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Choose Happy

I was driving back from my swim in the outdoor pool at the gym this morning, half listening to the radio when I heard the words:

‘I chose collateral beauty when the damage was abundant’

I love that phrase! To me, it’s a brilliant description of resilience.

I’ve been aware this week that the programmes I’ve watched, the podcasts I’ve listened to and the things I’ve read, have fallen into two distinct groups. One concentrates on the negative impact of the pandemic on our mental health and the other offers the possibility of choosing to be more resilient, positive and happy. I’ve been struck by a number of people who have experienced real trauma and tragedy who are advocating positivity and resilience despite their pain.

1)

I’m currently reading the book ‘The Gift – 12 Lessons to Save Your Life’ by Edith Eger a celebrated therapist and Holocaust survivor. In it she suggests that changing our own imprisoning thoughts and destructive behaviours can make a huge difference to our relationships.She says that any relationship that begins with passion and connection can grow to feel like a prison cell; happening slowly over time so it’s hard to see when and how the bars are built.

She suggests doing two exercises regularly:

Vital Signs –  Several times a day check in with your own body and ask – do I feel soft and warm or cold and stiff? If the latter dominates, this will impact our relationship negatively. Taking our emotional temperature like this can make us much more aware of our own emotional state and can help us soften.

Pattern Interruption – When we do something as a habit – e.g. turn away from our partner, make a sarcastic or negative comment etc. – choose to deliberately replace this action with something positive. Watch what happens.

Oprah said of ‘The Choice’, Edith Eger’s first book “I will be forever changed by Dr Eger’s story'” and Desmond Tutu described it as “a gift to humanity“. One of those rare and eternal stories that you don’t want to end and that leave you forever changed’. I agree; it helped me put my life and relationships into perspective.

2)

Mo Gawdat is the chief business officer of Google [X] and author of “Solve for Happy: Engineering Your Path to Joy” . Through his 12-year research on the topic of happiness, he created an algorithm he suggests will allow us to reach a state of uninterrupted happiness regardless of the circumstances of life –

happiness is equal to or greater than your perception of the events in your life, minus your expectations of how your life should be’

In 2014, this was put to the ultimate test when Gawdat lost his 21-year-old son Ali to a preventable medical error during a simple surgical procedure. Yet seventeen days after Ali died, he began to write and couldn’t stop. The topic was happiness — an unlikely subject given the circumstances and the book was born.

He rightly says that in any relationship we can only change our own attitudes and actions yet so often we concentrate all our efforts on trying to change our partner.

Last year, on her podcast ‘How to Fail’ with Elizabeth Day, Gawdat talks about his Happiness Philosophy and early on in the pandemic she interviewed him again. They talk about how to handle negative thoughts, how to practise gratitude and the concept of ‘committed acceptance’ which focuses on a) accepting the situation and b) within that acceptance, working out what you can actively do to make life better. Gawdat talks about the wondrous abilities of the brain – how it can come up with narratives which sometimes do not serve us and the importance of understanding the impact that exercising our own free will has on others. It’s worth listening to.

How might taking on some of Gawdat’s idea help improve your relationship? You can find out more about his philosophy on his website – Solve for Happy.

3) 

I recently re-watched the film ‘The Notebook’ after it was voted the most romantic film by a radio station. I was struck by how much Noah’s positive attitude impacted the relationship between him and Allie throughout their marriage and after years together, despite the challenges her Alzheimer’s brought to the relationship, he chose to be with her and keep loving her. At the end, Noah was still using the creativity he showed when he was trying to ‘woo’ her when they were young.

At a time when society as a whole is struggling with so much uncertainty, our relationships too may be under pressure. Starting to take responsibility for our own attitudes and actions and choosing more happiness and positivity and less fear and negativity is a good place to start as we look for change.

Practical Challenges:

1. Choose a day when you can both keep a diary of your ‘Vital Signs’ at various agreed points during a day. Share your findings with each other.

2. Then on another day, be intentional together about changing your responses from negative statements or reactions to positive ones. Then discuss what happened, how you both felt and how your relationship might change if the positives continued.

Consider these questions together:

1. What’s going well in our relationship this week?

2. What are three good things that I appreciate about you?

3. What am I most grateful for in our relationship?

4. How could we spend more time doing what we enjoy together?

5. Which areas of our relationship would benefit from more positivity?

6. How can we decrease any negativity in our relationship?

7. How could we be happy even before we reach our goals?

8. What would make life more meaningful for us?

9. What resources/support do we need to support a happier and more successful life for ourselves?

10. When are we at our happiest?

Ruth Adams

Ruth has worked as a trainer and a communications coach for 20 years and loves to inspire people - from a boardroom to a classroom - to find freedom and 'unlock possibilities'. She is an associate of Family Futures, an area co-ordinator for Adoption UK and a director of Achkiy, a charity working with women in the shantytowns in Peru. Ruth is married to Alan, has 3 birth children in NY, Berlin and Barcelona, 2 forever daughters and 6 grandchildren.

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