I just returned home from riding and working in a cross-country bicycle event.
In 2009, I rode from Los Angeles to Boston (3,415 miles). This year, I was invited to ride and work from Champaign, Ill., to Boston (a mere 1,200 miles). There were 33 riders with ages ranging from 22 to 77 (average age was 58). Eight of the cyclists were from Great Britain, one was from Germany and the rest were from all areas of the fruited plain.
The experience of seeing our beautiful country from a bicycle seat, traveling about 16 mph vs. racing down a freeway at 70 mph is truly a life-changing experience. Needless to say, this is a highly motivated group of people. They are goal-oriented and about as tenacious as you can be.
There were a total of 43 riding days and five rest days. The average daily riding distance was 80 miles per day. There were six days of pedaling more than 100 miles (a “century” in bike talk). The total climbing elevation for the entire trip was 108,100 ft. That would be like riding up Mount Everest 3.72 times!
Why am I sharing this trivia? Simply because this group of 33 riders was happy! Through tough riding days, some terrible weather, bad roads, drivers that give bikers a hard time and several other negatives, this group of tenacious folks started and ended every day being happy. It made me wonder what makes some people happy the majority of time and others unhappy.
I fall into the perpetually happy category. Yes, I enjoy good health, have a wonderful wife, kids, grandkids and friends, and don’t worry where the next meal is coming from. I’ve always been happy — even through a few bumps in the road. The majority of my friends are happy, but I also know and have known some people who are not happy.
All of this prompted me to do some research on the subject of happiness. Here is a little of what I discovered.
A December 2012 USA Today article written by Marilyn Elias and titled “Psychologists Now Know What Makes People Happy” states, “The happiest people surround themselves with family and friends, don’t care about keeping up with the Joneses next door, lose themselves in daily activities and most importantly — forgive easily.”
She continues: “The happiest people spend the least time alone. They pursue personal growth and intimacy; they judge themselves by their own yardsticks, never against what others do or have.”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist at Claremont Graduate University, states, “Life satisfaction occurs most often when people are engaged in absorbing activities that cause them to forget themselves, lose track of time and stop worrying.”
Tom Schewe writes in “How Stuff Works” that: “Americans are proud to claim certain unalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s interesting to note that our founding fathers, in all their wisdom, didn’t claim happiness as a right — only its pursuit.”
Positive attitude and happiness
Studies of twins, both fraternal and identical, indicate about half of our happiness or traits contributing to our happiness, such as an easy going nature, are genetic. This means half our ability to be happy is determined by external events or states, such as our careers or lifestyles. That still gives us another half to work with, meaning we can control our happiness to a large degree dependent on how we react to or perceive outside events.
The past several years have presented us with a very tough economy. A lot of folks lost their jobs and even their homes. These unfortunate events may seem catastrophic to some, but others may view them as storms that must be weathered until they pass.
At the airport in Boston I bought the latest issue of Time magazine — mainly because of the lead story. Featured on the cover was the headline “In Pursuit of Happiness,” and it tied in with my thoughts on what allows me to be happy and why our group of bicycle riders were positive, happy folks.
As mentioned earlier, the bulk of my friends are happy, but my best friend was not happy for the last 20 years of his working career. I tried to encourage him to make a change, but the good money he made and his ego would not let him do it. What a shame.
Contrary to popular belief, happiness doesn’t come from fame, fortune, other people or material possessions. It comes from within. Happy people make themselves happy. They maintain a positive outlook on life and remain at peace with themselves. Here is a list of things that happy people do:
They don’t hold grudges. Happy people understand that it’s better to forgive and forget than to let their negative feelings crowd out their positive feelings.
Treat everyone with kindness. It has been scientifically proven that being kind will make you happier. Treating people with love, dignity and respect also allows you to build stronger relationships.
See problems as challenges. The word “problem” is never part of a happy person’s vocabulary. At our business we were not allowed to use the word “problem.” We substituted the words “challenge” or “opportunity.”
Express gratitude for what you already have. There’s a popular saying that goes “The happiest people don’t have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything they have.” Dream big! People who get in the habit of dreaming big are more likely to accomplish their goals than those who don’t. If you dare to dream big, your mind will put itself in a focused and positive state.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Happy people ask themselves “Will this problem matter a year from now?” They understand that life’s too short to get worked up over trivial situations. Letting things roll off your back will definitely put you at ease to enjoy the more important things in life.
Speak well of others. Being nice feels better than being mean. Saying nice things about other people encourages you to think positive, nonjudgmental thoughts.
Never make excuses. Happy people don’t make excuses or blame others for their own failures in life. Instead, they own up to their mistakes and by doing so proactively try to change for the better.
Get absorbed into the present: Happy people don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future. They savor the present and stop to smell the roses.
Wake up at the same time every morning. Have you noticed that a lot of successful people tend to be early risers?
Avoid social comparisons. If you think you’re better than someone else, you gain an unhealthy sense of superiority. If you think someone else is better than you, you end up feeling bad about yourself. You’ll be happier if you focus on your own progress and praise others on theirs.
Choose friends wisely. Misery loves company. That’s why it’s important to surround yourself with optimistic people who will encourage you to achieve your goals. The more positive energy you have around you, the better you will feel about yourself.
Never seek approval from others. Happy people don’t care about what others think about them. They follow their own hearts without letting naysayers discourage them. They understand it’s impossible to please everyone.
Take time to listen. Talk less and listen more. Listening keeps your mind open to others’ wisdom and outlooks on the world.
Nurture social relationships. A lonely person is a miserable person. Happy people understand how important it is to have strong, healthy relationships. Always take time to talk with your significant other, family and friends.
Meditate. Meditating silences your mind and helps you find inner peace. Happy people know how to silence their minds anywhere and anytime they need to calm their nerves.
Eat well. Everything you eat and drink directly affects your body’s ability to produce hormones, which will dictate your moods, energy and mental focus.
Exercise. No, you don’t have to ride your bicycle across the country. Exercising boosts your self esteem and gives you a higher level of self-accomplishment.
Live minimally. Happy people rarely keep clutter around their homes or work spaces. They know extra belongings weigh them down and make them feel overwhelmed and stressed out.
Tell the truth. Lying stresses you out, corrodes your self esteem and makes you unlikeable. The truth will set you free. Being honest improves your mental health and builds others’ trust in you. Always be truthful and never apologize for it.
Accept what cannot be changed. Once you accept the fact that life is not always fair, you’ll be more at peace with yourself. Instead of obsessing over how unfair life is, just focus on what you can control and change it for the better.
I’m sure as you’ve been reading this you’ve been wondering just what does any of this have to do with showrooms. Well, I know for a fact that happy people make better employees, better team players and better salespeople. These are people you want to be around. Happiness is contagious — just like unhappiness, long faces, poor attitudes and lack of enthusiasm is.
How many of the above bullet points can you relate to? Are there any areas you can improve? We only go through this life once. Why not enjoy it as much as we possibly can?
In closing, you might add Bobby McFerrin’s song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” to your favorites list. The lyrics tell a great story.