I. What Is Happiness To You?

I recently began work with a coaching client based in Taipei, Taiwan.  We are literally halfway around the world from each other geographically, yet both interested in the same topics.  As we began our work together, he shared that he was excited to work with a Happiness “expert,” and sent me a many questions about Happiness in advance of our first conversation.
I’ve been studying Positive Psychology for nearly two decades, so I accept the label “expert” to some degree; but I’m also a coach, one who believes that all my clients have access to more wisdom than they see in themselves. In addition, I thought the cultural context around happiness must be different through my American versus his Chinese lens.
So I returned the questions to him and asked, how do YOU respond to these? His response was so eloquent and authentic and complete that I felt inspired when I read it.  So I asked, “can I share this with my tribe?” and he said Yes. So this month’s essay blends two perspectives from opposite sides of the world.

Question 1: What do you believe to be true about happiness?  

His response: Wow, that is such a big question. Jim, with respect, I will humbly give it a try.  Please understand what I say are not definite facts, but simply my own beliefs.
So here it goes, in no particular order.

  • Everything in life is a choice. Happiness is also a choice.
  • Happiness does not come from what a person owns or has, for instance, material possessions like money, house, car, job, title, or appearance/image (if money truly brings happiness, then all rich people would be happy).
  • Happiness is not determined by a person’s background or upbringing; for example, a person can grow up in a broken home, or have a troubled past, and still choose to be happy. It’s possible that a child growing up in a rich family that has everything can become angry, insecure, or unhappy. It is also possible for a legless crippled orphan to grow up to inspire and change the world.
  • Happiness is a choice, a stand to take in life, a balcony to view life from. I often say: if a person chooses to see the things that they have in life, they might find themselves to be rich (life is abundant). However, if the same person chooses to only see the things that they lack, they might feel themselves to be poor (life is scarce). Another example: almost every person in their lives has successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses. If a person only chooses to see their failures or shortcomings, they might feel unhappy. However, if the same person is willing to shift their focus to their success or strength, then happiness becomes a possibility.
  • People who always compare themselves with others will often be unsatisfied.
  • A Giver sees the world as “abundant,” so they feel themselves capable to give, and giving and contribution can be a path to happiness. A Taker, someone who feels they “never have enough” and sees the world as a “scarcity,” will often live in unhappiness.
  • A victim, someone who chooses to blame others, is seldom happy. A responsible person, a person who accepts and owns up to all the results they have in life (both good or bad), might find themselves with more strength to reach happiness. Likewise, people who choose to always live in reasons, excuses, or justifications for their failures, taking no responsibility, will find themselves living in grudges.
  • Someone who chooses to hate, chooses not to forgive others, or chooses not to “let go” of the past, will often find themselves distant from happiness.
  • A person who chooses not to risk, not taking actions in life, will often find themselves in a closed loop. No growth, no inspiration, no change; tomorrow is always same as yesterday. This type of attitude or mindset brings the opposite of happiness.
  • A human being who does not relate to other human beings, who does not develop relationships, intimacy, trust, openness, and most of all “love” with another person, might find happiness to be a closed door.
  • A person who chooses not to love, or not to accept another person’s love, can find themselves unable to be happy.

Your Beliefs Are a Choice

If you’ve been reading my work for a while, you’ve probably guessed why this client’s responses resonated so powerfully with me — because he keeps referring to choice.  Someone who chooses this versus that will have a different experience.  Being a victim is a lot less work, of course, because it’s easier to blame others than to do the hard work.  Yet choosing victimhood means the chooser “will often find themselves distant from happiness.”
I was also impressed with how universal his writing feels. Opposite side of the world, very different culture, yet the truths he speaks could belong to any of us.  The search for happiness is a human search.
Our correspondence eventually turned to how he lives out his beliefs about happiness.  And of course that’s the challenge we all face — what will we DO to build the new “muscles” we need to live our choices?  Thus the final question:

Question 2: What practice or practices would you ideally like to have in your life that you do not have today?  

His response: The most obvious one would be an exercise and health regime. I used to be an excellent athlete back in high school and college days, so I know what it takes to get fit, or get healthy.
Which brings me to a conclusion here.
Jim, I think I really struggle between the gap of knowing and doing. [Don’t we all?!]
I have worked with or coached many people on how to win or succeed in life. I have also worked with people on happiness, relationships, success…etc. and honestly, I’m quite good at it.
Chinese people have an interesting saying that maybe best sums it all: “I can take others across the river, but somehow, just not myself”.
I know many of these answers; I can even help many people to apply these answers. However, I’m stuck on what I preach not always showing up in my own life.”
How many of you might have penned that last line yourself?  You’re great at advice, at helping others advance; yet you can’t do it for yourself?  You can offer feedback to your team, but you don’t always follow your own counsel? You can see others’ flaws quite clearly, yet not your own?
P.S. That’s one reason why the coaching profession exists – to support people on their journey — because “If you could do it yourself, it would already be done!”

Do This For Yourself

Create your own coach.  Select a behavior or habit you seek to change so that what you DO better aligns with what you BELIEVE.  Write it down.
Then seek out a friend, colleague, family member, boss, or even a co-worker or neighbor you don’t know very well and ask, “Will you help me?  All I need you to do is be a witness, as I declare a commitment to myself.  Then once a week, ask me how I’m doing with my commitment. That’s it.”
A coaching relationship exists when you ask for support and another human being says, “yes, I will.”  You still have to do the work, of course.  But having to hold yourself accountable to a witness each week will increase your awareness about your choices.

Remember: Leadership is not about a title.  Anyone can be a leader who supports others in making better choices then building the new skills and habits to live into those choices!


Read more articles like this one in: Communication, Executive Coaching, Happiness, Leadership

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