Feel Happy Now!

“This is the true joy in life- the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one;
the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap;
the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish clod of ailments and grievances
complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

-George Bernard Shaw

No matter what is happening in your life right now, no matter what you have gone through in your past, it is possible for you to feel happy right in this moment now…

Whether you’re in search of a quick pick-me-up or lasting change, you’ll find that this book is packed with everything you need to put the power of happiness to work in your own life!

Introduction

‘I am by calling a dealer in words – and words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.’ – Rudyard Kipling

This is a book about unreasonable happiness. It is about your ability to feel happy not only when you get a promotion, win the lottery and fall in love with the man or woman of your dreams, but also when you lose your job, can’t pay the mortgage and are surrounded by screaming children.

It’s about your ability to experience good feelings in your body even when good things aren’t happening in your life. It’s also about why feeling good when things are bad is one of the fastest ways to make them change for the better.

The purpose of this book is for you to become happier – to feel more of your good feelings and be more comfortable with the bad ones. Over the course of the next few hours (or days, or weeks, or however long you take to read the book and experiment with the experiments), you will learn that you are far more in control of your own well-being than you ever thought possible. You will learn to make small changes in the way you feel, think and act, and you will come to realize that these small changes can make a big (actually, huge) difference.

That’s not to say that if you are angry, stressed out, anxious or depressed you can or should just ‘pull yourself together and get on with it’. Life is often difficult, and blaming yourself for feeling bad is like trying to teach a pig to sing – it rarely works, and it tends to annoy the pig.

But if you want to have more choices about what you feel when, I’ll be sharing the fruits of over 20 years of exploration into the structure of happiness and how you can use that understanding to feel good, feel better and even feel happy about whatever is happening in your life right now.

How this all works

My wife once asked me to define the difference between a therapist, a consultant and a coach. I referred to my trusted dictionary and was told that a therapist is someone who:

‘…treats mental, physical, or psychological disorders by mental, physical, or psychological means’

A consultant, on the other hand, is:

‘a person who provides expert advice professionally’

whereas the standard British definition of a coach is:

‘a single-decker vehicle, especially one that is comfortably equipped and used for longer journeys’

(which is nothing compared to the Australian definition of a coach as ‘a docile cow or bullock used as a decoy to attract wild cattle’…)

My own definition of these three ‘helping professionals’ is a bit simpler – a therapist fixes what’s broken, a consultant tells you what to do, and a coach, like the aforementioned single-decker vehicle, is comfortably equipped and trained to help you get wherever you want to go.

When my wife went on to ask me which one I was, I thought long and hard before realizing that while I inevitably did a little bit of all of those things, the heart of my approach didn’t really fit any of them. What I am, and the role I hope to play with you throughout this book, is a catalyst.

Catalyst (n)

1. An agent or substance that initiates or accelerates the rate of a reaction without being consumed in the process.

2. One that precipitates a process or event, especially without being directly involved in or changed by the consequences.

3. Someone or something that causes an important event to happen.

Much of my background and psychological training is in a field called neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) – the study of how language impacts our neurology and behaviour. Since what I want for you is to be truly, deeply happy, in order to initiate and accelerate that process I have written this book using specific (and sometimes unusual) language patterns that will actually trigger chemical changes on the inside of your brain. You may begin to experience good feelings in your body and a greater sense of what’s possible in your mind just by reading these words.

There are essentially two ways to read this book (or indeed any book that purports to tell you how to live more happily in the world): you can believe the book has all the answers or you can believe that you do.

I believe in you.

Over the past 16 years I’ve worked with over 10,000 people from all around the world, helping them to become happier and to live more and more wonderful lives. Some of these people are amongst the wealthiest and most successful in the world, while others are ‘just plain folk’ who simply want more out of life than a daily grind and a nightly battle with their own dark thoughts and unfulfilled dreams.

The reason I can work as effectively with a TV star, a CEO, a scientist and a housewife all in the same day is that I know something about each one of them which is also true of you:

You already have everything you need inside you to be happy and live a meaningful life – the only question is access!

I’ve deliberately put more experiments in this book than anyone is likely to complete. That’s so you can do the ones that capture your imagination and leave the rest for another time. Each experiment is designed to give you a tangible experience of your incredible capacity to choose and to change.

And if you choose to make this book about you and your happiness, you are about to embark on an adventure that will change your life for good.

The choice to feel happy

No matter how many times I talk about the benefits of feeling happy to individual clients or groups, the initial responses are the same:

‘How can I feel happy? You clearly know nothing about my life!’

‘Isn’t it bad to feel happy when there’s so much suffering in the world?’

‘I wouldn’t want to feel happy all the time.’

While we’ll take a closer look at each of these points in our very first chapter together, let me take a few moments here to address them en masse:

You are under no obligation to feel happy. Not feeling happy does not make you a bad person and I don’t think you ‘should’ feel happy now or later or even all the time.

But what I do want you to know is that it is possible for you to feel happy – and that choice is yours to make at any moment.

The benefits of making that choice are both simple and profound:

1. It feels good

At the risk of beginning by stating the obvious, our bodies have a natural predisposition towards pleasure (good feelings) and away from pain (bad feelings). This is a biological survival instinct, and is governed by our limbic system and brain stem, which are the oldest parts of our brain. Given the choice between a perceived pain and a perceived pleasure, your brain will take you towards the pleasure and away from the pain every single time.

