Cultivating Happiness

Cultivating Happiness


I am the type who thoroughly enjoys the entire Christmas season from December 1 to the 31st, and I never give a thought to New Year’s Eve or Day until they arrive. This year we had good friends over for New Year’s Eve and then went to a midnight mass, which turned out to be a great way to end the year—in quiet candlelight while horns outside reminded us of the other celebrations going on around us. This is not my advice to any of you, just a personal report.

For Jim and me, New Year’s Day begins with sleeping in and unfolds to the sound of the Rose Parade from beautiful, downtown Pasadena. Sometimes we invite people over for brunch and football viewing, but this year, having just spent the month of December with a house full of visitors, it was the two of us on the couch eating leftovers watching Alabama vs. Ohio State duke it out in the Sugar Bowl.

I am not a true or huge football fan, but I do enjoy watching the game from time to time, and I am proud of my “development” over the years: I do get what’s going on in general most of the time, just not the intricacies of certain strategies and plays. I am irritating to have in the room if you do understand these things because I’m constantly asking for explanations about what just happened.

I love the atmosphere of football, and I mostly enjoy hearing about football lore and the inspirational stories that go along with athletes and coaches, since I relate so much to the athletic coaching relationship, and its close parallels to career coaching. This year I mostly loved hearing stories about the legendary coach most associated with the The Crimson Tide (University of Alabama’s team, if you didn’t know), Bear Bryant, now deceased but very much alive in the minds of college football fans and others who mostly admire his values, character and inspirational coaching style.

One story Jim shared with me was about how Coach Bryant would conduct his very first meeting with his new players. He would welcome them, congratulate them on making it into college, and making the team, and then quickly move to an abrupt ending of that first meeting by saying something to this effect: Congratulations on being here, but I know that none of you have shown up here out of your efforts alone. There are many people who have helped you along the way, and before we meet again, I want you to think about that and then go thank them. We’ll talk about it when you get back.

The moment I tear up at a story like that, I know I have been given a little gem of wisdom to share.

Instead of focusing on some punitive New Year’s resolutions that you probably won’t keep, how about thinking about all the people who have helped you in your life, and thanking them? Write a letter or send an email or make a phone call and just tell them you’ve been thinking about how grateful you are to them for the ways in which they helped you. You will be in for a wonderful experience.

At the very least, bringing such a person to mind will make you grateful, and gratitude, it turns out, is good for you! It’s something about the enzymes, according to the science of happiness at the heart of the positive psychology movement, which was based on studying happy, successful people, rather than studying neurotic and psychotic people as was done for decades in the late 19th century and the first half of the
20th century.

That it is possible to cultivate increased happiness should have made the headlines in every newspaper around the world, but of course it has gone pretty much unnoticed. I am bringing it to your attention, because it might be of much more help to you in the new year than anything else.

For a good basic book on the subject, consult Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman, Ph.D. (Atria, a Division of Simon & Schuster, 2002.); or Google the documentary film directed by the Academy Award nominated director, Roko Belic, called simply Happy. You can also read my December blog post, which poses the question, Happiness First; Then Success?

Meanwhile, Happy New Year! And let me know how it goes.

Our dear Bonnie Bonetti-Bell was the force behind our Career/Life Coaching services, until her passing in 2019. As a principal of our firm, Bonnie had an innate talent for seeing the best in people. Moreover, she helped others see the best in themselves. Bonnie is fondly remembered and deeply missed.

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