The talks of each of the three presenters during the Chautauqua were fundamentally based on the research in Positive Psychology.
Cheryl Reed based her presentation largely on the work of Marci Shimoff*, Sonja Lyubomirsky**, and the Sedona Method.
"Our experience of happiness can be broken down into three areas." Cheryl illustrated with a pie chart. "Fifty percent of our ability to be happy is based on genetics, our fundamental make-up. Ten percent is governed by external events—whether we have enough food, adequate shelter, clothing, money, a job and so on. However, forty percent is entirely within our own hands. It is governed by our interior world—our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Even just tweaking this forty percent slightly can make an enormous difference in the level of happiness we experience."
At the end of Cheryl’s talk, I had an epiphany: There is a much greater chance of being happy if happiness is something you choose rather than something you want.
If you say that happiness is something you want that pushes it out into the future—as a state that might happen when something else happens. If you say “I’ve decided to be happy”, that brings it into the present moment as something that’s already here. Most of our perceived happiness/unhappiness comes, not from external events, but from the thoughts we make up about the events. Simply thinking something it doesn’t make it true! This resonated with me. For the last while, I have battled chronic anxiety. Suddenly I realized that the anxiety I felt was fueled solely by what I was thinking, and that my thoughts had no bearing on the real, physical world around me.
It was time to let go of a thought.
I clenched my hand until I could feel my nails digging into the flesh of my palm.
“We tend to mis-identify our thoughts deeming them to be part of who we are, an integral part of us, rather than just a passing notion. Now, open your hand,” she instructed. “Roll the twig around. See, it’s not a part of you. It’s just a thought. Drop it.”
We all obliged. Hmm, I thought, I wish it were that easy …
We then went through the simple identification exercise and the four questions posed by the Sedona Method.
By Question two, I knew that I was ready and willing to let the thought “Something bad is going to happen,” go. I carefully wrote it on my leaf, then stood and tossed in into the foaming river. It took a minute or two for the leaf to get swept up in the current (sometimes letting go of a negative thought takes a bit of effort apparently) and then, with great satisfaction, I watched the current sweep it away.
*A sample of Marci Shimoff’s book, Happy for No Reason is available here, and a complimentary workbook to determine your current level of happiness, and exercises to improve it, is available here.
**Watch an excellent movie, Happiness 101 with Tal Ben-Shahar, here.