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Chapter 1 Happiness Is a Skill

 by Rob Kall

From the unpublished book, The Happiness Response, By Rob Kall, written in 1990
(seeking a publisher for a new, revised version based on the title The Art of Positive Experiences and Good Feelings
This is free to read and to pass along as long as you include all of the words in this page file.
If you find this material helps you, please consider treating it as shareware and send a payment to:

Rob Kall
211 N. Sycamore St.
Newtown, PA 18940
215-504-1700, fax 215-860-5374

"A happy life on what depends? On knowing how to live." Voltaire

Think about good feelings and positive experiences you've enjoyed-- special moments of sparkle and wonder that filled your heart with a warm glow, or thrilled, uplifted, strengthened, inspired, or energized, you. You can learn skills to help you turn on or intensify those same feelings at will.

Happiness is a skill too often taken for granted. Why are some people happier than others? Why do we have some days when we feel great most of the day, and other days, when we forget about sunshine, flowers and eagles soaring, only noticing the dark, dirty and down parts of life? You can maximize your happiness by learning a repertoire of skills that enable you to increase the frequency and strength of your positive experiences.

Turn On Good Feelings At Will

Over 20 years ago, researchers learned we can use biofeedback techniques to control body systems previously believed to be involuntary-- beyond our control, including; blood flow, brain waves, heart rate, even single cells in the spine. Now, biofeedback is a common tool used to teach people to control stress and pain disorders. Stress control helps to clear the path to happiness, but it doesn't get you there. You can combine it with other self control and awareness techniques to maintain a positive attitude, turn on your happiness, and increase the percentage of time you feel good and enjoy life. You'll develop the ability to activate and/or intensify positive feelings, to identify and remove happiness inhibitors and strengthen your smile muscles to enhance your happiness "reflexes" so you can make the most of PE opportunities. You'll also learn cognitive psychology techniques to reinterpret negative experiences or attitudes in new, more effective, surprisingly powerful ways.

The aim of this program is to help you develop these new skills as permanent, positive habits so you can make better use of the positive experiences (PEs) you've already enjoyed so you can get more out of life and perform at your peak potential.

Here are just a few of the benefits the Happiness Response program offers. Enhance your performance. Strengthen your self esteem and ability to cope with or eliminate stress, pain and depression. Increase your motivation. Enhance your everyday mood and attitude. Strengthen your immune system to help healing and boost your resistance to disease. Become more aware of PE opportunities. Develop the confidence needed to take risks. You'll be able to control irritability, pain, anxiety, fears, phobias and panic attacks, bad habits and anger. While this list promises a lot, remember, all these powers come easier to relaxed, people who are at peace with themselves.

Big O's and little o's

Except perhaps for orgasm, science has not progressed very far in understanding the little PEs, the "little "o"s that most of us experience so much more often. But recently research and clinical advances in related areas have led to some exciting new ideas that promise advances in the science of feeling good and happiness as great as those that have occurred in medicine.

"When man is born, he opens his eyes to tears before he opens them to the sun." Marini

At birth, our mind and nervous system are empty vessels, waiting to be filled with ideas, attitudes, memories, beliefs and points of view. We take our first breath, cry and then we start a life of seeking happiness. We each have shining strengths we must learn to take full advantage of to be sure we capitalize on each moment of positive opportunity. But it's important to realize that sometimes we just have to wait through the tough times, or times when we're not at our peaks of positive experience (PE), self esteem, performance or pleasure, knowing that eventually things will get better.

That's when we need techniques and coping skills to fall back on, to help us bridge those gaps in our happiness. We can begin by mastering maximum use of our positive experiences.

Perfect Your Positive Experiences (PEs):

You feel good while a PE is happening and you feel good all over again when you recall it. Positive experiences give us special feelings, including pleasure, delight, heartwarming, laughing, loving, enjoying, optimally performing, flowing and feeling in the groove, communing, reaching, growing, discovering, peaking, soaring, sharing, connecting and more.

As you enjoy or remember a PE you may feel a warm, pleasant feeling sensation spreading from your heart and your smiling eyes and cheeks, chills up the back of your neck, or a connected feeling of just flowing in the groove. You've enjoyed these nice feelings many times before.

You can learn how to enjoy good feelings more often and with more intensity. You can learn to use past good feelings and PEs to help you repeat, even surpass past peak performances and PEs when you face new situations.

Your positive experience memories are really mini lessons. No matter how hard a life you've had, even if you are now suffering from depression, there have certainly been at least a few times in your life when you've felt good. When you are feeling your worst, these stand as proof you were able to feel good before and that you can do it again, During difficult times, we persevere because remembrance of our PEs at a conscious or subconscious level, give us reason to expect that more will come. Our PE memory bank fortifies us and functions like an anchor to protect and stabilize us when fortune buffets us with the winds of adversity.

When we're subjected to cruelty, our memories of loving parents balance our reactions, helping us to handle it. When we fail at sports or business, we fall back on memories of successful experiences to sustain our faith in ourselves. When we have a bad day, we start the next day with a fresh outlook and hope because good days have followed bad days before.

When we embark toward a challenging goal, we fortify our morale and motivation with memories of success and the good feelings we enjoyed in attempting and reaching previous goals.

People's paths to happiness vary considerably. Throughout every day, we encounter choice points of perspective. Do you narrow your focus to a single track aiming unrelentingly toward a single goal, or do you see and enjoy spontaneous PE opportunities as you go? When you look out your car window at rush hour, do you see a long line of irritating traffic, or do you notice and enjoy the beautiful, pink and purple sunset gilding the sky?

