The one thing that connects every single human being on the planet is the impulse to search for happiness. In this, we are all together.

This may be a great starting point for tackling all the hard divisions between us! Let’s dig into this!

While we are all running around trying to be happy, it turns out that we may be searching in the wrong places!

Today at Ever Widening Circles, we are going to introduce you to a thought-leader who will take us on a little journey of logic. If you follow his train of thought carefully, you will find the door to a happier life, no matter your circumstances.

But it’s up to us to use the key he is pointing to!

It’s Christmas day for people around the world who celebrate this holiday. Some celebrate the religious origins of Christmas, others take it as an opportunity to exchange gifts with loved ones and important people in their lives.

See if David Steindl-Rast has a gift for you!

(I have watched this TED Talk half a dozen times and I always hear something that feels new, given my latest challenges.)

Via: TED 1

So if we’ve followed Brother David’s logic, here’s the key:

We can’t always be happy. But we can be grateful for something in every given moment.

Think back to a recent upset, when things didn’t go your way. (I’m thinking of a moment when a relative did something that seemed crushingly insensitive and I responded in kind.)

Now in that moment, could you or I have stopped, looked, and then only gone forward after finding an opportunity in an unhappy moment?

Image: Girl in a hole with legs sticking up

Source: Dr. Lynda

If I’m honest with myself, I know I could have handled the upset much differently, without making what he did seem right.

I could have paused and been so grateful for all the things he and I do agree wholeheartedly on. That mindset would have made my response so much kinder. I would not have shamed him in front of others and therefore backed him into a corner emotionally.

After he blew it, I blew it too!

When you find yourself spiraling away from happiness, here’s a great touchstone phrase I love, but forgot that day:

“When things go wrong, don’t go with them.”  – Elvis Presley

So, gratitude appears to be the thing to nurture, rather than chasing happiness.

Try it today or tomorrow, as you may be struggling with family complexities or relationship troubles around the holidays.

How can Gratitude change our world?

I loved Brother David’s take on the fact that we can banish some of our fears with gratitude. That’s so true!

Yet if we look at almost every headline in the newspapers or story on the news networks, people are acting out of fear while the news media does what it can to amplify all that. But what if in every one of those stories, some key person had stopped to consider gratitude?

Think of some story of your own where you might have instinctively used this insight: chosen to nurture gratitude instead of your fears.

One pound baby on Chuck's chest

Source: Dr. Lynda

Here’s a little story of mine:

20 years ago I had a one pound baby in the intensive care unit and she was on the brink of death for many weeks. Of course fear was constantly waiting to steal every moment of joy I had. But I learned to push fear aside by sitting there thinking about all that I had to be grateful for in that very moment.

I had a wonderful husband and a bright little 4-year-old daughter at home. We had stumbled into a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) that believed in letting mothers and fathers hold these tiny micro-premies against the bare skin of their chests for hours. (That was magical.) I was so grateful for these amazing nurses who poured themselves into every second of their work. And the list would continue.

After I would go through my gratitude parade (that’s what I called my many mental images), I had almost no room for fear at all. Gratitude took up so much space in my way of thinking, that I could handle almost anything through the daily ups and downs of the intensive care unit.

Brother David said,

“If you are fearful, you will act out of a mindset of scarcity.  You will act as if something is about to be taken away from you all the time.

But if you are grateful, you are a lot less fearful.”

If we are less fearful, we are naturally happier!

And oddly enough, we did make it through that nightmarish NICU experience being happy. In fact, that tiny newborn grew up perfectly healthy and is a college student today.

What about the wider world, outside our own dramas?

After 2 years of work here at EWC, paying attention to the best innovations in our world, I can tell you unequivocally,

Image: Girl with Huge piece of cake

Source: Dr. Lynda

I’m a lot less fearful and a lot more grateful.

Most importantly, I am quite certain the future of our world will be in the hands of the people who are not fearful. They will be the ordinary people like us, and the innovators, who roll up their sleeves and start problem-solving in their homes and communities, by considering what there is to be grateful for.

Grateful people and leaders are happy for everyone’s well-being.

That is the mindset has moved mountains through all of human history.

What about the people we find difficult? Can we be grateful in their presence?

Here’s my take on that:

Whenever a friend or relative disappoints me, using Brother David’s logic, I now stop and look carefully at the situation. Almost 100% of the time, the person making me crazy is chasing their happiness in a direction I don’t understand at all.

In our efforts to be happy, we will all imagine happiness differently, and that explains a lot.

ewc-go-to-pics-upload-sized Liesl and Louisa

Source: Dr. Lynda

Just think about someone you know very well, but don’t understand. Maybe the disconnect is that you do not appreciate the things that bring them happiness. I’m thinking of a few people like that, and if I’m fair about it, that’s exactly what repels me.

Often it seems like the happiness that others seek is petty, totally misguided, or unworthy of their suffering. But of course, they might say the same of our aspirations!

So, there you have it! If we make any of the problems we face about seeking our personal definition of happiness, we are doomed to fail.

To that point, I loved Brother David’s remark about the abundance of opportunity:

“Opportunity is the gift within every moment. If you missed the opportunity in this moment, there is opportunity in the next moment.”

So here’s Brother David’s game plan…

Stop, Look and Go.

Sounds too simple doesn’t it?

But how often do we actually stop!? Can we stop?

I suspect that the vast majority of our challenges are made much bigger by our tendency to follow our impulses blindly. Usually, the higher our initial emotions, the more radical our responses, and we totally miss the next step that Brother David recommends:  to look.

We almost never see the opportunity in a bad situation because we are just running on impulse.

Image: Stages of Metamorphosis of a butterfly

Source: Dr. Lynda

I’ve developed an early warning system of my own in order to stop, look and go. Somehow, when I’m about to have an impulsive reaction to something bad, my ears get hot and feel a bit stuffy. Now that I realize that, I notice it early and start being mindful of my emotions.

We’ll leave it up to your own imagination, but do come up with some way to make yourself stop.

Then look around. Can you see an opportunity in front of you? Maybe it’s something for yourself, but maybe it is simply the chance to make someone else feel better!

Once you see your opportunity, then Brother David says, “Go!” Do something, almost anything, to just start things moving in a positive direction of some kind!

I’ve found that when I’m particularly low, if I do something quickly and unexpectedly nice for someone else – even something small – it’s always a gift to myself too. I just walk a little taller and I can walk away from the downward spiral!

Thanks for stopping by Ever Widening Circles. We’ll keep bringing you innovative and insightful web content. You keep being optimistic!

Stay open and curious.

~ Dr. Lynda

Want to see some innovations to celebrate?

Scroll to the bottom of this page for a few more articles with this train of thought!

Or to switch to something completely new and inspiring, head to our homepage to scroll down through the scope of our work here. As you may know Ever Widening Circles is changing the negative dialogue about our world. Join us!

Notes:

  1. Steindl-Rast, David. “Want to Be Happy? Be Grateful | David Steindl-Rast.” YouTube. TED, 27 Nov. 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtBsl3j0YRQ>.

Dr. Lynda is a dentist, artist, global traveler, and philanthropist who looks for potential and shares it with the world.