Re-connecting to happiness

In this week's Happiness in Action class, we talked about things that get in the way of happiness.

There are plenty of external circumstances that we humans love to complain about -- whiny children, bad drivers, incompetent leaders, the weather -- but it didn't take long for the group to zero in on the primary barrier to experiencing happiness: what happens in our own minds.

Who among us hasn't created unnecessary misery for ourselves by focusing our attention on things we don't like or want, berating ourselves for our mistakes and shortcomings, or interpreting situations in ways that leave us feeling trapped and helpless?

These habits of mind are often so deeply ingrained that we don't even realize we're doing them, and yet they are constantly shaping our experience.

So what is there to do?

One helpful tool is the serenity prayer, a classic from the 12-step world that I absolutely love. As a business analyst, I used to create a lot of flowcharts, and had this version posted on my bulletin board:

Serenity Prayer Flowchart.jpg

What does the serenity prayer have to do with happiness?

To experience happiness in any given moment, we have to be willing to actually experience that moment -- which can be hard when the moment involves things we don't like. The serenity prayer provides a framework for leaning into those hard experiences and figuring out what we can actually do that will feel good, rather than staying stuck fighting against reality.

I can't change the fact that I made a mistake, or that I just spent half a day beating myself up for it, or that I took my upset out on my family, or that I currently have a raging headache, or that I'm feeling angry and ashamed and just want to sleep. In hindsight, maybe there are things I could have done to prevent these things, but there's nothing I can do now to change the past, so the only thing to do is accept them.

What can I change? I can notice what I'm experiencing, and acknowledge that I don't like it. I can change how I'm breathing. I can pet my puppy. I can reflect on what happened with the intent to see things differently. I can ask for help. I can encourage myself. I can correct the mistake.

Writing it out like this, it seems ridiculously simple -- and it is!  But it's also not automatic, especially compared to some of those negative ingrained thought patterns that run on auto-pilot. Moving from theory into practice, over and over again, makes all the difference. 

What's a situation for you right now in which something is getting in the way of your happiness? What happens when you use the serenity prayer to guide you? What other practices help you re-connect to happiness? I would love to hear.