Erik Van Alstine

Erik Van Alstine

Author. Leadership strategist. Expert in Perceptual IntelligenceTM.

Want to be happier? Learn how to water ski.

Imagine trying to water ski without the pull of a boat. We bob in the water, pushing ourselves up, trying to raise ourselves to the surface, but sink right back down because the boat isn’t moving.

This is often a picture of our emotional lives. We want to be happier, but fall back into doldrums and despair. We try to raise our spirits, only to sink right back down again.

The problem is, we’re not moving. The only way to stay float is to get moving, to create a constant flow of water that keeps us above the surface.

Same with our emotional lives. In previous posts I defined happiness as “a pattern of positive emotion that comes from seeing good things happen at a good pace.” There’s a pace to happiness. We need a constant flow of good things to keep our spirits afloat, just like we need a constant flow of water to keep our skis afloat.

Isolated Events Can’t Make us Happy

It’s human nature to believe events will give us more happiness than they actually do. If I had more money, we think, I’d be happy. If I was famous I’d be happy. If I could go to this place or do that thing, I’d be happy. 

Then we get a raise and are happy for a little while. But we settle back into the same feelings as before. Or we get some notoriety and are happy for a little while, or go someplace or do something and get a quick boost. But again, we settle right back into the same feelings as before.

Actor Jim Carrey has been there and done all that. Here’s his take from the other side:

I think everyone should get rich and famous and do everything they dreamed of so they can see that it is not the answer.

A Good Pace of Good Things Can Make us Happy

When we stop expecting isolated events to bring lasting happiness, and focus on a constant flow of good things, we’re on track. We tell the boat driver to “Hit it!” and get afloat.

Here are some practical ways to get afloat and stay afloat.

  • Expect good happenings to quickly lose their luster. A good meal doesn’t last. Neither does a good shower. Why should we expect other good things to last? Let’s switch our expectations. Instead of trying to squeeze all our happiness out of one event, like we’re death-row inmates eating our final meal, let’s enjoy the meal and move on to the next one. Let’s get a series of enjoyments out of a series of meals and showers, instead of expecting one of them to give us lasting satisfaction.
  • Keep the good things flowing. Constantly set goals and achieve them. Remember the warning from football coach Lou Holtz: “If you’re bored with life, if you don’t get up every morning with a burning desire to do things, you don’t have enough goals.”
  • Stop and appreciate the good we’re overlooking. It’s so easy to overlook a thousand good things that have happened or are happening to put focus on the one bad thing that isn’t going well. Scientists tell us that the average person needs to triple their positivity to reach a healthy balance, and most of the positivity deficit goes back to mindset. We’re so caught up in the wrong focus that we miss all the good that we’d see with a right focus.

See that squirrel in the header graphic? That should be you. Tell the boat driver to “Hit it!” and watch how it lifts your life.

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