The six happiness tools are:
3. Personal Power
4. Leading with Your Strengths
5. the Power of Language and Stories
6. Multidimensional Living
I covered Appreciation, Choice, and Personal Power in the last post, so today I'll give you a run down of the last three, starting with...
Leading with Your Strengths
It feels good to do what you're good at. That's no great secret. And there have been two camps in the Self-Mastery world for years -- those who say to play to your strengths, and those who say to develop your weaknesses. But if you think about it, only the first camp really makes sense. Why burden yourself with improving your calculus skills if doing calculus doesn't make you happy?
Baker says that in working with severely troubled people, his first efforts are to connect them to their strengths. Everyone is good at something, even if that something isn't something you value. Baker's work starts with finding his clients' strengths and then transferring those skills into other areas of his clients' lives.
For example, he worked with an anorexic patient and never once asked her about food. Instead, they spent the first few sessions talking about what she loved -- her dog -- and then finding ways to expand that circle of love onto herself. When we surround ourselves with what we're good at, we feel powerful and joyful, and those lead us to greater and greater adventures.
The Power of Language and Stories
Several years ago, if you asked me if it was important whether someone said "I can't" or "It's hard," I would have said no. I would have told you that there are things I can't do, and things that are hard for me to do, and I would have done my best to convince you that that was "the truth."
Now, however, after a few years of playing with language and its effect on me, I have a completely different opinion. I have first hand experience of the power of words on the stories I tell myself. So I was pleased to see this show up in Baker's book.
He talks about how engaging in self-talk is how people begin to make sense of the world around them. (Incidentally, there's a Radiolab episode that talks about the same thing, and I was just listening to it before I sat down to write. Thanks, Universe!) And that, if we talk to ourselves the way we want others to talk to us, we're already on a better foot, saying "we do not describe the world we see, we see the world we describe."
He, too, cautions against using "can't," "don't," "shouldn't," and "won't," and goes on to warn against using the passive voice instead of the active one. But the key point I took away from the whole section on language is his idea of telling healthy stories vs. horror stories.
"When you meet someone new and tell him the quick version of the story of your life, do you usually tell him a healthy story or a horror story? Most people want to tell a healthy story, because nobody wants to look bad. But many people just don't know how. They're so accustomed to telling themselves horror stories in their self-talk that they just start blurting out all their fears and feelings of helplessness, although they often cloak them in terms of humor or heroics. They like their job -- but it was a real struggle to get it, and it still feels precarious. Their children are doing well -- but they're teenagers, and you know how that is..."
He goes on to say that it's "smart to tell yourself and others healthy stories about all the little incidents of your daily life. If you're late for work, don't tell yourself that your boss is going to kill you and that you're a loser for sleeping late. Tell yourself you're lucky to have a job where you can be late once in a while, and that you're going to use this experience to be more punctual in the future. The horrific version will just make you more defensive, while the healthy one will make you appreciative. People will notice the difference."
When I read this book, I was dating a wonderful guy who seemed to have it all -- genius smart, off-the-wall funny, good-looking, and a great communicator. And the reason our relationship fell apart was because he was allowing himself to be ruled by his job. He had no time for a relationship -- or anything else, for that matter. And he wasn't happy. So this section really resonated with me.
A question that Baker asks his clients (to gauge where they are in their heads) is "are you winning at life?" The responses he gets vary, but if a person has no idea how to even approach the question, he gets a sense immediately that they are out of balance. ("Happy people," he says, "almost always think they're winning, even when they don't know what they're winning.")
Most people suffer from a lack of clear, values-based priorities, and so end up floating through life, buffeted by whatever comes their way. Baker argues that if you want happiness, you need to decide what you really want and then put your energy where it will do the most good.
There are three arenas in life, he argues; 1) purpose (often, work), 2) health, and 3) relationships. If you integrate all three arenas into your every day life, you can let your passions take you where they will -- because you have the grounding in the other areas to pull you back to center. It's when one of the arenas has more sway and importance than the others that people can get out of whack.
And that's the extremely nutshelled version of the book. There is so much more to it, so much that I want to xerox and hand out to people on the subway like those crazy stores that want to buy your gold.
The New York Public Library has five copies of this book, and at the time of this writing, four of them were available. If you're interested in finding balance, connecting with your heart, and having a handful of tools in your toolbox of self-improvement, this is a great book for you. (It certainly was for me.)