This is a word I often throw around without really knowing what it means:
I have a happy marriage check
I am happy in the presence of our children and grandchildren check
I am happy when I walk out of my house into hot sunshine check (especially early in the morning)
These things make me feel good in a way I find difficult to describe. I do, however, know how unsettling it is when the feeling is missing. I have read many commentators who emphasize that the Bible does not promise happiness. I actually think that is okay because it is something I can’t define. What the Bible has promised is:
“Exceeding abundance beyond all I can ask or imagine” – so much more than that happy word I have trouble defining. And I am discovering that the only thing standing in the way of that exceeding abundance is me, and more specifically, my thoughts. Sometimes I allow them to hijack that abundance (to use my beloved husband’s language). So I am on a bit of a process of discovering how and when I sabotage that great feeling and how to go about stopping that self-sabotage in its tracks. I am mindfully practicing what my husband, Ryan, calls Mind-Shifting. In his most recent e-newsletter, which you can sign up for here: http://www.ryanwalter.com/component/content/article/124
Ryan said, “I believe that this MIND-SHIFTING skill of saying “yes” to some thoughts and “no” to others is the critical difference between those who achieve long-term fulfillment/high-performance and those who fail to reach their potential.”
On July 29th, Craig Ballantyne quoted Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, who believes that the following four factors constitute the basis of happiness:
1. Happiness requires that you have perceived control over your life.
2. Happiness requires that you feel progress is being made.
3. Happiness requires that you relate to and feel supportively connected to other people.
4. Happiness requires that you have a vision/meaning (are part of something bigger).
I have observed that I become supremely unsettled when I believe things are beyond my control. I hated the thought, when our oldest son Ben started kindergarten, for example, that the school schedule would now control our lives for the next 13 years (much longer, as it turned out, until our 5th child graduated from high school).
At the time the Montreal Canadiens’ schedule already controlled our life. I had learned early, as a hockey newlywed, to accept that. It was actually a fun, kind of quirky way to live. Our life revolved around pre-game meals at noon, non-weekends, and late-night airport pick-ups at the end of road trips. And the best part of all was the summers whose only official commitments involved training and charity baseball games and golf tournaments. Perhaps because I knew we were otherwise free from the last playoff game to the start of the following training camp, in the words of Tony Hsieh, I still perceived sufficient control over my life. Or maybe it was, as I have since learned, that I really value freedom and spontaneity, and my dream lifestyle is one that is 100% determined by my husband and me. Either way, the thought of merging this new school schedule into our unusual hockey life, removing yet more freedom, truly made my heart sink. I adjusted, of course, and was excited for Ben, but the entire time our children attended school, including university, no one was happier than me when those summer holidays hit.
Fast forward to now. I still have a tendency to feel resentful of my husband’s outside work schedule. Resentful thinking is negative which robs me of abundant fulfillment (aka happiness). Mind-shift: I can actually pour that thought energy into creating a dream schedule of my own. I know exactly which days Ryan, as President of the Abbotsford Heat, is required to be in his Heat office – approximately 237 week days, plus various weekend game days (we will know as soon as the schedule comes out this month) plus various weekend days when he is required to be at community events (impossible to determine as they continually evolve, but potentially 104 per year). There is also the potential for him to be required to attend community events 237 weekday evenings per year, and he will always be at his office and the arena 38 weekday or weekend evenings per year, at Heat home games. I have chosen to be present at those 38 games also, but that still leaves me anywhere from 237 to 341 days and many evenings to fill with my dream schedule. Whew!
Much of that time requires me to be in our home office, but many of the accounting, marketing, writing, and editing tasks I perform for Heads-Up Communications Corp, our speaking and training business, can be conducted from anywhere. What if I were to venture out for more of those 237 to 341 days? I could find inspiring environments to write in, embrace free networking opportunities which could build our business, continue my passion for acting, even discover a winery-partner to help transform our southwest slope into a vineyard, all the while protecting what matters most in the world to me – time with my family. It is still up to me to preserve what remains of those 341 evenings (with our organic, not always easy to plan in advance schedule) for walks together and dinners around the family table, visits with our children and grandchildren, intimate moments for just us, the things I value most in all the world. This fulfills Hsieh’s third requirement for happiness and one that I know innately and inside-out, the one that God declared early on in Genesis 2:19: “It is not good for man to be alone.” If we are female and choose to marry, the rest of this verse spells out my number one purpose: “I will make a companion for him, a helper suited to his needs.”
With one simple mind-shift, suddenly, I am in control, rather than feeling overwhelming despair that I have surrendered all control. Ryan is wonderful about consulting me first before committing to most events which take him away from our weekends and evenings, wherever possible. We control as much as possible together, I take charge and control what remains in my realm, but always, God is ultimately in control. This might be where Tony Hsieh’s fourth happiness factor, actually trumps his first. I am part of something bigger – I am a child of the Father and He is clearly in charge of everything.
When I choose to change my thought process from feeling like a victim to perceiving that I have a great degree of control to craft the life I desire, when I truly believe that I am making progress toward the fulfillment of the goals and dreams I share with my soul-mate, when I feel connected to the people I love, especially my husband, children, and grandchildren, and when I am hungry for more of the vision, mission, and grace God has generously gifted to us, I am only just beginning to “give glory to God who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of – infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes.” Ephesians 3:20, The Living Bible.