"Remember, happiness doesn't depend on who you are or what you have; it depends solely on what you think." ~Dale Carnegie
Even though Carnegie wrote those words about a 100 years ago, they still ring true today. Your happiness ... and dare I say, your success ... depends almost entirely on what you think. Indeed, I've worked with happier people living on the streets of Los Angeles and living in the refugee camps of Thailand than some of my acquaintances who live in mansions in Naples or Palm Springs.
As study after study continues to confirm, there is very little connection between the things you have and the happiness you experience. Happiness is an attitude or "head thing," not a "possession thing." That being the case, HOW can you think better, stronger, healthier, more positive, more success-producing thoughts?
1. Become a persevering optimist rather than a deadline optimist.
It's easy to be optimistic ... if things are going your way. And it's easy to be optimistic ... just as long as things are happening on your timetable.
But that's not good enough when your business continues to scrape along or your marriage seems to be on its last breath. You've got to find a way to stay optimistic IN SPITE OF the tough times at work or at home. You've got to be a persevering optimist, who keeps on keeping on, instead of the deadline optimist, who only hangs on for a given amount of time.
In his classic book, "Good To Great," Jim Collings called it "The Stockdale Paradox," a phenomenon named after Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was the highest ranking US military officer in the "Hanoi Hilton" prisoner-of-war camp during the height of the Vietnam War. Tortured over 20 times during his eight-year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973, Stockdale lived out the war without any prisoner's rights, no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again. He shouldered the burden of command, doing everything he could to create conditions that would increase the number of prisoners who would survive unbroken, while fighting an internal war against his captors and their attempts to use the prisoners for propaganda.
So how did he survive this hell on earth. Stockdale said, "I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted, not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end."
Of course, some of POWs did not get out. They did not prevail. When asked who didn't make it out, Stockdale replied, "Oh, that's easy. The optimists."
Of course most of us would be puzzled by that answer ... as Jim Collins was. So he asked the Admiral to elaborate. Stockdale said, "The optimists. They were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart."
After a long pause, the very insightful Admiral added, "This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end ...which you can never afford to lose ...with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."
Stockdale finished with a piece of advice we all need to grasp ... if we're going to be persevering optimists instead of pie-in-the-sky, happy-face optimists. As Stockdale told his men, "We're not getting out by Christmas; deal with it!"
Your business may not turn around tomorrow. And the same may be true of many other situations in your life. But keep the faith ... that you will prevail in the end. Deal with it.
Another strategy to improve your positive thinking processes ...
2. Go on a "good" hunt.
Back in the 1900's, William Feather wrote "Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn't stop to enjoy it."
He was right. So take some time to look for the "good" in you and all around you. It will focus your thoughts on more of the positive things in life.
You could, for example, start a success journal. Each night before you go to bed, write down the one best thing about your day ... that great conversation, that accomplishment, or that win you are most proud of. Record your wins, breakthroughs, and the things you appreciate about yourself. Focus on your success, and you'll look forward to creating more success tomorrow.
You could notice the "good" things happening around you. Take a moment to savor them. Soak up the happiness you see. Take the "good" experience in and feel it ... really feel it ... rather than make a quick, hasty observation and move on.
You could also find the "good" funny things that pop up in your world. There's nothing better than a big laugh or even a little chuckle to turn your thoughts to the positive. That's why I go to card shops to read the humorous cards or go to flea markets to read the funny bumper strips that various vendors offer. I buy a few, but I also take a note pad along so I can write them down and think about them in the future. On a recent "hunt," I came across these. They made me laugh. Maybe they'll do the same for you...
Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine. So open your eyes. Go on a "good" hunt. Find "good" things to feed your mind and you will be thinking more positive thoughts. And finally, for today's purposes ...
3. Praise others.
Of course it's tough out there. It has been for a few years and may be that way for a while. And tough times are an especially fertile ground for the growth of negativity in your organization or the people around you.
That's a cause for concern ... because negativity ... or your attitude ... will defeat you faster than the economy, the competition or anything else.
So you've got to be especially careful of hanging around negative people. Their negativity can and will rub off on you ... unless your mind is filled with the positive. You've got to be careful of conversing too much with colleagues who say such things as, "I've just got 7 more years, 2 months, 3 weeks, and 4 days, and I'm out of here."
You've got to be careful of getting too close to employees who simply "get by" and do work that's merely "good enough." Again, their negativity can and will rub off on you if you're not constantly feeding your mind a steady diet of positive input.
And if you personally are getting more than your share of attacks, you might follow comedian George Burns' advice. He said, "When you think you're right, stick to your guns, no matter how much opposition you have to put up with. As Gracie said on one of her shows, 'They all laughed at Joan of Arc, but she didn't care. She went right ahead and built it'."
Of course, there are times you simply cannot avoid the negative people or the negative attacks. You have to work together. That's just the way it is. You have to work with some people who have already retired; they just haven't told the personnel department yet.
BUT, there's one thing you can do to turn that around ... or at least minimize the damage to your own positive thought process. You can get in the habit of praising others more often. Instead of complaining about what others are doing wrong, start focusing on what they are doing right. Praise them more often ... sincerely, honestly, genuinely ... and their negative behavior will recede. Praise them more often and your colleagues will exhibit better behavior, and they'll even be less critical of you. They'll be more focused on creating success than havoc.
In a time when companies can no longer guarantee lifetime job security, when pay raises are becoming less likely, and when promotion are coming less often, the old, traditional "motivators" of money and security are somewhat gone. That's why praise is more important than ever.
But you don't have to be working or living in a tough negative situation to find benefit in this third strategy of "praising others." It can help others and reinforce your own positive mind set even in the best of situations. I learned that lesson on Thanksgiving day.
After I finished the meal with our friends and family, I couldn't get Carl off my mind. Carl is the guard at the gate of my gated community where I sometimes live, and no matter what is going in the world, Carl couldn't be nicer. He's always got a smile, a good word, and a hearty welcome for everyone he encounters. And I knew Carl was working the gate on Thanksgiving rather than be at home with his family.
I just felt I had to reach out to Carl and praise him. So I excused myself from our Thanksgiving festivities, got in the car, drove the 4 miles to the gate, and waited for Carl to come out. He greeted me with his normal enthusiasm, but I said, "Carl, now it's my turn. This is Thanksgiving Day and I wanted to thank you for warmth and kindness every time I see you. You always make my day better. Thanks for your dedication to the job and your caring for the community. I really appreciate it."
Carl teared up a bit, thanked me for my comments, and mentioned how much he liked his job and serving people. That's was it. I don't know the impact it had on Carl, even though I meant every word of it, but I know it added a huge amount to my Thanksgiving Day. My taking the time to praise someone else had impacted my own attitude for the better.
In closing, if you want more success, it starts with thinking more positive thoughts. And here are three ways you can do exactly that.
Go out of your way to praise others this week that you normally don't praise. Give them sincere appreciation ... for their good as well as your own.
Read more articles by Alan Zimmerman at the Counterpoint Article Library.