Can you imagine how many Americans have “lose 10-20 pounds” on their goal sheet on January 2? I am in the fitness business. I know first hand that it’s… a lot. It’s staggering, actually. This goal is above most all of the following:
- overall health and wellness
- family goals
- financial growth/stability
- work success/promotion/earning
- buy a new ______
- get the diploma/degree/certification
- home projects
- activities and hobbies
You read that right … happiness is sometimes not even on a goal list. It’s not on the little picture I posted here either. But “weight loss” is on there THREE TIMES. “Happiness?” Nowhere to be found.
Are you happy?
I am leaving a lot of space right there for you to think about it. I know some of you are truly happy. In fact, one of you just texted me this: “I am grateful to be at a place in my life where I am just immensely happy and feel like my cup truly runneth over.” But you know what? This girl means it. And she works hard for it. In a way that I’ve never quite seen anyone do before. But if I tell you how I think she does it, I will give away the whole story…
Are you happy?
While that simmers, recall all we have learned about cues, routines, rewards, habits. Now I will add in a new concept; not so different from routines and habits — rituals. I spoke about this in my very first blog for the program. A ritual is different from a routine and even a habit in that it is motivated by a deeply held value. These routines and habits really truly mean something to our wellbeing, to who we are, to what gives us joy, to the respect we have for ourselves and others. Now, it’s not to be denied that a ritual can certainly go down a destructive path; drug addicts often have rituals for the administration of their chosen drug. Over-exercisers and people suffering from eating disorders have rituals for when, where, how often they workout and eat, or don’t eat. Of course this is possible. But so is a ritual of happiness.
How can or should happiness be a routine? Doesn’t that kind of take the creativity and spontaneity out of the entire concept? I suppose it could if the ritual becomes a chore for whatever reason. But, even “the most creative individuals — whether artists, businesspeople or parents — have rituals they follow. Paradoxically, the routine frees them up to be creative and spontaneous,” writes Tal Ben-Shahar, of Happier. Shahar, before diving into any of the substance of his book, gives the reader an assignment straight out of the gate before anything is even studied:
Each night before going to sleep, write down at least five things that make you happy — things for which you are grateful. These can be little or big: from a meal that you enjoyed (yes! a Whole30-compliant meal!) to a meaningful conversation you had with a friend, to a project at work, to God.
“In research done by Robert Emmons an Michael McCullough, those who kept a daily gratitude journal — writing down at least five things for which they were grateful — enjoyed higher levels of emotional and physical well-being.
If you do this exercise regularly, you will naturally repeat yourself, which is perfectly fine. The key is, despite the repetition, to keep the emotions fresh; imagine what each item means to you as you write it down, and experience the feeling associated with it. Doing this exercise regularly (as a ritual) can help you to appreciate the positive in your life rather than take it for granted.”
Do this on your own, but also consider doing it with a loved one. Your spouse, your children, a close friend. It’s powerful. Get creative with it and channel it in unique circles. Every morning, my leadership team and I do our “morning huddle” by text. Most companies all get to meet in the board room, but we are yogis and usually on five different ends of town teaching all the yoga in all the places (and, we don’t have a boardroom.) So every morning, before 10am, we just check in and say the following things: Good morning! Then “my one big thing” (that I must accomplish today). And then we say if we are stuck. Like, “I’m stuck with getting the new schedules printed because there were errors on the last draft,” to which, as a team, we then pitch in and help our comrade get un-stuck. At the very least, we know they are struggling some, and can empathize instead of being left to guess. If we don’t hear from someone, we find them and make sure they are good — oftentimes they are so buried they haven’t had a chance to check in, and it’s an amazing opportunity to ask for help and offer it … and receive it.
Because of this blog and this program, I am also tasking them with doing a “goodnight gratitude text;” sometime in the evening before 9pm, we text the group and list 5 things we are grateful for. We all have to contribute. We all have to stop down, pause, breathe, feel, and write.
“A happy person enjoys positive emotions while perceiving her life as purposeful,” writes Shahar.
For the last 25 days you have had two very clear (new) purposes alongside all of your other purposes: to eat Whole30 and do yoga each day. Because of those two purposes, you could very well feel called to other purposes —
- perhaps you want to keep going and do another 30 days?
- perhaps you want to read, Food Freedom Forever, which is a “life after Whole30” book by Melissa Hartwig and continue to learn more about habits, guilt and anxiety around food?
- perhaps you are intrigued by the concepts I have taught, by the culture my team and I have created, and are considering becoming a yoga teacher?
- perhaps you want to teach what you’ve learned to others?
- perhaps you want to commit yourself to a Paleo lifestyle that you can maintain, sustain and experiment with?
- perhaps next year you want to somehow contribute to the program?
- perhaps you want to bring this program into your workplace or school or social circles?
