We know that the body has a natural bias toward health and energy. It’s designed to last for 100 years with proper care and maintenance. When something goes wrong with any part of our body, we experience it in the form of pain or discomfort of some kind.
We know that when our body is not functioning smoothly and painlessly, something is wrong, and we take action to correct it. We go to a doctor; we take pills; we undergo physical therapy, massage or chiropractic. We know that if we ignore pain or discomfort for any period of time, it could lead to something more serious.
Every disease or ailment, whether it be cancer, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure or something else, has a series of warning signs. In every case, when we experience an abnormality, we tend to move quickly to do something to get back to normal. Our physical feelings tell us when we’re well, and they also tell us when we’re unwell, and we tend to obey them if we want to live a long, healthy life.
In the same sense, nature also gives us a way to tell what’s right for us and what’s wrong for us in life. Just as nature gives us physical pain to guide us to doing or not doing things in the physical realm, nature gives us emotional pain to guide us toward doing or not doing things in the emotional or mental realm. The wonderful thing is that you’re constructed so that if you simply listen carefully to yourself-to your mind, your body and your emotions-and follow the guidance you’re given, you can dramatically enhance the quality of your life.
Just as the natural physical state is health and vitality, the natural emotional state is peace and happiness. Whenever you experience a deviation from peace and happiness, it’s an indication that something is amiss. Something is wrong with what you’re thinking, doing or saying. You’re an incredibly complex organism, and your feelings of ease and unease, happiness and unhappiness, can be triggered by a myriad of factors. But the bottom line is that your feeling of inner happiness is the best indicator you could ever have to tell you what you should be doing more of and what you should be doing less of.
Unhappiness is to your life as pain is to your body. It’s sent as a messenger to tell you that what you’re doing is wrong for you. There are many reasons why people don’t listen more closely to their feelings and, especially, why many people are reluctant to use their own happiness as the standard by which to judge the events in their lives. I’ve studied this subject for many years, and I think that there are three major myths about happiness that each of us believes to some degree.
The first myth about happiness is that it is not legitimate or correct for you to put your happiness ahead of everyone else’s. Throughout my life, I’ve met people who have said that it is more important to make other people happy than it is to make yourself happy. Of course, that is nonsense.
Human beings are happiness-driven organisms. Everything we do in life is oriented toward maintaining and increasing our level of happiness. We are psychologically constructed so that it’s impossible for us to be any other way without making ourselves mentally and emotionally ill. The fact is that you can’t give away to anyone else what you don’t have for yourself. Just as you can’t give money to the poor if you don’t have any, you can’t make someone else happy if you yourself are miserable.
The very best way to assure the happiness of others is to be happy yourself and then to share your happiness with them. Suffering and self-sacrifice merely depress and discourage other people. If you want to make others happy, start by living the kind of life and doing the kind of things that make you happy.
The second myth, which is closely tied to the first myth, is the admonition that we’re here to serve others rather than ourselves. Many poems and essays repeat that theme. They say that we’ve justified our life on this earth if we’ve made some other person happy on the way through. But as I’ve said before, making others happy goes hand in hand with making ourselves happy. It’s through service to others that we achieve a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Only when we lose ourselves in doing something that we feel benefits someone other than ourselves do we experience transcendence, do we feel ourselves rising above the tedium of day-to-day activity. To paraphrase Robert Louis Stevenson, everybody makes his living by serving someone. And the key is to serve with joy and happiness.
The third myth about happiness is that someone else’s definition of happiness is valid for you. Often, we feel a little uneasy if we’re not happy doing something that someone else thinks should make us happy. Many people allow their parents to influence their choices of career and find themselves miserable as a result. They want to please their parents, they want to make them happy, but they’re unable to experience any joy doing what they’re doing.
Happiness in life is like a smorgasbord. If 100 people went to a smorgasbord and each put food on his plate in the quantity and mix that each felt would be most pleasing to him, every plate would be different. Even a husband and wife would go up to the smorgasbord and come back with plates that looked completely different. Happiness is the same way. It’s composed of a great variety of ingredients, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Each person requires a particular combination of those ingredients to feel the very best about himself or herself.
