By Mike DuBose with Blake and Debra DuBose
No matter your age, race, nationality, or status, it’s almost certain that you—like most other people in the world—desire to be happy. In fact, the “pursuit of happiness” extends back through human history: our Founding Fathers called it an “inalienable right” in our Constitution, and Aristotle wrote about happiness as far back as 400 B.C. Today, bookstores’ shelves are lined with hundreds of self-help books promising “the answer” to becoming happy, and a song called “Happy” was #1 on the charts at the time this column was written. Happiness is also an important concept in every major religion; for example, the words “joy” and “happiness” are mentioned more than 300 times in the Christian Bible. Religious leaders of different faiths even met recently to talk about “the road to happiness.”
“We’re all trying to find home, searching for the place that is the truest and deepest expression of our potential. We are looking for the life of our dreams. Not the life that our mother and father wanted for us, not the life that we wind up with through a series of defaults and bad choices, but the life that is uniquely programmed into our DNA, the life that is rightfully meant to be ours,” writes Kathy Murphy, Ph.D., in her excellent book, Your Possible Life: How to Build the Life of Your Dreams.
Pause for a moment and think about the hopes, passions, and visions for the future you had when you graduated from high school, college, or graduate school. Where did you want your life’s journey to take you? Now fast forward to today. Did you live out some of these dreams? Are you a positive, happy, can-do person with a focus on the future, or an unhappy, negative complainer who dwells in the past?
Only one-third of Americans surveyed in 2013 as part of a large Harris Poll said that they are “very happy” with their lives. That means that two-thirds feel either lukewarm or unhappy! While Americans are statistically some of the wealthiest people on Earth, we are also some of the unhappiest, according to recent studies. Our unhappiness is reflected in our country’s divorce rate, which skyrocketed from 20% in the 1950s to more than 50% in 2014. Statistics validate that rates are similar across the board, regardless of spiritual beliefs or other demographics.
In our culture, asking people, “How are you doing?” has become a standard greeting, and the response of “Good!” is just as automatic. Many times, the speaker doesn’t mean it, and the listener couldn’t care less. Personally, I know more people who are unhappy than those who are satisfied with their lives. You can see it in their body language and facial expressions; feel it radiating from the negative television they watch, their extremist political views, and their gossiping friends who actively find fault in others; and watch it manifest into a litany of complaints without solutions and a poor, selfish way of interacting with others. They are rigid, don’t seek win-win solutions, and dominate discussions because they think they have all the answers. People act like this because they are so miserable. Many don’t even realize how unhappy they are! Sometimes, we think that we are happy, but deep down it’s just not the case.
Ridding yourself of demons that have lived within you for years can be very difficult. They often hide behind the curtain of our conscious minds, quietly directing our thoughts, behaviors, and habits in the wrong direction. Many of us wear masks to disguise the hidden hurts lurking below the surface. We often allow heavy emotional baggage of resentment, anger, emotional wounds, and unresolved conflicts from the past to control the present and drag down our happiness. Some individuals take these problems and their feelings of bitterness to their graves.
John Rockefeller was one of the richest people in the world at the time he was asked, “How much money would make you happy?” His reply was, “Just a little more!” I was once one of those individuals who, on the outside, had everything anyone could ever want. But no matter how much I made, the happiness that I imagined would spring forth once I got that “little more” never came. Fortunately, I realized that I was headed in the wrong direction and was given another chance to find happiness, even though I’m in my sixties. It’s never too late to re-imagine the rest of your life, as former long-time Today Show host Jane Pauley (who lives with bipolar disorder), notes in her bestselling book Your Life Calling.
In 2006, after temporarily going blind, I set the goal of becoming a happy, humble, and loving individual and a caring servant leader to my companies—with a focusbeyond making money. It wasn’t easy, and there were plenty of stumbles and failures along the way. It felt like I was constantly tuning my mental engine, and I often smashed flat into the walls of my own ego driving 100 mph! Going through open-heart surgery further opened my eyes and helped reaffirm my dedication to the path of happiness.
As part of this commitment to change, my staff, my family, and I chose “creating opportunities to improve lives” as our new purpose. The “lives” we seek to improve include mine, those of my family, our employees, the customers we serve, and the less fortunate in our community. Every chance that each of us gets, we passionately drill that purpose home. It’s been instrumental in creating a work culture we love where we can thrive while helping others.
Reinventing myself and my priorities took a lot of reprogramming. I had to slowly and completely change my way of thinking and behaving. I began by looking into the mirror and facing all the warts and “brutal facts” (as Jim Collins recommends leaders do in his bestseller Good to Great). Though it was often painful to experience, I sought out and listened to advice from others, probed deep into my psyche to accept my faults, and actively decided to build a new, happy future.
