Learning to be
Happy from The Inside Out
have it backwards in our society. We think that success is going to be
the key to our happiness but actually, happiness is the key to success.
Marci Shimoff is a bestselling author and transformational leader. She is the coauthor of six of the top-selling titles of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, as well as a featured teacher in The Secret. Over the past 25 years, Marci has inspired millions of people around the world, sharing her breakthrough methods for personal fullfillment and professional success. She lives in Marin County, California.
The Share Guide: Marci, in your latest book Happy For No Reason, you say that changing the way we think is one of the keys to being happy. Why?
Marci Shimoff: Research shows that we have about 60,000 thoughts a day, and about 80% of them are weighted towards the negative. We get a lot of negative messages growing up and we create negative pathways in the brain. These neuropathways are just like tracks in the snow. You just keep going down the same tracks--unless you develop new tracks and a lot more positive neuropathways.
The Share Guide: You're saying that if you work on it regularly, you can actually build a new pattern?
Marci Shimoff: Exactly! This is why I have a problem with the idea that you can just choose to be happy. You can't just choose to wake up tomorrow morning and be happy, because it's a physiological state that needs to be developed.What you can do is choose to start changing your thought patterns, and you will raise your happiness set-point over time. Research has shown that you can make some very dramatic changes pretty quickly.
The Share Guide: What is a happiness set-point?
Marci Shimoff: Out of all the research that I did on happiness for this book, I think the idea of the happiness set-point was the most powerful discovery. We all have a basic happiness set-point and it's really the key to our happiness level. Approximately 50% of our happiness set-point is genetic and the other 50% is learned. So half of the reason you walk around either generally cheery or perennially dreary is that you were born that way. The other half is determined by your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs formed in response to your life experiences. Interestingly, only about 10% of our happiness set-point is based on such things as our level of wealth, marital status, job, etc. That other 40% is really the part that we can do the most to change. In the same way that you'd crank up the thermostat to get comfortable on a chilly day, you actually have the power to reprogram your happiness set-point to a higher level of peace and well-being.
The Share Guide: Is being happy for no reason actually a distinct and measurable physiological state?
Marci Shimoff: Yes! Being happy for no reason is a specific, measurable physiological state characterized by distinct brain activity, heart rhythms, and body chemistry. People who are happy for no reason tend to have greater activity in the left prefrontal cortex, orderly heart wave patterns, and specific neurotransmitters associated with well-being such as serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins.
The Share Guide: Would you say that one of the problems is that people tie their happiness to the external world? With the economy the way it is, that's pretty dangerous.
Marci Shimoff: Yes, that's what's happening. Never before has this information been more needed. What's been shown is that people who are happier are more resilient. When you're happier, you are actually able to draw better things to you based on the Law of Attraction.
The Share Guide: So you need to learn how to find that good feeling within yourself and not have it tied specifically to your "wallet chakra."
Marci Shimoff: That's right. We have it backwards in our society. We think that success is going to be the key to our happiness but actually, happiness is the key to success.
The Share Guide: Would you say Americans typically are more unhappy than other cultures?
Marci Shimoff: There is research that shows that out of about 169 countries, America is number 23. So we are not the worst, but we are certainly not the best either. Depression is definitely more of an epidemic amongst women. One out of five women in America is on antidepressants.
The Share Guide: If America is number 23, then happiness is not really tied to material success is it?
Marci Shimoff: No. What's been found is that once you're above the poverty line, no amount of money will make you more happy. I think that's a big myth that we have in our culture--the "myth of more," as in the more I have, the happier I'll be. It's simply not the case. I think what's happening now with this recession is that it's really recalibrating things. We are having to recognize that this need for more is insatiable and it will never bring us what we really want. I have spent a lot of time in third world countries and it's very clear that people that have a lot less often have more sparkle in their eyes and a greater sense of joy in their hearts. So it becomes very clear that happiness is definitely coming from inside. Now, that's not to say that I don't believe in being comfortable and having nice things. I'm all for that! It's just that when we base our happiness on that, we will always come up short.
