The art of Happiness

Praveen Cheruvu

Engineering Leadership at Anaplan


Happiness is a choice. Our upbringing and the surroundings have made it conditional. The first step is to get over the hump is self-awareness. Self-awareness is a journey by itself. The ability to identify what we can control, and we can’t is important. Being cognizant of “we can control the inputs, but not the outcomes” helps us to move towards acceptance. Acceptance is the first step in the happiness journey. Once we have a better understanding of our locus of control, we tend to move away from fear.

The reason why many of us struggle with the acceptance is that it needs a shift in thinking. We are taught that with hard work you can achieve anything you aspire. The idea that results are out of our control, contradicts our learning and belief system. What our parents intended for us was to work hard and you will be better place than you are, not necessarily that you will get want you to have dreamed. There is a subtle detail missing here. Life is not a linear equation, where for certain quantities of inputs, the value of output is determined. On the contrary, life is a complex polynomial equation with multiple coefficients. These coefficients will be unique for each of us. The coefficients will be one of a kind like our fingerprints. The art of happiness lies in learning on how to manage and normalize our emotions (thinking) in the nonlinear setting.

The techniques mentioned in the article are inspired from the book “The Happiness Trap” written by Russ Harris. The method is called ACT: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and focuses on psychological flexibility. The 6 pillars of ACT are

  1. Diffusion: Reduce the influence of negative thoughts. It is not about controlling the negative thoughts but accepting them. Acknowledging them that negative emotions and fears exists. Accepting that these are stories that mind is telling. Understand that these pictures will not harm us anyway. The simple and effective diffusion technique is to thank mind when trouble past comes into your mind. The second technique is replaced with positive thought or distract it away. Diffusion is aimed at freeing the time and energy so that it can be used for meaningful activities. The outcome of diffusion needs to be feeling better. Restrain from controlling it. The real meaning of acceptance is not giving up. It is the courage to act while dealing with anxiety, guilt, and other painful thoughts. Differentiate the problems that can be solved and acceptance the one’s that cannot be solved. The right wisdom can identify them. ACT also specifies thinking self and observing self. Thinking self is focused on thinking, judgement, and comparison. Observing self is based on focus, attention, and awareness. Mind will not stop telling stories. With the observing self, you can identify them faster before the stories get hooked into your mind. The only way out is via practice.

When anxious, we tend to breathe hard, so need to consciously slow down the breath and move slowly. The flow of emotions is continuous and need to learn and manage them. The ability to stop judging the emotions can help as well. The emotions, mainly negative one’s amplified the situations and lead to overthinking. The net effect is a viscous circle of bad feeling and spiral off easily. To break this, need to learn expansion technique.

2. Expansion: “Expansion means make room for your feelings”. Fighting bad feeling will take away energy, instead creating space for them can be better challenged for better. The four step of expansion is observed, breathe, create space and allow. Use the technique to deal with major problems at hand. The acceptance must be followed by action. If there are no solution, then acceptance is the only option. Don’t try to control them. Be realistic about the expectations. There will not be a time, like “I will never unhappy again”. The technique or process is about acknowledging and dealing with them.

3. Connection: Connection with self happens via observing. You need to train your brain not to judge. Being present is the technique to establish connection. It loops back to the long and slow breathes regardless of the situation. In other words, practicing being neutral. Nothing good can last long and the same applies for the bad as well. Connection can established with the environment you are in, daily life routines and chores to you carry out life.

4. The observing self: The thinking self is limiting your abilities by putting you in a box. The observing self tears down the boundaries and permeates with the environment. By doing this you can continue in the present. Judgement is nothing more than words. With observation you have deeper insights into your strengths and weakness. It will lead to the kind of person you want to be. A truthful story is much helpful than the made up one (thinking self creates). The observing self is awareness, and this is not discussed that often. It is different compared to thinking as observing cannot think.

5. Values: Values are our desires in our heart. We want to stand for them. We use them to guide our life. To create or recognize values, it needs dedicated and uninterrupted ‘me’ time. It needs to be practiced and can evolve over time. Vision is continuum and change as we grow. Value may regard as the end goal in mind. Your values motivate and help keeping moving forward. Goal can be crossed once it is achieved while values continue to live on.

6. Committed action: The values determine the kind of actions we take to find fulfillment. Having a value filled life makes action enjoyable as it leads to contentment and feeling of abundance. The positive side effect of abundance is appreciated things that are around. It leads to automatic mindful and being in present. Our willingness to act is beginning to end procrastination. Writing down an action plan can clarify thoughts; help retain in memory and keep motivation high.

Conclusion: Make happiness a habit. You can train and practice like any other skill. The power comes from acknowledging and learning techniques to incorporate in life. To learn need to rely on technique. ACT — Acceptance and Commitment Therapy lays out steps to acquire the skills.

Reference: The Happiness Trap, Russ Harris

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Praveen Cheruvu

Engineering Leadership at Anaplan

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