I was fortunate to interview some of the best clinicians and professors at Harvard University School of Medicine, one of whom, psychiatrist Alexander Vucovic, MD, stated to me, “If you want to change human behaviors, take baby steps.” That’s wise advice for many of life’s situations, including changing your happiness levels. You simply cannot wake up one morning and say, “I’m going to be happy for the rest of my life!” Rather, achieving happiness is more like slowly losing weight, one pound at a time.
Today, I’m very happy, and my happiness continues to grow! Nothing worth having in life is easy to obtain—I have had to work hard at it and will do so until I die, but it’s been a joyful journey. As my wife can attest, I am not the same person I was eight years ago. I reinvented myself with the help of God and others, and it took years to turn the ship in a different direction. While I’m still working out the kinks and am not happy every single day, I wake up excited most mornings, even though, like most people, I still face trials and struggles. (I believe that unrealistically expecting life to be filled with blissful beauty and no troubles can cause unhappiness in itself.) After all, if you don’t have bad days, you can’t appreciate the good ones! My mind is now set to see life’s issues in a different light. Most of the time, happiness comes from simply being grateful for what you have (versus what you want) in life.
Surprisingly, when I tell people how happy I am, they often look puzzled, as if something is wrong. Many seem to think it’s impossible to create a new, happy life as I did. It’s true that no one is happy every day, but we should all strive to be happy most of the time. Experts agree that, even if we are not naturally sunshiny people, we can still learn how to bring more meaning and satisfaction into our lives. Sonja Lyubomirsky reported in her book The How of Happiness and Marci Shimoff said in Happy for No Reason that about 50 percent of our personality and disposition is genetically driven (the traits we inherited from our ancestors wired into our brains), about 10 percent is affected by life’s circumstances, and 40 percent is subject to self-control (and can be changed). Research we reviewed supported these findings. So, it’s possible that by changing your situation and your outlook on life, you can construct a new and happier personality!
Of course, this formula is not applicable to everyone. Individuals who have experienced serious crime such as child abuse or neglect; the unexpected, tragic loss of loved ones; or severe emotional trauma such as divorce may take years to recover before moving forward. Others experience severe disabilities, physical brain problems such as bipolar disorder, and difficult-to-treat chemical imbalances that create depression, hormonal issues, anxiety, and sleeping disorders, just to name a few. The Great Recession caused many severe economic hardships that can also complicate recovery. In other words, many individuals face significant barriers to being happy; however, there’s hope for us all.
The bottom line: As research shows, most of us have some control over how we think and act. Our thoughts control our actions, which become habits that are hard to break. We have to seek out the changes to our lives, no matter how minuscule, that we can make to truly become happy. However, you must choose to pursue happiness. One of the winning-est coaches in South Carolina, Tim Whipple of Irmo High School, for whom both my sons played, once said something that stuck with me: “If you want to be successful at playing basketball, you’ve got to work hard and want the ball!” Likewise, to be happy, you’ve got to want it with great conviction and work hard at it.
We should all approach life like John Wooden (often called the greatest coach of all time), who recommended, “Make every day your masterpiece.” I believe that, when you die, the number of people who attend your funeral represents the lives you touched positively. Why not start filling the pews today by planting the seeds of hope, joy, and love amongst friends, family, colleagues, and even strangers? After all, one of the keys to being happy is focusing more on others than yourself.
The next segment of this series will focus on defining happiness and your relationship with it. I leave you with these famous quotes to reflect upon as you prepare for our next article (and hopefully, your new journey to finding happiness):
Visit our non-profit website www.mikedubose.com for additional articles on a variety of business, travel, and personal topics.
About the Authors: Our corporate and personal purpose is to “create opportunities to improve lives” by sharing our knowledge, experience, success, research, and mistakes.
Mike DuBose, a USC graduate, has been in business since 1981 and authored The Art of Building a Great Business. He is the owner of four debt-free corporations, including Columbia Conference Center, Research Associates, and The Evaluation Group. Visit his nonprofit website www.mikedubose.com for a free copy of his book and additional business, travel, and personal articles.
Blake DuBose graduated from Newberry College’s Schools of Business and Psychology and is president of DuBose Web Group. View our published articles at www.duboseweb.com.
Debra DuBose has been married to Mike for 42 years and co-writes articles with him. She holds college and graduate degrees from Winthrop University and Francis Marion University. She is a former elementary and middle school teacher.
Katie Beck serves as Director of Communications for the DuBose family of companies. She graduated from the USC School of Journalism and Honors College.
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