And your mix is changing continually. If you went to the same smorgasbord every day for a year, you probably would come back with a different plateful of food each time. Each day-sometimes each hour-only you can tell what it takes to make you happy. Therefore, the only way to judge whether a job, a relationship, an investment, or any decision, is right for you is to get in touch with your feelings and listen to your heart.
In the play Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand, there’s a scene where someone asks Cyrano why he, as an incredible individualist, should refuse to compromise his ideals or principles for anyone. He replies with these classic words: “I long ago made the decision that in every area of life, I will choose the path of least resistance in this, that I will please at least myself in all things.” That is one of the great lines in literature. To have the courage to please at least yourself in all things. Do what feels right for you, at the very minimum, and if it makes others happy as well, that’s terrific. If it doesn’t, you’ll know that you have done the very best you could under the circumstances.
You’re true to yourself only when you follow your inner light, when you listen to what Ralph Waldo Emerson called the “still, small voice within.” You’re being the very best person you can be only when you have the courage and the fortitude to allow your definition of happiness, whatever it may be, to be the guiding light of every part of your life. Whenever you feel stressed, anxious, worried or uneasy about any part of your life, it’s nature’s way of telling you that something is wrong. It’s a message that there’s something that you need to address or deal with. There’s something that you need to do more or less of. There’s something that you need to get into or out of. Very often, you’ll suffer from what has been called “divine discontent.” You’ll feel fidgety and uneasy for a reason or reasons that are unclear to you. You’ll be dissatisfied with the status quo. Sometimes, you’ll be unable to sleep. Sometimes, you’ll be angry or irritable. Very often, you’ll get upset with things that have nothing to do with the real issue. You’ll have a deep inner sense that something isn’t as it should be, and you’ll often feel like a fish on a hook, wriggling and squirming emotionally to get free.
And that is a good thing. Divine discontent always comes before a positive life change. If you were perfectly satisfied, you would never take any action to improve or change your circumstances. Only when you’re dissatisfied for some reason do you have the inner motivation to engage in the outer behaviors that lead you onward and upward.
You’ve heard of Murphy’s Law, which says that whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Well, there’s another law, which says that left to themselves, things have a tendency to go from bad to worse. When something is making you unhappy, for any reason, the situation will tend to get worse rather than better. So avoid the temptation to engage in denial, to pretend that nothing is wrong, to wish and hope and pray that, whatever it is, it will go away and you won’t have to do anything. The fact is that it probably will get worse before it gets better and that ultimately you will need to face the situation and do something about it.
There’s an old saying that you can’t solve a problem on the level that you meet it. This means that wrestling with a challenge is usually fruitless and frustrating. For example, if two people who are in a relationship together are constantly fighting and negotiating and looking for some way to resolve their difficulties, they’re attempting to solve the problem on the wrong level. Dealing with the problem on a higher level, those people would ask the question, “In terms of being happy, is this the right relationship for us in the first place?” As soon as you begin to use happiness as your measure of rightness, you begin to see a situation entirely differently. Many people work very hard and experience considerable frustration trying to do a particular job. However, in terms of their own happiness, the right answer might be to do something else, or to do what they’re doing in a different place, or to do it with different people-or all three.
Following are a few questions for you to answer in this arena of happiness. Many people refuse to even consider these questions because they’re afraid that if they do, they won’t like the answers. But nevertheless, have the courage to clearly define your life in your own terms. Here are the questions; write them down at the top of a sheet of paper, and then write as many answers to each one as you possibly can.
The first question is: “What would it take for me to be perfectly happy?” Write down every single thing that you can imagine would be in your life if you were perfectly happy at this very moment. Write down things such as health, happiness, prosperity, loving relationships, inner peace, travel, car, clothes, homes, money, and so on. Let your mind run freely. Imagine that you have no limitations at all. Write everything down whether or not you think you have the capacity to acquire it or achieve it in the short term. Your first job is always to be clear about what it would take for you to have your ideal life.
The second question is a little tougher. Write down at the top of a page this question: “In what situations in my life, and with whom, am I not perfectly happy?” Force yourself to think about every part of your day, from morning to night, and write down every element that makes you unhappy or dissatisfied in any way. Remember, proper diagnosis is half the cure. Identifying the problematic situations is the first step to resolving them.
