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Set Your Independent Happiness Baseline

This can be a hard one. In these times of social media and daily one-upping inspired postings, we can find ourselves relying on external measures to determine how we feel. We look outside of our own thoughts and often our own reality for things to fill us up, to bring us joy, and to give us the permission we’re seeking to be genuinely happy. But you know what the problem with that is?

It never works.

We will never get enough approval or enough social media “likes” to give us the true, happy-down-to-our-bones feeling that we’re seeking. Because that feeling cannot possibly come from anywhere or anyone but yourself.

Choosing happiness is something that we have to consciously do every day, and sometimes every minute of every day. I call it a “Happiness Baseline,” or in this case, a specific “Independent Happiness Baseline,” which does not depend on anything or anyone else to achieve. If we can build a foundation of contentment, based solely on knowing our own worth in the world and by consciously focusing on the good around us, then while the hardships and difficult situations that come our way in life will be undoubtedly hard to deal with, they won’t destroy us. If we start with a baseline of positivity and not depending on outer circumstances to control our outlook, then we will ultimately live happier and healthier lives.

For example: I have a friend who regularly works with orphanages in Rwanda. Every time she comes back she shares her admiration and amazement at the attitude of the kids she helps. She talks about how utterly filled with joy they can be, and these are kids who have literally nothing. No parents, no home to call their own, sometimes not even their own beds nor forks to eat with. But when they are outside playing with their friends, or singing together in the evenings, or hugging the volunteers who come to be with them, their happiness is palpable. They are choosing to be happy in spite of their circumstances, and they are consciously making the best of their situation every single day.

Another example: I had a colleague who was determined to not be happy until she reached a vice presidential level in a company. She worked long hours, late into the nights and on weekends, and she finally reached her goal about ten years after I had worked with her. When we would exchange occasional emails she would tell me how happy she was and how fulfilled she was that she had reached her goal. Well, as life would have it, after about 2 years, the company she worked for went under, she was let go, and for the following year that she was unemployed she was devastated. Her entire self-worth and reason for happiness had been taken away from her in an instant and she had nothing else to draw on to bring her any kind of joy. Her Happiness Baseline was completely dependent on work and her title, and once those were gone, she felt as though she had nothing to be happy about at all.

Now of course I am not saying that people shouldn’t work hard and achieve their goals - of course we have to work hard and we can get a tremendous amount of joy from our work and the pure elation that comes from us accomplishing our goals can be phenomenal. But a title that someone else assigns to you, that society deems “impressive” or “equals success” should not be the way we measure or determine our happiness on any given day.

More examples: I had a friend who told me time and again that she could not be happy until she got married and every day that she remained single was another day of disappointment and sadness for her. She had a great job that she loved, wonderful and supportive friends, beautiful nieces and nephews who loved her and whom she doted on gleefully. But this one thing that she deemed was missing from her life cast a dark cloud over everything else and colored her ability to truly be happy in her life. This mindset was because she was raised to believe that unless a woman was married she wasn’t truly fulfilling her mission in life. It was a shame that she couldn’t get past that indoctrination that had been solidified into her brain, impeding any other ideas that tried to get themselves in there.

Speaking of, in my work with women with eating disorders, so many of them repeated over and over the fact that they could not be happy unless they were what qualified to them as “thin.” Until they reached their goal weight or goal size they simply could not find true joy in any aspect of their lives. Their weight and size cast a pall over everything, and one woman even said to me that if she felt she was overweight then “joy was not allowed.” These outer measures - what a scale said or what a tag inside their jeans said - were more important than anything else in their lives. Their relationships, their work, their hobbies - if they were even an ounce over what they had predetermined was an acceptable weight, there was no happiness to be found anywhere.

it sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But for people suffering with these diseases, it makes perfect sense to them.

(The insidious thing about relying on a scale to determine one’s happiness is that eventually the number is never low enough, and if thin is good then thinner is better, but that’s a topic for another time.)

I had a friend who wasn’t going to be happy until she had children. I knew someone who was never going to be happy until she lived in a bigger house. I knew someone who couldn’t be happy until he had reached a certain level of education because his joy allowance was inextricably tied to his family’s expectations of him, despite him not really wanting to pursue the degree and the years of student loan debt he was saddled with afterward.

Again, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pursue our dreams and goals nor should we not enjoy the happiness that comes with them being fulfilled. But I am saying that we have to also enjoy the journey along the way. If we keep waiting for something outside of ourselves to make us happy, then we miss so much happiness in our daily lives while while we’re waiting around or diligently working toward it.

If we have a baseline of happiness that we’re starting from, then if we get the job, we can get happier about it, and if we don’t, we can still move forward with some degree of contentment in our lives. Yes, we can be sad when things don’t work out, but we are able to get over them and not remain mired in misery until the next thing from outside comes along to temporarily lift us up…until the next time we’re brought down by something unfortunate that happens.

The truth about life is, jobs are lost, loved ones leave us, scale numbers fluctuate, and houses fall apart. The only constant in your life is yourself. You have the power to make that constant as happy as it can be every single day, despite what you think others might be saying or thinking about you. When you depend on others to make you happy you will come up short every single time. It has to come from inside of you.

“I am not a product of my circumstances, I am a product of my decisions.” - Stephen Covey

Make the decision to turn off the noise and be true to yourself and what happiness means to you and you alone. Make the choice. Choose happiness.

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