The Share Guide: Striving too much for the materialistic stuff takes up so much of our time and creates a lot of stress, not to mention credit card debt!
Marci Shimoff: Yes, it mixes up our priorities. We think that as soon as we make enough money or buy enough of the right things or live in the right house, then we will be happy. So we forgo enjoying the moment, we forgo taking care of ourselves, and we forgo putting time and attention into our relationships in order to keep chasing after this one thing that we think will bring us happiness. And it certainly adds to our stress level as well.
The Share Guide: This goes along with what you write in your book, about the problem of thinking "I'll be happy when…"
Marci Shimoff: Yes, this is one of the myths that block our happiness. It's very common in our culture and you can fill it in however you like, such as I'll be happy when I get a better job and make more money, I'll be happy when I have a better spouse, I'll be happy when I lose twenty pounds. Any thoughts of "I'll be happy when" are postponing your happiness for a future event that may or may not happen. Perhaps this thing would bring you some short-term level of happiness, but it will not bring you the long-term lasting happiness that you really, really want. What I have found is that people who are the happiest have more balance. They have their priorities straight. They know what really matters in their life and they appreciate what they have.
The Share Guide: You interviewed a lot of people about happiness for this book, didn't you?
Marci Shimoff: Yes, I interviewed 100 people who were happy for no reason, and one of the guiding principles I found amongst all of them (I call them my Happy One Hundred) is that they all believe that we live in a friendly universe. It's the opposite of what my mentor Jack Canfield would call a "universe paranoid" who thinks that the world is out to get them. If you believe that the universe is there to support you, then even if things are happening that may not be what you want, you will ultimately think they are happening for a positive reason. So I tell people that when they are dealing with challenging situations, instead of feeling like a victim, ask yourself this question: If this were happening for a higher purpose, what would that purpose be? In other words, if this really were a friendly, benevolent, loving universe, what would be the great gift in what's happening to me right now?
The Share Guide: So you think this is a key principle in being happy for no reason?
Marci Shimoff: Yes. Here's the question that Einstein said was the most important question people can ask themselves: Is this a friendly universe? When you approach life that way, then you bring a different attitude to everything. You don't feel like a victim; you look for the lesson or gift in everything. The difference is night and day--especially in trying times because that's when people feel hopeless. For instance, if someone loses their job, they could either look at it like: Oh my God, this is terrible. Why did this happen to me? Or they could think: I can't see right now what the good in this is, but I believe that there is one and I will look for that. Gratitude is the fast track to happiness. The old expression that "where your attention goes, your energy flows" is really true.
The Share Guide: How much does complaining and placing blame contribute to staying unhappy?
Marci Shimoff: The foundation of creating more happiness in your life is taking responsibility, and recognizing that you are the owner of your life. So when you find yourself caught up in blaming or justifying, making excuses or complaining, all victim behaviors, it's really important to shift to what I call the victor stance rather than a victim. That may not mean you are happy about what's happening, but you take responsibility for your ability to make changes.
The Share Guide: So instead of complaining about someone you need to learn how to forgive them?
Marci Shimoff: Certainly forgiveness is a key element to our own happiness. It's been said that hanging on to anger or resentment is like taking poison and expecting it to kill the other person. It's you that's affected! There is a lot of research on the importance of forgiveness and the ability to let go. One of the confusing things for people is that they think forgiveness means condoning and it doesn't. You don't have to approve of what happened. It just means that you have come to peace about it and that you are able to move on.
The Share Guide: How big of a problem is stress in relation to happiness?
Marci Shimoff: Stress is a big happiness robber! Research shows that up to 90% of all diseases are stress related. Stress creates biochemistry that is antithetical to happiness. So one of the ways to increase our happiness is to lower our stress level and create more endorphins and serotonin in the brain. Happiness is related to a biochemical state, as I said before.
The Share Guide: Drug and alcohol addiction are a huge problem in this country. How much of a factor do you think this is in our collective unhappiness?
