I’ve been wondering what it is about New Years and the desire to make resolutions. Sure there is the tradition and the date on the calendar that gives us a perception of starting anew. But there is something else going on, a desire inside of us to keep getting better, to evolve, to give more. And the start of a new year seems to be a good place to start.
This Year Will Be The Best Year Of My Life
This year will be the best year of my life.
It will be a return to enjoying the simple things like family & friends.
It will be the year of less complaining & more appreciating.
This year I will dance more, laugh more & love more.
And be healthier than ever because of it.
I will live more consciously, deliberately, joyfully.
(Excerpted from the poem “This Year” by Steward St. John)
Kier Barker cited this poem when we spoke together at a conference a few years ago. Kier was born with spina bifida. His parents were told that there was no point in taking him home as he would live less than a week. Kier is now in his 60’s and doing well. He has faced and conquered immense challenges in his life and he is an inspiration to all who know him. A note on Kier’s website says: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storms to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
The year 2016 brought me a few storms. My brother, Hal, continues his third year on his journey with brain cancer. Diagnosed in November, 2013, he was expected to live about eighteen months. He is still at home, being cared for by his amazing wife and dedicated caregivers. I still value my weekly visits with Hal and his courage and grace continue to inspire me.
My sister, Kate, was also diagnosed with a brain tumor last year, but thankfully, hers was operable. In December she underwent a successful surgery and had it removed. Turns out it was a Grade I Meningioma, so the prognosis is good compared to Hal’s Grade III Astrocytoma. (I’ve learned a lot about brain tumors in the past three years!) Spending time with Kate over the holidays, we reflected on how precious and brief this “candle in the wind” of life is and were reminded of how to make this the best year you have ever had:
1) Live well today. While it’s vital to have a compelling vision and focus for the future, we are made so that we can only carry the burden of twenty-four hours; no more. If you weigh yourself down with years behind you or the days ahead of you, your shoulders will bend and your back will break. The quality of your life is determined by your relationship with the present. The way to have a good year is to decide, every day, one day at a time, to have a good day. That good day will turn into a good year and that good year will turn into a good life.
2) Change your habits, change your life. Once you decide to live well today, it’s good to realize that all life is a series of habits. If you want good health, find out the habits of healthy people and practice emulating them, one habit at a time. If you want to build a successful business, find out the habits of successful business entrepreneurs and change your habits. If you want a good relationship, learn and practice good relationship habits. A good life is a life of good habits. Good habits can include:
- Walk everyday in nature. The sun and the air are good medicine for tired bodies and weary souls.
- Watch less tv and read more. Spend one hour a day reading something that stretches your mind and makes you think more deeply.
- Get more rest. Get to bed earlier. Learn to let go of all the stuff you can’t control, and relax. Breathe.
- Take the most important person in your life on a date once a week.
- Start the day s-l-o-w-l-y, and create pauses during the day to stop, appreciate, and go within. If you don’t go within, you will go without.
- Bring an attitude of gratitude to everything you do. Look for ways to be grateful during the day and ways you can help lift the life of another.
- Make it a habit of changing the habits in your life that aren’t producing the results you desire.
3) Decide to have a good year. It isn’t what happens in a given year that makes it good or bad. It is the response we choose to what happens that makes a year good or bad. Fortunately, we have the ability to choose our attitude and our response. One of the great revelations of our time is the awareness that changing the inner attitudes of our mind can change the outer aspects of our lives. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”
Today I challenge you to choose to make 2017 the best year of your life so far. Some will think it is possible. Some may say that you don’t know what will happen in 2017 so how can you think it will be your best year ever? My reply is that my attitude and response will make it the best year no matter what happens. It is my choice.
2017 will be the best year of my life so far, and 2018 will be even better. How do I know this? Because I choose it to be.
I’ve never seen more “employee engagement programs” thrown at employees, and we’ve never seen lower engagement scores. So what’s going on?
One way to look at the challenge of employee engagement is to observe the relationship between three concepts: achievement, expectations, and happiness.
Happiness results when your achievements meet your expectations. For example, if your expectation of your boss is “100”, and she achieves only “80”, then we say your happiness score is -20. On the other hand, if you have an expectation of your boss of “80”, and she hits “100”, then your happiness score is +20.
