The doorbell rang. Chief, a one-year-old black Cocker Spaniel, turned manic. He wanted to say hello but he was missing something. He had an interesting habit of needing to carry something in his mouth before greeting anyone. It was like a comfort thing. Usually, he had a toy or a Kong. However, today, after looking left and right, he could not find anything like that. Panic! How can you greet anyone with your mouth empty?! There are decorum and rules to be followed. At last, he found something to carry in his mouth! Phew! He was safe. He managed to find something. He found a loose Post-it note. He carried it awkwardly in his mouth, part sticky and part dropping as there was not much to grip on with his teeth. He began to woof with his mouth close and his tail was wagging like mad. He looked ridiculous, carrying that tiny Post-it in his mouth but as dogs are, he did not care. His rules including having something in his mouth when greeting someone and he was not about to break it.
Chief had a simple rule that he followed. In doing so, he was able to continue with his life as he saw fit. It is very often that in your life, you have rules too. Some rules may be conscious, some may be unconscious. Do your rules help or hinder you? Are they empowering or disempowering?
For example, you may have a rule that in order to cook a successful (Christmas) meal for your family, everyone must like the food. If they do, you feel accomplished. If at least one person felt it was not to their taste, you feel dejected. Perhaps, you have spent ages preparing a gift for someone (perhaps, your child), and your rule was that if they liked it, it was a well-chosen present. If they did not, it was a poor choice and reflected on your lack of taste. Is that really true?
What if your rule for a sense of accomplishment was that you did your best in preparing the meal or the present and regardless of the outcome, you felt good about yourself because you have put in your best? How would you create a rule that is more likely to empower you than make you feel like you have failed? Would it make sense to have rules that did NOT depend on factors beyond your control? This is not referring to ‘positive thinking’ or ‘staying happy all the time’. It is not the same as not caring because your rule does not include others’ feelings or anything to that effect.
Please allow me to introduce (or remind) you a concept. It is not a new concept. It is something all of us did well when we were a child. It is ‘You care but you are not attached’. In fact, you may care extremely deeply but you remain unattached. When you were a child, do you remember a time when something you cared about (like a birthday party or an outing) that did not go exactly to plan but you had fun anyway? Could you apply that to your life? It can be extremely challenging. For example, I can care for my children deeply but remain unattached to their choices in life whether to be happy or not. When they are unhappy, I care but will not allow it to affect my life. Easy to say, hard to do! I know that whether they are happy or not, it has nothing to do with my happiness. It is up to me to manage my state. My unhappiness does not serve nor does it bring any value to anyone. On the other hand, if they can see that my happiness does not rely on any external factor but myself, they may learn that for themselves too. My rule for happiness does not lie in external factors. It is far too risky to do so!
Can you remember the last time you were upset? It could be something someone said, bad weather when you planned something really great to do outdoors, or a special meal (or surprise) that did not go to plan. Perhaps you had spent ages doing something for someone and expected a certain response and when you did not receive it, you felt unappreciated. Hold that thought. Now, are you able to think of another time when the events discussed above happened exactly the same way and you felt different and on the contrary, good and happy instead of upset? Perhaps not you, but if it had happened to someone else, they felt good and certainly not upset at all? What is the difference? How can someone feel different about the same events that have happened?
The difference lies in the rules of the individual. We have rules that make us happy and rules that make us sad. You have a thinking that things need to take place in a certain way at a certain time eliciting a certain response before you become happy. Similarly, events have to take place in a certain way and a certain method that makes you upset. Getting upset is nothing more than an infringement of your rules. Being happy is nothing more than your rules being followed. Many people have more rules to get upset than to be happy. What about you?
If you find yourself being happy most of the time, you probably have many rules that empower you to be happy and fewer rules that make you upset. Conversely, if you find yourself angry and upset all the time, you probably have many rules that set off that trigger for being upset and not many that allow you happiness. The trick is to know that these rules exist, some conscious, most unconscious. Now that you know they exist and are made up by you, if you want be happy, you can address, adjust, manipulate, get rid of, and change them so you 1. Have more rules to get happy and fewer rules to become upset and 2. Empower and enrich your life.
Chief’s rule allows him to feel complete when there is something in his mouth, even if it is just a piece of paper. What rules would you make that will empower you to feel complete and happy?
‘Some rules are nothing but old habits that people are afraid to change.’ – Therese Anne Fowler