Choosing to Be Happy

I apologized profusely after almost cutting off her off at the entrance to the coffeehouse the other day. An idea lodged in my brain had sidetracked my attention for just a moment too long.

The “almost victim” of my daydreaming deflected my apology with that most cheery of expressions: No worries.

No worries indeed.

It wasn’t until I was offered this wonderfully affirmative response that I realized how much worrying I’ve been around lately. Much recent client work and facilitation has involved participants who have chosen to spend a great amount of individual and collective energy worrying about things that in my estimation are simply beyond their control and not worth the attention they have chosen to afford them. But it's their time and their choices.

I’ve always been somewhat intrigued by what people choose to worry about (including myself) and why they choose to do so. Of course, I doubt most folks actually think they have a choice when it comes to their worrying and therein lies much of the challenge. We do have a choice, and it is one that I think has fairly significant consequences.

When individuals or groups begin to worry extensively about things over which they have little control, it diverts their attention from the areas in which they might actually be able to influence the outcome, to make something happen. Frequently, their misdirected concern results in a state of paralysis in which the inertia of their worries holds them immobile from considering little else. 

Perhaps most amazing to me is the seeming satisfaction members of a group spread among themselves when they have sufficiently co-opted enough of their colleagues to this point of no return. It’s almost as if they are reciting the following mantra in unison, 
“Well we would like to make a difference here, but there is simply no way we can. Seeing that we can’t, we resign ourselves to things being the way they are, and we release ourselves early for a longer coffee break than usual.”
It is at these moments that I remind myself my contribution to such individuals and groups is to bar the door, challenge their assumptions, and do everything possible to get them “unstuck” from the perceived quicksand they have surrounded themselves with.

While I’m happy to do exactly that, I’m thinking that a little bit of the “no worry” mindset appropriated by enough individuals might limit the need for such an external intervention. In their easy-to-read book, How We Choose to Be Happy, authors Rick Foster and Greg Hicks share what they learned from interviewing individuals others had identified as being among the happiest people they knew. These happy folks share nine common characteristics, the first being the catalyst that made all the others possible:

Intention: The active desire and commitment to be happy, and the fully conscious decision to choose happiness over unhappiness.

As leaders we need to consciously embrace, internalize, and exemplify this intention and do our very best to instill such a mindset in the individuals and groups with whom we work. Doing so will allow people to see a greater range of choices being available to them, as well as reduce the amount of energy they spend on situations simply beyond their control.

I found myself in one of those situations after my coffeehouse encounter. After getting lattes, the group I was with decided to spend an unseasonable warm winter morning by enjoying conversation and coffee as we took a long walk through our downtown Cultural Trail. Not quite halfway into our leisurely stroll, the skies darkened unexpectedly and a steady stream of rain began to fall. Caught without umbrellas and no place to seek shelter, we all looked at each other somewhat sheepishly.

At that moment, one of my  colleagues uttered perhaps the second most useful (after no worry) pair of words:   Oh well.

And with that we continued on our walk becoming rather oblivious to the rain that was dampening our clothing, but having little effect on our spirit.

Two phrases. Four words. Volumes of more positive living.


Micah Yost said...

Great reminder here. Attitude and perspective are so important. We can't always change our circumstances, but we can always control our response! Good reminder here to choose a positive outlook. Thanks for writing.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Thanks for chiming in Micah. I do believe we always have choice. It can be hard to remember sometimes that we're best positioned to control ourselves when everything around us may seem out of control.

Robert H. Rich, Ph.D., CAE said...

I agree, Jeff. Let's always try to see the positive potential of what we can accomplish together, rather than just worrying about all the reasons why it can't get done.