What happens when this same boss, who meets the expectations of one employee, doesn’t meet the expectations of another employee? One employee will be happy. The other will be unhappy. Maybe the problem isn’t the boss. Maybe the problem is the nature of our expectations. While bosses and organizations certainly need to work hard to achieve a highly engaged culture, employees share the responsibility of hard work to achieve their own level of engagement while simultaneously decreasing their expectations. To paraphrase John F Kennedy: ask not what your organization can do for you, but what you can do for your organization.
Lazy employees (i.e. they don’t want to achieve much) combined with high expectations, is called entitlement. And entitled people are never happy. Have you ever noticed that the most entitled people in your office are the ones that are the most miserable? Many people bring enormously high expectations to work and to all their relationships. My mother had a scholarly word for this kind of person: spoiled.
It appears to be human nature that the more we get, the more we expect. Research will bear out that the societies with the lowest GNP are often the societies with the happiest people. They are likely happy because their expectations are lower. There’s something to be said about simply being satisfied with what we have.
While I’m all in favor of bosses developing ways to create environments that engage people, I know some leaders who could deliver the moon for their employees and they still wouldn’t be happy. This is because most people who are unhappy at work aren’t just unhappy at work. They are unhappy with all aspects of their lives. We all need to examine carefully our level of expectations. To increase your happiness and engagement at work:
1) Carefully examine your expectations. It has been said that expectations are premeditated resentments. Often, high expectations stem from unhappiness in your life and expecting others (e.g. your boss) to make you happy. This is a formula for discontent, both for you and for your boss who might be trying too hard.
2) Take 100% responsibility for your own happiness. Your life will change the day you decide that all blame is a waste of time. Taking 100% responsibility means that you take responsibility for getting your needs met instead of demanding that someone do it for you.
3) Be careful about over achieving. It’s good to set a goal and achieve it – providing it meets an expectation. But if you are an overachiever who continually expects more and more of yourself (and usually others too), you’ll never be happy. You’ll always be striving for the next achievement. The only way to fill that hole is to learn to be satisfied with what you have achieved.
4) Give what you expect. My parents used to say, “You don’t get what you expect. You get what you give.” No amount of employee engagement programs can possibly fill all the insecurities and unhappiness that employees bring to work. To counter the frustration of not getting what you expect, clarify what you expect, and then give that. For example, if you expect appreciation, get so busy appreciating others that you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself. It was Zig Ziglar who said, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”
5) Realize that you can’t meet everyone’s expectations. Like a request, an expectation is not an agreement. Realizing this will un-complicate your life. It is absolutely impossible to meet everyone’s expectations of you because it is physically and mentally unattainable for any human being to be all things to all people.
6) Practice gratitude. The antidote to entitlement is gratitude. We all need to look at ourselves when it comes to employee engagement. It’s a shared responsibility. Yes, positional leaders have a responsibility. But so do employees. What you focus on grows. What you appreciate appreciates.
We’re all interested in making our workplaces more productive and successful. Most people believe that success leads to happiness, but the truth is happiness is the precursor to success, not the result. When you are happier, your success rates increase, according to research done by Shawn Achor at Harvard University. Happy sales people outsell their unhappy colleagues. Students who are happy out-perform their unhappy peers. Happy doctors make more accurate diagnoses than unhappy doctors. Happy people are healthier people. The list goes on and on. The best part is that this isn’t just a motivational speech – it’s science. It’s how our brains work. See: http://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/complaining-rewires-your-brain-for-negativity-science-says.html for some fascinating findings.
Here are ten strategies for living a happier life.
- Take 100% responsibility for your own happiness. If you aren’t happy, don’t expect anyone else to make you happy. I have certainly done my share of blaming others and myself for the way I feel. The trap is giving over my power to what other people say, to what other people do, to the circumstances around me – and becoming a victim. A happy or unhappy life is your own creation. If you remember this, you won’t find fault with anybody or anything, including yourself. You are your own best friend, even as you decide to learn to take responsibility for your happiness.
