Sunday, October 17, 2010

book review: What Happy People Know by Dan Baker

I read a lot of self-help books, but rarely do they offer me so much new information that I feel compelled to share them with you. (The last book I recommended was The Magic LAMP, which I read in February!) I recently came across a book, though, that I want you all to go out and buy/rent/borrow/steal. (Ok, maybe not with the stealing.) Today! Now! Go!

Oh wait. You need to know what book first.

In this book, What Happy People Know, Dan Baker, the head of the Life Enhancement Program at Canyon Ranch (a spa/resort/retreat I may never make enough money to visit) offers up useful information in an approachable and easily digestible fashion.

According to Baker, there are six major happiness tools people can use:
1. Appreciation
2. Choice
3. Personal Power
4. Leading with your strengths
5. Language and stories
6. Multidimensional living

Because it's had such an impact on me, I thought I'd take you through some of the highlights of the tools.

1. Appreciation
I've talked about appreciation and gratitude before, but Baker takes these concepts much deeper, offering three or four practicable tools to make appreciation not just part of your regular routine, but also part of your disaster recovery mode.

For example, he shares one exercise called "Freeze Frame." When things are going All Kinds of Wrong, instead of thinking about how things are getting out of control, you think of something you appreciate. A loved one, a natural phenomenon, your dog, whatever. Doing this will calm your heart rate and give you space in which to see things differently. I've used it, and found it incredibly helpful.

He also talks about optimism, and how being an optimist is not simply walking around with a dopey smile on your face and approaching life with a glass-half-full attitude, but rather, it's an understanding that the more difficult or painful a situation is, the more profound the learning will be. This has helped me a lot recently while going through an incredibly emotionally break up -- I knew that when I came out the other side of the break up I would know more about myself and how I operate, which felt like a gift compared to the kick in the pants the break up was giving me. Does it make me want to run right out and break up again? No, absolutely not. But it does give me some silver lining and light at the end of an otherwise unpleasant-smelling tunnel.

(His mother also chimed in with the soothing idea that "no two people ever love each other the same -- and that whoever loves the most is the lucky one.")

2. Choice
Baker calls choice "the voice of the heart" and "honesty in action." I like that.

He talks about failure, helplessness, and powerlessness (and a bunch of shocked dogs... which made me sad) and offers some thoughts that can serve to remind us to stay strong:

1. Failure only occurs when you quit -- he talks about how Thomas Edison "failed" to design a lightbulb until his 2000th try

2. Be brave enough to resist when someone offers you the tempting scenario in which they strip from you the right to make your own decisions. While it is occasionally unpleasant to make (and live with) our own choices, imagine the other alternatives...

Finally in this section, he discusses the "Life Changing Quarter Second" in which we have a brief moment of control over our emotional reactions. There is a quarter second in which we can wrest our thinking away from a fear reaction and into a considered response, but we have to see and seize that moment regularly to stay in a place of choice.

3. Personal Power
This is that indefinable something that enables happy people to be happy, even when things are difficult. (In my leadership class, we call it the "Internal Locus of Control," meaning essentially the feeling that, no matter what comes your way, you can do something about it.)

Baker encourages his readers to watch out for VERBs -- Victimization, Entitlement, Rescue, and Blame. Highlights include:

V: He says that other people can hurt you, but only you can victimize yourself.

E: The mind and body thrive on struggle. Satisfaction without effort doesn't create happiness, it makes for boredom, alienation, weakness and feelings of worthlessness. And I can tell you that, after looking for a new job for six months, I was so elated to finally get one because I had struggled and put my time in.

R: There's a difference between assistance and rescue. There is nothing wrong with asking for help as long as you're willing to do your share of the work.

B: Blame solves nothing. If you were in a car driven by a friend that was going over a cliff, would blaming that friend keep you from crashing into the ravine below? Instead, what can you do to improve the situation for yourself (and/or your friend)?

We'll take a look at the other three tools in my next post.

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