favorably. Are you concerned you’ll get hurt? You wont’ be hurt by others nearly as much as you hurt yourself with your negative view of the world.
Look and you’ll see some good in nearly everyone – in some more than others – but the more you look, the more you’ll find. Notice how those you judge so negatively react to you. Perhaps they become angry towards you. Do you need that in your life? Perhaps they become so despondent, that they just give up and stop trying to improve if they have done wrong. Nice gift you’ve offered them, huh?
When you look for and find the good in others, it’s likely going to help you train your mind to find the best in yourself. Self-compassion leads to compassion for others and increased self-esteem. While it may be a bit more difficult to learn the facts before assuming someone has done something wrong, try and understand people’s motives before you judge them, feel how they might feel based on your unfavorable judgment and think before you speak. If it’s a healthier relationship you want with others and with yourself, you’ll invest that time. Keep in mind that when you judge others, it won’t define who they are at all. It only reveals something about yourself.
By acknowledging the good in others and in yourself, this will extend to your home life and your friends. It will increase your hopefulness, decrease your hopelessness and ultimately improve your relations with others. Why spend your time judging others when you can lift others and in turn, lift yourself? That’s good heart medicine.
Tool 3. Guarding your heart
Speaking of heart, if “exercise is medicine,” and “self-compassion is medicine,” then the bedrock for all of positive, healthy, optimally peaceful living is gratitude. Truly, “gratitude is medicine.” Perhaps even the ultimate medicine.
If someone holds the door for you, do you say “thank you” or even think it? I’ve suggested this experiment in Starbucks many times at the counter when there’s a long line: “Imagine how many people you could be grateful to for your cup of coffee. There’s Juan Valdez the coffee guy, his wife who agreed to stay home to watch the sick kids so Juan could go to work picking your coffee beans. Then there’s the folks who made the bag that Juan puts his beans into. The people who built the factory where Juan’s shoes are made, the truck manufacturing plant, the people who delivered the beans to your Starbucks…and on and on and on. Instead of thanking the barista, thank the 10,598,483 people who are behind your single cup – including the folks who manufactured the cup (and built the building where the cup was made, and the people who delivered the paper –you get the idea.)
Gratitude is a stress-buster and better, a stress-preventer. Those who are filled with gratitude simply take better care of themselves. They are more frequently at the gym exercising, eating well, sleeping soundly and enjoying positive relationships. Simply being thankful leads to a stronger immune system, due to the link between optimism and healthier immune functioning.
This is why it’s become so popular for therapists and life coaches to recommend to clients that they keep a gratitude journal, wake up with a focus on being thankful and thinking about what can go right today. Don’t wait to see what kind of a day you will have, be thankful in advance for the kind of day you will have. See the good in everything, including pain. After all, nobody ever gave birth without pain – pain doesn’t stop us, it promotes us and when people with a grateful mindset see that, they are able to be thankful for even the seeming rough spots in life, knowing they are there to build us up.