“Mind over matter.”
Have you ever heard this phrase? Does it mean anything to you?
When I was in my twenties I was given the classic book Mind Over Mood, written by two master cognitive therapy clinicians. The book helped me understand how our thoughts affect our actions. It also helped develop my interest in self-help and human potential, deeply connected to the work I do today as a Retirement Coach. I took the book’s advice and practiced being more considerate … yet found myself continuing to make poor decisions. Why wasn’t this practice working for me?
As I dug deeper, I discovered more about how my habit of “people pleasing” was impacting my thoughts, actions and even my feelings about myself and my life. I was surprised to discover that in practicing consideration, as suggested in the book, I was trying to do my best for someone else … yet often compromising my own values in the process! In the end I was left feeling resentful, empty and even sometimes trapped in a cage of my own making.
Why We Do the Things We Do
Today as a Retirement Coach, I’ve found that the following are typically reasons adults do something:
- Because it’s trendy
- Because our friends are doing it
- Because someone else expects us to do it
- Because we have a degree or training in it
As we approach midlife or retirement age, we may feel a sense of panic that our career choices, where we live, who we’ve married, even our hobbies haven’t really been our own choices. We may discover that we’ve made compromises instead of true choices based on our most deeply-held values. This realization and the accompanying regret can be the seeds of a full-blown midlife crisis, or a depressed and hopeless feeling instead of the happy retirement we wanted.
“Wanting to Be Happy Can Make You Less Happy”
My years of experience, research and professional training as a Life and Retirement Coach have shown me in more depth how feelings and thoughts affect our physical well being. In fact, a recent study showed that those who pursue happiness as their goal are actually less content with their lives, as a rule!
Wait … isn’t the pursuit of happiness one of our inalienable rights as Americans?
“Wanting to be happy can make you less happy,” said researcher Iris Mauss, an assistant professor in psychology at the University of Denver. “If you explicitly and purposely focus on happiness, that appears to have a self-defeating quality.”
She explains that when people try to be happy, they set higher standards by which they’re more likely to fall short – which actually leads to greater discontent. So emphasizing the pursuit of happiness can actually set you up for disappointment!
How Mindset Can Help Us Age … or Do Anything … More Happily
Have you heard the inspiring story of Lizzie Velasquez
? Popular on social media today, Lizzie was once labeled, “The Worlds Ugliest Woman.” She was born with an extremely rare congenital disease called Marfanoid–progeroid–lipodystrophy syndrome. Her condition, one that has caused her partial blindness and in which she is unable to maintain a normal body weight, resulted in bullying during her childhood. Lizzie was ultimately inspired to take up motivational speaking. In her TED Talk
, she turns things around to create her own definition of what she defines as beauty and happiness. She focuses on her great hair and all the things she has going for her in her life. What an inspiration.
How to Avoid Sabotaging Your Own Happiness
Have you ever met someone like this, who seems to thrive in any circumstance? When we fully grasp the control we have over our own destiny, like Lizzie we too can feel good about our lives, even if we or our partner faces an unexpected health setback, our investments don’t pan out the way we expected … really through any type of adversity, challenge or tragedy.
Most people spend their lives trying to fix their weaknesses. But when we discover – and leverage – our passions, interests and strengths, we can tap into a deep-seated and seemingly limitless source of joy.
How to Retire Happy
But how do we get to that place of happiness and contentment, where we trust ourselves and our choices? How can we focus on our strengths when we don’t know what they are?
Most of us try to be our best by scheduling ourselves, writing to do lists, taking classes and working hard. But here’s a hint: “mind over matter” often does not work. We inevitably find that our hearts and souls wanting more than our to-do lists. There is no time this is more evident than when we’re looking at retirement, when we have this blank expanse of time and possibility before us. I believe that it’s crucial at this time in our lives to be content, at peace and joyfully happy through discovering what fulfills us and finally getting in touch with who we really are.
You can wait to hit rock-bottom, or you can embrace the changes you are experiencing with the aging process. If you aren’t happy, what you’re doing isn’t sustainable. Eventually, something will have to change. Why not make it on your timeline?
Here’s a Life Coaching secret: cultivating character traits like:
- kindness or
… can actually end up making you feel happier.
Family, friends and coworkers might give you well-meaning advice, but they will always have a vested interest in your choices. Sometimes it helps to have a neutral third party to point you in the right direction.
As a Retirement Coach, each day I have the opportunity to help people clarify their values and visions and to focus on success as they define it. This increases their confidence and enables them to concentrate on how they can create the happy retirement they deserve, and in the process better serve others.