Whatever you plan to do after Day 30, there is likely some purpose behind it. Even if it’s just eliminating your daily run to Starbucks because you’ve noticed you’ve saved $150 already by not buying a latte every day. Somewhere around those plans that are nurturing your deeper purpose, you have some emotion. Excited, nervous, certain, uncertain, worried, strong … emotions are stirring in there somewhere. Whether they are positive or negative, emotions move us … they move us from apathy, indifference, resignation and inaction to motivation. That very motivation makes us act. Imagine if we had no motivation at all, if we were totally indifferent … even to consequences. At some point, doing nothing will lead to harsher and more difficult consequences… until a breaking point. It will come eventually. Emotion plays a big role in the choices we make and the actions we take, especially our innate, deep down desire to be happy, which every human being wants. But emotion is not the only role.
“When speaking of a meaningful life, we often talk of having a sense of purpose, but what we sometimes fail to recognize is that finding this sense of purpose entails more than simply setting goals,” says Shahar. We are all in the middle of a goal we once set for ourselves — in fact, maybe some of you said, “I will never make it 30 days, or even 2 weeks!” — and you have. Are you acting like it? You all should be running around like crazy people, shouting “I DID IT! I’M DOING IT!” And yet, we aren’t. Instead, we are push the goal out further. Why do we do this? I think because often we set goals that perhaps don’t have true meaning and purpose. “When I lose 20 pounds I will be happy. I will be happy when I can fit into skinny jeans and look awesome.” And, the 20 pounds come off, and we say, “I want to lose 5 more.” Simultaneously, we say, “I so deserve a doughnut…” and then we feel guilt and shame and the goal that we achieved — because we didn’t tie a meaningful purpose to it (like, “I want to lose 20 pounds so that my body is healthy and therefore functioning more effectively, so that I am less reactive, more clear-headed, and more present with my family,”) is void of true meaning. Do you see the difference? To experience long-term happiness around something, we must determine if that thing has purpose and meaning, or if it is just a short-term benefit with long-term detriment.
Some of us know our main purposes, and they are usually in big buckets like “family” or “career” or “spiritual life.” An amazing exercise for all of us would be to see if — within those big buckets that no one will argue have great meaning and probably line with your values and passions — there are smaller buckets of purpose that do not have positive meaning. Look for the places where you feel like you are treading water, or exasperated, or apathetic. Look for places where deep down, if you told the truth, you were only doing or only a part of to make someone else happy or to look good. Think about how, if you continue to pour into those people, things, exercises, ideas, routines, you will strengthen the apathy versus strengthening the meaning. By continuing to keep up or look like you “have it all together,” with each passing day, your innate desire for happiness loses it spark. In one of my favorite books, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman writes that “each successive generation worldwide since the opening of the [twentieth] century has lived with a higher risk than their parents of suffering a major depression — not just sadness, but a paralyzing listlessness, dejection, and self-pity, and an overwhelming hopelessness — over the course of life.” He calls our age, “The Age of Melancholy.” If you watched the interview with Simon Sinek that I cited in a recent blog, you will recall him speaking about the Millennial generation: “The worst case scenario is that we are seeing an increase in suicide rates in this generation, an increase in accidental deaths due to overdose, and an increase in more kids dropping out of school or taking leaves of absence due to depression. This is unheard of. The best case scenario? We will have an entire population growing up and never really finding joy or deep fulfillment in work or life. They’ll just waft through life, saying, ‘It’s fine.'”
I submit that part of our problem here is that we are assigning meaning and happiness to the wrong things, things that don’t actually fulfill us at all. And sure, we make goals, but often don’t establish a healthy routine to get them. And if, by chance, we do, once we get what we want, we have already moved on to what’s next, not having taken any time at all to love — truly love — what we already have. No one wants to go through the climb to find happiness described by Sinek as, “…arduous and long, and difficult. They are slow, meandering, uncomfortable, messy processes. What [we] need to learn is patience. That some things that really really matter, like love, or job fulfillment, joy, love of life, self-confidence, a skillset — any of these things — all of these things take time. If you don’t ask for help and learn that skillset, you will fall off the mountain.”
I know this blog is not a read that you will feel all warm and fuzzy about. It may leave you feeling scared or sad or even worried. Maybe this is just the emotion you need to feel to be motivated to act. I bet there isn’t a parent out there who hasn’t said or felt the notion that, “I just want my kids to be happy.” So be the example. Do the work. Stop messing around with your can’ts and shoulds and supposed tos. Stop wasting time self-deprecating and complaining about what you don’t have and what or who is wrong. You have yourself, AND, you have an entire generation that needs you now more than ever to guide and lead with authentic happiness. You have tools for nutrition, yoga, meditation, wellness, patience, discipline and community — do not let them go to the wayside. We have to work extra hard right now to make sure that we take the focus off of our little worlds of not-good-enough and direct it to the people who have the fewest amount of tools and the most amount of pressure, the generation behind each and every one of us.
And while you are doing that, do some self-examination and get even MORE clear about what your purpose(s) are. You may find it’s time to slough off more than just sugar and carbs. The good news? When you figure out genuine purpose — no one can stop you, and you shine more brightly than the brightest star in the sky.