Sunday, February 14, 2010

What Response?

In designing exercises to go with Teflon's series on philosophy of happiness basics, I first thought to write about identifying beliefs and whether or not they were happiness fueling. Then it occurred to me that I might want to start with something more basic, so I moved to situations (stimuli) that cause responses. But then it occurred to met that even this might not be basic enough, so I decided to start with responses. Before we look at beliefs or stimuli, we want to learn to identify our responses and whether or not they're happy, unhappy or neutral.

Think about it, how many times have you asked someone whose face was turning red and whose voice was getting increasingly louder whether or not he was angry, and he responded, "No! I'm not angry!"

In those moments we deny what is being observed because we have judgments about being angry. "Being angry is bad", so we respond with "I am not angry". So, the first step in applying  philosophy of happiness is to identify our responses and whether or not they are happy, unhappy or neutral. To do this effectively, we must learn to observe ourselves without judgment. You are a little miracle; you can change moods and feelings so fast, it's incredible. You can go from happy to unbelievably angry in just a few seconds. Isn't that wonderful!

My thinking is that these exercises will be self-extinguishing. After you do them for a while, the new thought processes will become so automatic that you do not have to think about them anymore. Compare it with driving a car. The first couple of times you had to think about everything: giving gas, remembering where the brake was, how to turn on the lights, learning to use the mirror, keeping track of the other cars around you, etc. This is just a partial list of all the things we had to learn, and most of us do it after a while without thinking; we drive on automatic pilot, while listening to the radio or our friends talking to us. Some people even run meetings from behind the wheel.

Exercise 1: I feel... A. Happy or B. Unhappy
Once a day, sit down with a piece of paper or with your computer and write down five things that happened where you felt happy, and five things where you felt unhappy that day. If you do this in the morning, you can take the day before as your inspiration.

Example: (it's early morning here, so I'll draw from yesterday).

I felt happy about:
  1. having bought myself a pair of new running shoes
  2. having seen some of the Olympics
  3. having discussed my blog exercise with Mark
  4. having found some good exercises for my legs
  5. my dad called to check in with me

I felt unhappy about:
  1. the Myrtle Beach marathon being canceled
  2. my drinking caffeinated coffee
  3. my goose bumps
  4. the pain in my knees
  5. my Internet connection changing on me all the time
Exercise 2. Symptoms of Happiness/Unhappiness
Now that you have identified some happiness and unhappiness from the last 24 hours, look at your thoughts, feelings, actions and beliefs that accompanied your happiness and unhappiness. For each of the five happy responses and five unhappy responses, write down what you were doing, thinking, feeling and/or believing. What was inspiring about the situations that inspired happiness or unhappiness?

The following answers are each related to my answers to Exercise 1.

Thoughts, feeling, beliefs and actions surround happy experiences.
  1. While driving home, I was thinking about how comfortable my shoes would be running. I thought of how I would not have to run with wet shoes because I had a second pair. I told Mark excitingly about it at different occasions during the day with a big smile
  2. When I finally found a television station at the end of the day that showed the Olympics I sat myself in front of the television and I didn't move. I was no longer available for conversations, chitchat, or phone calls. I was just present watching.
  3. While discussing my exercise with Mark, I first got a little irritated because I created this great exercise that turned out to be too complex to start with. When I recognized I was using frustration, I let go and embraced the conversation to move the exercise in a new direction that would be very useful.
  4. I believe that some exercises for my legs and knees are better then others. When I tried out some yesterday, some tension that I had felt building up over the last week disappeared. I realized that I was on the right track. As a teenager I had long lasting knee problems and I believe that I can take actions to avoid this happening again.
  5. When I think about the call with my dad, I have to smile. He sounded so happy.
Thoughts, feelings, beliefs and activities surrounding unhappy experiences.
  1. My first thoughts regarding the Marathon cancellation were: People have been training for this marathon so long and then it just disappeared on them. If the organization had decided to start later in the day, the weather would not have been a problem. They could have done better. But during the day I started to think: the organization is responsible for people's well-being. They were afraid cars would slide into the runners. Changing the time is hard with so many volunteers who all have their jobs to go to etc.
  2. Coffee has a dehydrating effect on me and I am not that good in holding water anyway, so I better not drink it. I tell myself that I shouldn't do this anymore! I judge myself.
  3. I am writing in the local supermarket cafeteria where it is cold and all my muscles are starting to cramp. I notice that I have a frown on my face and eyes as if this will help warm myself!
  4. Over the last week, I started to slowly feel some pain in a tendon around my knee. As a teenager I had lots of knee problems, so I am aware that I have to take this seriously. I started to feel a bit nervous and focus extra attention on it. Only after I realized what I had done in my twenties to get rid of it, and how I could implement that into my daily life, I started to feel OK with it.
  5. I have felt a bit out of control with my Internet connection. Some moments it is great, other moments it is gone. Sometimes, the connection drops in the middle of a work phone call and I get irritable. I know irritation does not work with computers, but I am sure as hell trying to make it work!
Exercise 3. Embrace Yourself
By now, you have a written a full page about yourself. The words say something of who you were today (or yesterday). The say nothing about who you will be.

The last step of the exercise is the most important one. Looking straight on at who you were today, it's time to fully embrace and accept yourself. As you read what you wrote look for places that you judge what you felt, thought, believed or did. Then, turn the judgments around by actively accepting yourself knowing that you were doing the best you could in the situation (even if you want to do something else next time).

As you do this, don't rewrite what you did or censor it. Take it straight on without excuses or what-ifs or change. Just see you and accept you. When we censor our actions rather than changing our judgments of our actions, we end up creating a detachment from ourselves and the world around us. The goal is not denial, it's dropping judgments.

So, embrace all you have written down by telling yourself, "Yes, this is who I was today and I am perfect."

Who you are today, doesn't say anything about who you will be tomorrow or one year from now. Changing who you are and how you respond starts with actively acknowledging how you've respond and what you felt, believed, thought and did.

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