Making the new year happy

Published: Sunday | December 29, 2013 Comments 0

Ian Boyne, Contributor

I could wish you a happy new year, as is customary at this time, but far more useful is giving you some tips as to how to make it truly happy. The first thing I must tell you is that you should expect - and prepare for - disappointments, adversities, setbacks, frustrations, heartaches, challenging circumstances and unfulfilled dreams.

The first key to having a happy new year is preparing your mind for the unexpected and the unwelcome. That's life. It's no use wishing it otherwise. We don't live in an ideal world and this world is not designed to facilitate all your whims and fancies. Stuff happens. People disappoint, they betray, they break promises. Don't be flustered by that. One might not immediately think about how the happiness of individuals - or the lack thereof - relates to national development, but it really does.

Unhappy, frustrated, emotionally crippled and psychologically immobilised people can't create products of excellence, won't innovate, and won't persevere despite the odds to produce world-class goods and services. This is why so much attention is being paid to the subject of happiness today and why there is a whole new area of economics called Happiness Economics - a rapidly growing field. Studies done on the economic transformation of Asia - the fastest-growing area in the world - have focused on cultural factors behind its success. The quality of your economy is dependent on the quality of your people. And the quality of your people is dependent on the quality of their thinking.

I have spent a lot of time studying the ancient Stoic philosophers like Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and others. I have also studied New Thought and the more modern versions of the Human Potential Movement and the Positive Thinking Movement. I attribute a lot of my own achievements to this influence.

VALUABLE LIFE LESSONS

I have learnt some valuable life lessons, which we all need to learn if, indeed, we are going to make meaningful our desire to have a happy new year. So we have to not just expect but embrace disappointments, setbacks and frustrations. And that's why you need a positive mental attitude. You have to possess what psychologist Martin Seligman and others call an optimism bias. You have to see the glass half full rather than half empty. You have to believe instinctively that things will work out, that your disappointments and frustrations will be compensated.

No failure is final. Unless you make it so. Remember, no matter what happens to you, you have response-ability. No matter what hits you in life, you have the ability to determine how you respond. No one can take this away from you. People can do things to your body, your possessions, your family and other loved ones. People can fire you from your job, rob you of economic and social opportunities, but as Mandela showed, you retain that sovereignty over your life by exercising your psychological autonomy.

No matter what your circumstances are, your mental attitude can trump them. This is no hairy-fairy sentimentalism. Scientific research backs this up solidly. And practical experience shows people overcoming the most trying of circumstances. The scientific research shows that human beings are far more adaptable and resilient than we think. It has shown conclusively that we typically underestimate how we would deal with tragedies, setbacks, and even terminal illnesses. Human beings are notorious at calculating how devastated they would be by their worst fears.

Take it from science: You are stronger than you think. The things that will frighten and worry you next year will be dealt with by you just fine - if you only have the right attitude towards them and develop what psychologists call 'hardiness'. But if you feel you will be defeated by your problems, you will. To have a happy new year, you have to believe that you are strong, capable, courageous and confident to face whatever life throws at you. You have to believe that you can take your lemons and make lemonade. You have to believe that every setback is a set-up for a comeback.

POSITIVITY BRINGS SUCCESS

This is not Pollyannaish thinking. Science has proven that positive, optimistic people are more successful than pessimistic woe-is-me individuals. I recommend two books by Shawn Anchor to acquaint yourself with this abundant scientific research: The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work and his latest Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness and Sustaining Positive Change. Make yourself this New Year's present. It will be well worth it.

And while you are at it, get Daniel Goleman's latest book, Focus: the Hidden Driver of Excellence. It gives some important keys to success. You will find them useful in 2014.

Another key ingredient to making 2014 a happy year is to nurture a passion for excellence. Despise mediocrity. Always aim to be at the top. I remember going to CARIMAC head, Professor Aggrey Brown, the day I enrolled at the University of the West Indies to ask him what I would need to do to graduate at the top of the class. He told me how many A's I needed for a distinction and I set my mind to it. I have always tried to nurture a passion for excellence. And it's one of the lessons which come out frequently in my interviews with successful people on Profile, which next year will be in its 27th year (and always at the number one position in its time slot for all the years competition ). Incidentally, as of next week it will be 30 years since I have been writing continuously for The Gleaner. I doubt I would be able to do this without this passion for excellence.

It is something which you must have. You must have that fire in your stomach. Whatever you are doing, it can't just be a job. If you are to succeed, it has to be a passion, a calling, an unquenchable drive. Only this passion for excellence will keep you going when you encounter obstacles, objections, and obstruction. The world makes way for someone who knows where he is going.

No matter what happens in 2014, no matter how bad the economy is or what is happening in your personal life, always remember you have response-ability. Only you can determine how you react. That's your ultimate power. You can pick yourself up after being hit down. You have many rivers to cross, but you can make it if you really try. Affirm that in 2014 and you'll have a happy new year.

Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ianboyne1@yahoo.com.

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