A few weeks ago, the Earth and Spirit Podcast released an episode featuring a conversation I had with one of our faculty members, Dr. Tony Zipple. Tony is a positive psychologist who has run large behavioral health organizations, and he just finished teaching a course with us, “The Science of Changing Your Brain for the Better.” In both his course and our podcast conversation, Tony made the point that happiness is a skill you can develop and strengthen. Because of the wonders of neuroplasticity, we can literally rewire our brains, such that we get better at noticing and appreciating the positive things in our life.
This approach makes happiness an “inside job.” Happiness doesn’t have to wait until your money troubles, partner troubles, kid troubles, work troubles, health troubles, or any other troubles get resolved (if they ever do). You simply have to change your relationship to these challenges and make some conscious decisions about how you relate to them and where to place your attention. Which, I believe, is the heart of mindfulness practice.
Easier said than done, of course. The key word here is “practice.” There are some blessed souls on this planet who seem to have rich natural aptitude for gratitude. Alas, I’m not one of them. I have to practice every day to exercise my “happiness muscles.” Every day, I have to choose – consciously, intentionally – to give less power to all the things that outrage, depress, or stress me, and instead to cultivate appreciation, even for things that seem small and trivial, even for things whose gifts I can’t begin to fathom. Plenty of days, I fail, or do it grudgingly, or scrape the bottom of the barrel for any sort of thanksgiving. But having been at some sort of gratitude practice for many years, I can say that even though I still have plenty of dark days, I think those days are far fewer and less dark than they otherwise would have been. With practice, happiness gets easier.
It’s also easier with the support of other people. That’s why Tony and our amazing ESC volunteer Mariam Ballantine recently started our new monthly Happiness Discussion Group, also called “the happiness club.” I hope you’ll consider being part of it, or any of the many other communities that gather regularly at the Earth & Spirit Center. We’d be happy to see you!
Kyle Kramer, CEO