THE BLOG
01/20/2011 09:13 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Happiness: A Feeling or a Mindset?

Most of us share a common misperception about happiness. We expect to identify it through our feeling state, rather than through the perceptual frame of reference that it is. Oddly you could be quite happy at a work task and not feel happy at the moment at all: satisfied with your effort and persistence, yet frustrated by the problem solving that most projects demand, may be happiness but doesn't make you smile.

It is understandable that we mistake the daily work of thriving for happiness. Advertising consistently misrepresents happiness as bliss. We think real happiness is smiling and laughing together with other like-minded, attractive people in nice cars and clothing. In actuality, bliss, like acute anxiety or deep sadness, is a rare moment in the texture of our daily lives. Intense emotions, whether positive or negative, are the threads in the complex and mysterious fabric of life. They teach us how to find center and provide a guide by which to navigate.

In truth, our ability to be happy should be compared to our capacity for health and fitness. Regardless of where you start out, with clear aspirations and a decent work ethic, anyone can get more positive, just as they can become more physically well. Although attending to one's physical well-being is highly correlated with a more positive mindset, developing the trait of positive thinking is a workout of its own.

Creating and working at a positive frame of reference requires the same work and commitment as body building. Anyone who has successfully lost weight and has maintained their newfound physical strength will attest to the fact that the work doesn't end when you meet you goal. Instead the work becomes a set of eating and movement habits that reform your life. The same is true about replacing negative thinking patterns with positive ones, slowly the work becomes new mind habits that require practice like any habits.

Hundreds of studies correlate this frame of reference with greater personal creativity and productivity. Cultivating a positive world view gives you an edge in relationships too. The core of a functional relationship is an inside job and when you are constantly working on your own happiness perspective you don't rely on your partner to offer it. In fact, the opposite is true. Your own positive mind sets the bar for people you love.

Our attitudes are more contagious than the worst colds, and when each person in a partnership comes whole to the work of relating, not needing to be filled up, often in ways that they can't even name, gives the relationship the space and time it needs to grow into something that can hold both of you. Too often we expect our relationships to do something for us that we don't realize that only we can offer ourselves.

It took me 38 days of vigilant attention to stop saying negative things and another 42 to stop thinking them. Slowly, this negative space that I didn't often even recognize evaporated enough to be replaced with equally true thoughts that supported me in the life I wanted. My business was reinvented and began to thrive in this positive glow as did all of my family relationships and my marriage. When I think about my work or my future, my primary daily commitment is to learn more about and live more deeply in my positive frame of reference. The rest will take care of itself.

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