- Decide to be happy. That’s right. Happiness is a choice, a decision. It’s an inside job. You don’t need your external environment or circumstances to be different in order to be happy. I’ve met people who are dealing with cancer or are in the midst of a divorce or financial difficulties, but remain happy. Don’t wait for retirement or a better job or a better house or a better marriage to make you happy. If you aren’t happy now, you won’t be happy in the future. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Happiness comes from within; it is independent of your externals. Happiness is not a destination; it’s method of travel.
- Accept unhappiness as a part of life. Where did we ever get the notion that we should happy all the time? One of life’s purposes is to learn and grow, and that won’t happen if life is always easy. “Life is difficult,” wrote Scott Peck. “Once you understand and accept that, then life is no longer difficult.” Learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Otherwise you’ll never grow, much less experience a lot of happiness in your life. Happy people aren’t attached to being happy all the time, just like they aren’t attached to the externals in their life to make them happy. They know happiness will return after the inevitable slumps. Extend some grace to yourself when you are unhappy, and you’ll be kinder to others in the process.
- Have a purpose that inspires you. What inspires you to get up early, to go the extra mile, to learn the extra skills? How can you be happy without a dream, without hope, or a vision beyond your own self-interest and daily to-do lists? Having a sense of purpose beyond your own self-interest and day-to-day chores gives you a reason to be happy. Why do you get out of bed in the morning? If you can’t answer that question – beyond heading for the bathroom – there’s some work to be done. What’s important is not to blame others for your lack of purpose. Even a simple purpose to make the day better for your colleagues or customers can be a good place to start.
- Maintain your self-respect through integrity. Integrity is about living your life in alignment with your values, resulting in the self-respect that sustains happiness. Self-respect emerges from the integrity of keeping promises to yourself and others – being a person that can be counted on. A great way to build self-respect is to hold yourself accountable for consistent disciplines that are aligned with your values. Maintaining consistent habits – such as a regular exercise regime, a consistent spiritual practice, a habit of studying or developing a talent – in the face of the fluctuating demands and emotions of life will help to keep your integrity, and thus your self-respect, in tact. Learning to live a disciplined life – choosing character over comfort – fuels self-respect and subsequent happiness.
- Don’t use unhappiness as a motivator. Our society is heavily conditioned not to change until we are unhappy enough. We frighten ourselves out of smoking cigarettes using threats of emphysema and lung cancer. We yell at our kids hoping that if we cause them enough pain they’ll change. You don’t have to cause suffering to yourself or those around you in order to change. You can make changes in your life even when you are choosing to be happy.
- Practice service. Happy people are givers, people who give for the sake of giving. Bring a servant heart to your life. Look around and you will find all kinds of ways to make the world a better place. Be a builder, not a destroyer. Be a giver, not a taker. Chose service over self-interest. Bring an abundant mind-set to everything you do. Self-centered people who live in a state of entitlement are not happy people. Dr. Menninger, the renowned psychiatrist, was once asked what he would recommend if someone were having a nervous breakdown. He said he would tell them to leave their house, cross the railroad tracks to find someone in need, and help them.
- Act your way into right feelings; don’t feel your way into right actions. Don’t wait for happiness to come to you. Take the right action, and happiness will result. When feeling unhappy, show caring and kindness for someone else. Be cheerful, even if you don’t feel like it. Put in a good days’ work. Take the right action, and the feeling of happiness will follow – eventually.
- Hang out with happy people. If you swim in a cesspool it won’t take long before you stink. Get rid of the complainers, the blamers, and the people who pull you down, and start hanging around people who challenge you, inspire you, and are fun to be with. Happy people care about others so it doesn’t take long to feel a part of the happy crowd.
- Choose gratitude. If you can’t quite get your head around choosing happiness, start with gratitude. Don’t wait for gratitude in order to be happy. Be grateful now. You can always find a reason to be grateful. Remember the old saying, “I used to complain I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet!”
Happiness is like a muscle that, for most of us, could use some developing. You can train your brain to be happy just as you can train any muscle to perform a challenging task. It starts with a simple decision that you are going to practice happiness, even when you might feel sorry for yourself. For some of us, this training comes more easily than for others. But stick with it. There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.