I especially loved snow when my daughter emailed photos of Claire in her Michelin Man snowsuit. Saturday was the first time she’d really seen the stuff since she was too little last year to play outside. It made me happy despite the fact I hadn’t seen her in real life in almost two weeks. Claire lives just 75 minutes from me, but snow has kept us apart and has left me, in many ways, unhappy. But today there was a break in the weather and I trekked down to Pittsburgh in the morning and left behind my workout plans.
Plans, shmans. My body isn’t going anywhere in a day, physiologically speaking. I’ll hit the cardio tomorrow.
Did I just say that?
Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about happiness (season affective disorder peaks for me in January) and last weekend I found an article titled “Six common barriers to personal happiness and fulfillment and how to overcome them.” I’m pretty sure it was posted on CNN, but I forgot to copy the web address. I only copied the section I wanted to post here:
Happiness Barrier No. 6: Navel-gazing
Solution: Connect with others
How important are social networks to your happiness? Perhaps even more important than you realized. A recent 20-year study of more than 4,000 people showed that happiness is influenced not just by your immediate friends and family. The happiness of a friend of a friend of a friend – someone you’ve never even met – can also influence your happiness. It turns out that happiness can spread through social networks, like a virus.
Unfortunately, many people spend so much time by themselves navel gazing, they don’t benefit from this positive “contagion.”
The more self-absorbed you are, the more your world closes in, and the less realistic you become, all of which produces a vicious circle. “You become oblivious to the needs of others, and the world shrinks still more, making you less able to see outside yourself.” If asked, ‘Why are your problems so special?” says Jinpa, you might respond, “Because they’re mine!”
“If you have such a huge ego, you’re setting yourself up as a huge target, which can easily get hit,” Jinpa says. But using a “wide-angle lens” instead helps you see connections you wouldn’t otherwise see, such as the universality of suffering. All it may take is having a loved one diagnosed with a serious disease to realize how many people are grappling with similar challenges. Feeling joined by others on this journey provides some comfort and happiness.
The straightest path to making connections like these? Compassion and caring for others.
Even primates seem to understand this, says Robert M. Sapolsky, PhD, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers and research associate with the Institute of Primate Research at the National Museum of Kenya. Primates that groom each other after a stressful event experience a reduction in blood pressure. The clincher? Grooming others has a greater impact than getting groomed, says Sapolsky.
Compassion engages us with others, removes isolation, builds resilience, and leads to deep fulfillment, says Doty. “Without compassion, happiness is simply short-lived pleasure.”
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, may have said it best: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion; if you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
I’m a social hermit and I navel gaze more than I realized. When I read that article, I started thinking about that “contagion” and how I contribute to other people’s happiness. Not that I am responsible for how other people feel in general, but my actions and words certainly can enhance or derail someone’s moment, and that can spread into their entire day. Did I respond the most effective way I could to an email? Did I sincerely thank the cashier or car wash attendant I encountered today? Did I reach out to someone who needed a helping hand?
I’m more inclined to thank people, offer a smile to strangers, or write more compassionately after encountering a happy moment, like today with Claire. But I want to be more compassionate in those moments when it’s snowing, so to speak, and when I’m not so happy. I don’t want to be a navel gazer, especially considering my navel isn’t much to gaze at – lol.
We used to sing a song in Sunday School that went, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands. If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands. If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it, if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.”
If you’re happy and you know it, how do you show it? If you’re not happy, how do you get happy? What do you do to get past happiness barrier #6: navel gazing?