positive thinking

Because I run a company called Happier, people assume I’m happy all the time.

Which I’m not.

In fact, I used to put so much pressure on myself that it made me feel something between really stressed out and extremely anxious: both states are far from happy. I think many people feel the same pressure to find an elusive state of happiness and maintain it at any cost. We all have different paths we think we need to take -- lose 10 pounds! get that promotion! make more money! find the guy of our dreams! -- but it’s that very intentional and often obsessive search for happiness that leads us in the opposite direction.

I re-discovered this recently when I was telling a friend just how much I hate this horrible, snowy, no-end-in-sight Boston winter: we’ve gotten more than 6 feet of snow, with a storm per weekend for the last 5 weekends. It’s been freezing, my daughter has had more days off from school than she’s been in school, and I’ve spent more time commuting in a week than I usually spend in a month. For someone who already hates winter (so much that I wrote an article about how to survive it if you really really hate it), this one has pushed me to the far edge of sanity.

“But aren’t you supposed to be able to find something good in everything?” my friend said. “Isn’t that what you try to teach people with Happier?”

And there it was, the rubber meeting the road. (The cold, snowy, icy road.)

She was right. At the foundation of Happier -- and what inspired me to create the company -- is the idea that it’s possible to find and appreciate something positive in every single situation, even the difficult, stressful, or unpleasant ones. The premise (supported by a growing body of scientific research on what makes us happier) is that we have the ability to shift our perspective in any circumstance to find something good about it, even if it’s really tiny.

But being able to find something positive in any situation doesn’t mean having to be happy about every situation. Not at all. I can appreciate how beautiful the snow looks when it’s fresh and powdery and sparkling in the sun. I can appreciate how much my daughter loves to jump into it and how excited she gets when she has a snow day at school. I can even appreciate how great the crisp, fresh air feels when it fills my lungs during my freezing morning walks. And yet none of that means I have to like winter or that I can’t let myself be incredibly, utterly, and completely unhappy about it… some of the time.

I’m not a scientist -- just someone with an avid and passionate interest in the field of human happiness -- but I think this notion of_ “some of the time”_ has a lot to do with how we can all feel a little happier. If we allow ourselves to feel stressed, anxious, sad, and unhappy some of the time, while also having the intention to find something good, positive, comforting, inspiring, or awesome in our daily lives some of the time, we might, in the end, live a life that’s happier and more fulfilling. Happiness isn’t the absence of any negative feelings; it’s the ability and intention to appreciate the good moments in your life without taking them for granted. By freeing yourself from the pressure to feel happy all the time, you might get to feel happy a lot more often.

Oh, and speaking of winter: I’m still in the “winter, I hate you” camp, but I’ve kept up with my morning walks even in the cold. They make me feel a little like Superwoman every time I get home with my cheeks and nose frozen and my body feeling stronger for having gotten through it. And all the icicles on the houses in our neighborhood make me want to pick up my paint brushes again, a feeling I’ve not had in a few years. And I’ve mastered about ten new recipes and the absolutely perfect hot chocolate my daughter’s best friend recently termed “the most amazing, like ever.”