The third question will give you some important guidelines. Write down at the top of a sheet of paper these words: “In looking over my life, where and when have I been the happiest? Where was I, with whom was I, and what was I doing?”
By asking and answering those three questions, you begin to delve deeper and deeper into yourself and your feelings. You begin to accept your own happiness as a legitimate standard by which to evaluate everyone and everything in your life. You begin to develop the wisdom, the courage, and the foresight to organize your life in such a way that you become a much happier person.
Once you have the answers to those questions, think about what you can do, starting immediately, to begin creating the kind of life that you dream of. It may take you a week, a month or a year, but that doesn’t matter. Every single thing you do that moves you closer to your vision of happiness will be rewarding in itself. You’ll become a more positive and optimistic person. You’ll feel more confident and more in charge of your life.
And now here’s the most important exercise of all. It is from the advice of Dr. Gerald Jampolsky, who asks, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?” He recommends that you set peace of mind as your highest goal and that you select and organize around it all your other goals in life. You hold up each part of your life to this standard of peace of mind, and you either get into or get out of anything that adds to it or detracts from it.
The most important part in this process of getting in touch with your feelings is to begin to practice solitude on a regular basis. Solitude is the most powerful activity in which you can engage. Men and women who practice it correctly and on a regular basis never fail to be amazed at the difference it makes in their lives.
Most people have never practiced solitude. Most people have never sat down quietly by themselves for any period of time in their entire lives. Most people are so busy being busy, doing something-even watching television-that it’s highly unusual for them to simply sit, deliberately, and do nothing. But as Catherine Ponder points out, “Men and women begin to become great when they begin to take time quietly by themselves, when they begin to practice solitude.” And here’s the method you can use.
To get the full benefit of your periods of solitude, you must sit quietly for at least 30 to 60 minutes at a time. If you haven’t done it before, it will take the first 25 minutes or so for you to stop fidgeting and moving around. You’ll almost have to hold yourself physically in your seat. You’ll have an almost irresistible desire to get up and do something. But you must persist.
Solitude requires that you sit quietly, perfectly still, back and head erect, eyes open, without cigarettes, candy, writing materials, music or any interruptions whatsoever for at least 30 minutes. An hour is better.
Become completely relaxed, and breathe deeply. Just let your mind flow. Don’t deliberately try to think about anything. The harder you “don’t try,” the more powerfully it works. After 20 or 25 minutes, you’ll begin to feel deeply relaxed. You’ll begin to experience a flow of energy coming into your mind and body. You’ll have a tremendous sense of well-being. At this point, you’ll be ready to get the full benefit of these moments of contemplation.
The incredible thing about solitude is that if it is done correctly, it works just about 100 percent of the time. While you’re sitting there, a stream, a river, of ideas will flow through your mind. You’ll think about countless subjects in an uncontrolled stream of consciousness. Your job is just to relax and listen to your inner voice. At a certain stage during your period of solitude, the answers to the most pressing difficulties facing you will emerge quietly and clearly, like a boat putting in gently to the side of a lake. The answer that you seek will come to you so clearly and it will feel so perfect that you’ll experience a deep sense of gratitude and contentment. You may get several answers in one period of quiet sitting. But in any case, you’ll get the answer to the most important situation facing you every single time.
When you arise from this period of quiet, you must do exactly what has come to you. It may involve dealing with a human situation. It may involve starting something or quitting something. Whatever it is, when you follow the guidance that you received in solitude, it will turn out to be exactly the right thing to do. Everything will be OK. And it will usually work out far better than you could have imagined. Just try it and see.
That brings us to the final point on getting in touch with your feelings: You must learn to trust yourself. You must learn to take time to listen to your emotions and your feelings as to what makes you happy or unhappy, as to what feels right or wrong. You must absolutely trust that what is right for you is the right thing to do. You must never compromise on what your inner voice tells you to do. You must never go against what you feel to be correct. You must develop the habit of listening to yourself and then acting on the guidance you receive.
When you listen to yourself and act on what you hear inside, you are setting out on the road to personal greatness.
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About Brian Tracy
Brian Tracy is a leading authority on personal
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