Marci Shimoff: Definitely a huge factor. In the book I talk about a continuum of happiness, which has four stages. One stage, to the far extreme is depression. Next there is happy for bad reasons. That's where we are unhappy so we turn to various drugs or other bad habits that we use to try fill in the void and give us a temporary happiness--but it's not real and it ends up actually draining us. Addictions are really just a cover up or a mask to try to numb our feelings of unhappiness. Then there is happy for good reason. By this I mean you are happy specifically because you have a good job, you have a nice family, you enjoy good health, or whatever. There is nothing wrong with being happy for good reason, it's just not the real lasting happiness that we are looking for, which is happy for no reason. But there is no way that you can get from addiction to being happy for no reason without healing the addiction.
The Share Guide: Isn't it true that if you work on something for 21 days consistently, that's enough to develop a new habit? It doesn't mean you stop in 21 days, but apparently that's enough to begin to nudge you in the right direction.
Marci Shimoff: Yes, that's right. But it can be different for different people and for different habits. Part of it depends upon how long you've been doing the bad habit you are trying to change. I have people tell me that within a few days of starting these new habits that they are feeling better. And then it becomes self-perpetuating. When you feel better, it's easier to do more of them. The feedback I'm getting from people all over the world is that within a few weeks they are really starting to notice a big shift.
The Share Guide: How did you find your Happy One Hundred that you researched for the book?
Marci Shimoff: It was not easy to find a hundred unconditionally happy people. I asked everybody: who is the happiest person you know? Inevitably, their answer would be something like: Oh, John, he's the happiest person I know. But then it turned out that John was just the wealthiest person they knew, and then they would stop for a moment and think about it and they would say, actually John really isn't very happy. He's really kind of miserable. He has a bad marriage and he drinks too much. So, the first answer was based on who is the most successful person and upon reflection, people realized, oh, that's definitely not the happiest person.
Many, many people had a hard time coming up with anyone who they could say was happy for no reason. But after a few years of doing this research I finally met 100 unconditionally happy people. There were certain criterion that I had: did they have a sense of lightness of buoyancy, of energy? Did they live fully in the moment? Also, they needed to have other people around them who would say, oh yeah, this person really is happy for no reason. A sense of service, that was an interesting one that I found to be important as well.
The Share Guide: Just beginning to study the subject moves you in the right direction, makes you happier, doesn't it?
Marci Shimoff: Yes, but following these principles doesn't mean that you are going to be rah, rah, happy all the time. This is not some Pollyanna space of denial! People who are happy for no reason still experience times of being sad, of being angry, of being frustrated--but no matter what's going on, they carry with them an inner backdrop of peace and well-being throughout all the circumstances so they are more resilient. I think you are raising your energetic frequency and vibration level.
The Share Guide: You offer a number of great techniques in the book for retraining our ways of thinking and for letting go of the negative feelings. What is the one technique you would say is the most powerful?
Marci Shimoff: The one that is right for you. Each person resonates differently with the various techniques and that's why I offer them all. And some will work best for you today, and then a year from now you will need different ones. If you go to a buffet, not everyone is going to pick the same food. So I've offered a buffet on all of the best on happiness and you pick what works for you. People often ask me, is wanting to be happy selfish? The answer is no! Wanting to be happy is the most selfless thing you could possibly do because when you are happy you are affecting the whole world. The only way we are going to have a world that functions from a place of peace and joy and love is if each one of us is feeling more peace, joy and love in our own lives. This is especially important now, when the world is in such dire need of transformation.
There is a beautiful Chinese proverb that says: when there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person. When there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house. When there is harmony in the house, there will be order in the nation. When there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.
Learn more from Marci Shimoff about being Happy for No Reason at www.HappyForNoReason.com. Buy the book online and receive additional gifts and bonus recordings from over 150 top authors, including Jack Canfield, John Gray, Marianne Williamson, and Deepak Chopra.
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Lynne McTaggart on the power of intention
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Daniel Goleman, Ph.D. on emotions and your health
Wayne Dyer, Ph.D. on meditation and spirituality
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