2. It makes you healthier

When ‘happy chemicals’ are released into your body, your muscles relax and all your neurological and physiological systems return to their natural state. As most diseases can be traced at least partially to dis-ease in the body, this ‘return to ease’ that accompanies happiness is both comforting at the time and healing over the long term. In addition, a focus on care and compassion increases your body’s production of IgA, a chemical which has an immediate positive impact on your immune system.

3. It makes you younger

A study by the Institute of HeartMath has shown that the simple act of visualizing someone you love while focusing your attention on your physical heart will increase your body’s production of DHEA, the anti-ageing hormone. In addition, the positive effects of that little bit of good feeling will last in your body for up to seven hours. So not only can feeling happy help you to heal, it also acts as a sort of a ‘spiritual Botox’ for your body, making your skin softer, your eyes brighter and your entire appearance younger.

4. It makes you smarter

If you’ve ever struggled to solve a problem, you may have had the experience of being distracted from the struggle by the beauty of a sunset, a well-timed piece of gallows humour or even the sheer relief of giving up for a time. In the space that followed that interruption, you suddenly knew exactly what to do next.

This process is wonderfully described in Guy Claxton’s book Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind as ‘the triumph of wisdom over intellect’ – and being able to access your inner wisdom ‘on demand’ will make you smarter than another 14 years of school ever could. (As a point of interest, it will also let you take full advantage of everything you learned in the first 14 years.)

5. It makes you more successful

Much of my first book was based on a simple premise:

Happiness leads to success a lot more often

than success leads to happiness.

The clarity of thought and easy flow of inspiration and intuition that accompany good feelings in your body make it easier to make the choices that lead to success. They also make success fun.

So in all these ways and more it turns out that happiness is not only a choice – it’s an extremely practical choice, one that will not only make your life more pleasant, it will make it tangibly better, creating an optimal environment within which you can grow and prosper.

Happy matters

A venture capitalist I know who has had a great deal of success in his life is what I would call an ‘open-minded sceptic’ when it comes to anything that smacks of self-help or personal development. His first inclination is to dismiss any new idea as ‘too simple’, ‘too stupid’ or ‘OK for other people’, yet he’s also oddly willing to give these things a try. (I suspect so that he can then reject them from first-hand experience!)

After the success of my first book, You Can Have What You Want, he asked me what my follow-up would be. When I told him that it was about how to feel happy, he seemed genuinely disappointed.

‘Oh,’ he said. ‘It’s going to be one of those books.’

I’m not sure exactly what he meant, but I asked him to try a little experiment. I asked him to think about a problem he was having – a situation in his life that he was feeling slightly overwhelmed by. When I noticed his eyes move down and his skin go a bit pale, I shouted ‘Boo!’ at him and he looked back up at me, startled but bemused.

Next I asked him to think a happy thought – to think about someone or something that made him smile. He seemed to find that a little bit harder, but he closed his eyes and when I saw a smile playing on his lips and the colour returning to his face, I guided him through the basic ‘recipe for feeling good’ exercise I will share with you in Chapter Three. Soon he was breathing deeply and evenly, his shoulders had relaxed and he had an expression of calm and peace on his face.

‘Now,’ I said to him, ‘continuing to enjoy these feelings of ease and well-being, I want you to once again think about that situation you found overwhelming.’

As I said the word ‘these’, I reached over and gently squeezed his shoulder, creating a simple association between that touch and his good feelings.

I watched his face as he began to think about that old situation in a brand new way. The muscles around his eyes tensed, then relaxed, then tense again, then relaxed even more.

When he seemed completely at peace, I told him to open his eyes and asked him what had happened.

‘That was weird,’ he said. ‘When you asked me to think about a problem, I was going to think about something at work and then an image of my teenage daughter just popped into my head. We’ve been battling over pretty much everything for a while now and I was just getting back into our most recent argument when you startled me.’

He looked at me with a strange smile on his face.

‘Then, when you asked me to think a happy thought, I thought about my daughter again, but this time it was when she was a little girl. God, she could make me laugh! At first I was just playing along with you, but it really did feel good to think about that, so I gave myself over to the good feelings and just decided to enjoy it.

‘When you squeezed my shoulder and asked me to think about the problems I’d been having with my daughter again, it was really confusing – like I couldn’t quite remember what it was about it that I had been finding so difficult.’

I then asked him, ‘So what’s changed about your relationship with your daughter just from having taken a few minutes out to feel happy before thinking about it again?’

His analytical mind kicked back in and he said, somewhat dismissively, ‘Well obviously, nothing’s changed!’

Within a few moments, the smile returned to his eyes as he said somewhat reflectively, ‘But everything’s different.’

And this to me is the whole point of happiness (if indeed feeling happy needs ‘a point’):

When you’re happy, nothing changes –

but everything is different.

‘Mental mountains’ are reduced into molehills; problems that seemed insoluble begin to dissolve in the light of your happy awareness. If there are things for you to do in order to make things more the way you want them to be, you have a remarkable sense of clarity about what to do and a remarkable sense of ease about doing it. In other words, your life may not look any different on the outside, but it feels completely different on the inside. And those new feelings of happiness are often the only difference you need to make all the difference in the world.

So if you’re ready to feel happy now – even if you’re not quite sure that it’s really possible for you – let’s get things started…