(By Maryling Yu)
“But there has to be SOMETHING you’re grateful for, even if it’s small, even if it’s ridiculous. There was a time in my life when I was losing my business, taking on all of its debts, and feeling tremendously guilty and ashamed for putting my employees out of jobs. I was sitting in my car bawling when suddenly I noticed I was wallowing in self-pity. I didn’t want to continue feeling that debilitatingly bad, so I grudgingly started up my mental “gratitude” list…except in that moment, I didn’t feel grateful for much.“
What do you think is the most important skill in life? I recently asked my co-workers this question, and I heard:
“The ability to focus.”
“Inspiring others to greatness.”
These are wonderful skills, but I don’t think they are paramount. For me, the most important skill in life is mastering how to get happy and stay happy. Another way of saying it is, mastering our emotions.
What’s so important about mastering our emotions?
When you have mastered your emotions, you can pick and choose how you feel at any given point in time, no matter what else is happening around you. You can choose to be happy, even when “Rome is burning” behind you.
And when you are happy, you can do all those other things that people mentioned, i.e., focus, communicate, lead others to greatness. You are free to do your best and most inspired work.
Getting happy and staying happy is about taking responsibility for your feelings. It’s about mastering your emotions, and ultimately, yourself.
The saying, “Own your own actions and set yourself free,” has had a profound impact on my life. Except that it’s not enough to own your own actions: you also have to own your own feelings in order to have true personal freedom.
One of the reasons it’s so hard to get happy and stay happy is that we allow others to “own” our emotions. How many times have you heard: “He made me so mad when he [insert offensive action],” or “She really pissed me off in that meeting!”
When you say, “So-and-so made me mad,” you’re saying that power lies with the other person. They made you mad. They have the power to control your feelings.
But actually, they didn’t and they don’t. You chose to get mad. You chose to stay mad. You chose to hold yourself apart from happiness.
We have to take responsibility not only for our actions, but also for our emotions. Many people go through life like Pavlov’s dogs, triggered to emotional responses by events that are “outside of their control.” If we operate unconsciously based upon our triggers, we’ll go through life feeling like a victim, a pinball bouncing back and forth between “external forces.”
“I got promoted, yay, I’m happy.”
“That jerk Mark threw me under the bus at work, I’m mad.”
I did that for many years, until a mentor asked me, “When are you going to finally make the connection between you and all your problems? They all start with YOU.”
The path to self-mastery and happiness starts with accepting responsibility for your feelings and taking back the power you have inappropriately given to other people or life events.
How do we get happy and stay happy? How do we master our emotions?
Like all skills, mastering emotions takes practice. I started by paying attention to my every thought and feeling. You can’t know if you’re losing control of your feelings if you don’t know how you’re feeling at any given moment. Staying present is the key.
When you’re present to your feelings, you can always ask yourself, “Do I want to continue feeling the way I’m feeling right now?”
If the answer is “no,” then the next step is to choose how you want to feel. Your feelings are controlled almost 100% by your thoughts (in case it’s not obvious, I’m excluding people with clinical depression), so if you’re unhappy, it is most likely because you’ve been thinking negative thoughts. If you’re going around thinking, “I’m a failure, my boss sucks, I’m underpaid, no one loves me, people are toxic, my life is hell,” then you are most likely feeling crappy.
To break the cycle of negativity, choose to change your thoughts.
There is literally a smorgasbord of thoughts from which we can pick and choose to fill our mental plate at any given moment. What works for me is to practice an attitude of gratitude, because gratitude and happiness are powerfully linked. This isn’t just my opinion – a tremendous amount of research supports the conclusion that your happiness and well-being are deeply intertwined with how thankful you are.
Sometimes you’re not feeling particularly grateful. I’ve been there. But there has to be SOMETHING you’re grateful for, even if it’s small, even if it’s ridiculous. There was a time in my life when I was losing my business, taking on all of its debts, and feeling tremendously guilty and ashamed for putting my employees out of jobs. I was sitting in my car bawling when suddenly I noticed I was wallowing in self-pity.
I didn’t want to continue feeling that debilitatingly bad, so I grudgingly started up my mental “gratitude” list…except in that moment, I didn’t feel grateful for much. The only thing that came to mind was, “I have clean socks on.” Ridiculous, I know. But that thought led to gratitude for my husband (who had washed my socks), gratitude for my impending motherhood (I was eight months pregnant), and eventually, gratitude for all the lessons I had learned as the proprietor of a failed business. I was able to pull myself together to a place of peace – if not outright happiness – and move forward with closing down shop.
No, as of today, I have not yet completely mastered my every emotion. I cannot claim to always be in a state of happiness. I’ve still got much work to do. Mastering the emotions requires constant integration and constant practice, and for those who choose to pursue this most important skill in life, our work is not done until our last breath.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”