It may not be the secret to great joy but it is certainly the secret to avoiding unhappiness and it is simply this:
The absence of self-ruminative thoughts.
I’d like to claim the idea was originally mine but the truth is I first heard this phrase over a decade ago in a talk by Albert Bandura (yes, THAT Albert Bandura) and he said one of the differences between people who are content with their lives and those who are unhappy is that the happy group have “an absence of self-ruminative thoughts”.
There is a phrase I use a lot,
Not my circus, not my monkeys.
In other words, I don’t make everything about ME.
Here are tips to not ruminating too much.
What people think about you is none of your business (I stole this one from Darling Daughter Number Three)
I do the best I can. When I meet with employees or students, I tell them what I think needs to be said, listen to what they have to say and then I don’t worry about whether I was too harsh or too wishy-washy, whether they respected my authority or thought I was incompetent. If random Joe on the Internet thinks I’m old and grey and should just shut up, well, as much as it pains me to have lost the good opinion of an anonymous person I have never met – oh, wait, no I don’t care.
2. Don’t take things personally
If I screw up, I try to learn from it. If I don’t get a grant, or a person decides not to invest in our company or a school decides not to buy our games, I listen to their reasons and if it is a reasonable suggestion for a change I can make, I try to do it. If not, I don’t worry about it. I still remember the astonishment I felt seeing a colleague throw a grant review in the trash without reading it.
What are you doing? Why didn’t you read the comments?
I asked. He responded,
Shit, why should I read it? They didn’t like me. They don’t think I’m a researcher.
It’s more than just not taking things personally, though. It’s also a matter of not making everything about how other people are not acting as YOU think they should behave.
3. Don’t make it about YOU when it’s not
Your adult children aren’t raising their kids the way you think they should? The neighbors don’t maintain their yard the way you think it should be ?
Not my circus, not my monkeys.
4. Look out instead of in
A few months ago, we had a really fascinating guest on the More Than Ordinary podcast, Jonathan Shaw. He’d just finished writing his autobiography, Scab Vendor, and he encouraged me to go away for a month and write my own autobiography. Jonathan’s book was interesting and his idea was intriguing. I randomly happened to be in an area known as a writer’s retreat in Lopinot, Trinidad and I tried for a bit. I have had a long strange trip around the world and back again, that’s for sure.
I just don’t get excited about the idea of looking back through all of the things that happened in my life. Jonathan said,
You’ll grow from the experience, but it will probably hurt – and I only saw ‘probably’ to be nice.
Maybe if I went back and hung out in the mountains I would find myself.