Silly? Seriously!

Some of the exercises in this book will definitely make you feel a bit silly at times. But that's their purpose-- to help you feel comfortable about being silly sometimes. Actually, one of the goals of psychoanalysis is to help people rid themselves of inhibitions that keep them from relating to the world from the silly, playful child, joyous part of their personalities. As the ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius wrote, "One of true greatness never loses his child's heart."

Unfortunately, some therapists ignore the inner strengths and resources people bring to therapy. Instead, emphasis is placed on symptoms, problems, and the expression of negative feelings. To such therapists, a cured patient is not necessarily a happy and playful and energetic one; he is merely the same patient who came in, but minus the headache or hostility or fear.

Vitamin S, for Smile

There's a special kind of magic in making faces, particularly smiles. Over the last two decades, emotion researchers have begun to make helpful inroads towards explaining why a simple smile is so important to happiness and so necessary that inability to smile can lead to depression. I use these concepts in my work all the time.

Occasionally, during a lecture, I'll turn on an exaggerated, ear to ear, puffy cheeked, twinkling-eyed smile. Someone always laughs out loud-- usually quite a few people do, and many more smile back at me. It's not that I'm particularly funny, rather, my smile wakes up the smile response in the on-lookers' brains making it easier for them to start smiling.

We smile when we're feeling good-- loving, enjoying, sharing, when we are achieving or succeeding or flowing with positive energy. When you turn on a genuine smile, you activate a conditioned stimulus that works like a light switch, lighting you up with good feelings, brightening the faces and feelings of anyone who catches a glance at your smile. Of course, there are smiles and then there are smiles. I'm not talking about the pinched smile you give to the neighbor you really don't know or like. I mean the crescent shaped, warm, genuine smile you enjoy giving and people like to receive.

Research has shown that when you are trying to recall a happy memory, it's easier if you are already smiling and feeling happy. That makes sense. You recall things by reconstructing pieces of the memory. If the emotional state is already in place, it acts as a framework. Making a happy face works on a moment or a fleeting good feeling the way bright light converts a tiny slide into a screen full of photograph. It brightens and magnifies what we see or feel.

So smile as much as you can. You've heard this before. This sounds like pollyana talk, doesn't it? It is so simple, but it works!! Unfortunately, like many simple things, smiling is not always easy for everybody all the time. It's not that people don't want to smile and feel good. Their inhibitions keep them from smiling. The trick is to tie smiling to a number of other happiness response strategies you'll learn in this book so your smile reflex becomes strong and lightning fast.

Try This Smile Experiment.

Raise the right corner of your mouth towards your cheek and eye. Pull fairly strongly. This movement doesn't activate that strong an emotional response pattern, except, perhaps, for a cynical, raised eye look. But don't raise your eye too. Keep that half smile. Now raise the other side of your mouth in the same strong way. Make the smile symmetrical. Tilt your head back a bit and make a happy or satisfied sound, like ummmmmm. Magically, you'll find a good feeling "kicks in" as the manufactured smile becomes a genuine smile, lit up with genuine feelings gelled by the activation of conditioned reflexes.

The exercise clearly shows how a positive feeling response pattern lights up when the right smile muscle pattern is activated. If this exercise doesn't work for you the first time, the advanced instructions in chapter four "Whole Body Smiling," and chapter 6, on relaxing and letting go, will help you open yourself up and tune in all the way.

We usually smile in response to events that occur around us. What if nothing smile-worthy happens during your day? Does that mean you won't smile? You write your own daily happiness script. Take a lesson from the telephone company-- "reach out and touch someone." You're really reaching out to enjoy the touch yourself, to make the connection with someone you love. One of the best ways to make yourself feel good is to make someone else feel good. You don't make the call for the purpose of creating a genuine smile. You probably don't think to yourself; "I want to feel good and smile so I'll reach out and touch someone." But that's the effect of the call. You have made a decision to create a PE for yourself. All creatures make conscious or subconscious decisions about what they do through the day. It is better to consciously choose.

Positive Experiences pull us through tough times

You have to be alert to positive experiences or they'll sneak right past you. If you grab them, they can add so much to make each day better. My neighbor Ben told me this example. "I'd worked late the night before, and at 7:00 the next morning, feeling tired and groggy, I was awakened by David, my four year old. He was yelling at the top of his voice to his little sister, "Be quiet or you'll wake up Daddy." Even at that early hour, as cranky as I could have been, my day turned around, started with a smile."

Just a few hours before my mother-in-law, died, her close family was sitting around her bedside. Two days before, Mom had asked to have her respirator removed. Her breathing was rapid and very strained. The chaplain had said a few brief prayers and we were sitting waiting solemnly. I suggested we share memories of positive experiences spent with Mom. In moments, we were laughing, bringing back to life the part of her, our good memories, which would stay alive. She died three hours later, after a month of suffering on a respirator. Sharing the PEs helped us all through that tough day. The positive experiences you've encountered in your past play a powerful role your approach to life. Do you look at the ground positively and see fertilizer for beautiful flowers, or do you look negatively and see dirt or dog doo that can soil your shoes or clothes? Positive attitude helps you see opportunities that can lead to happiness which in turn leads to positive attitude. It's a wonderful cycle.

How do you get into the happiness loop? Realistically, we move in and out of it all the time as our perceptions of the world changes. You learn to wear rosy colored glasses.

Before you perceive the continuous bombardment of environmental stimuli impinging upon your senses, it is processed, filtered through your memories and interpreted. One of the important goals of this book is to teach you how to voluntarily control the filters in your mind set. You can orchestrate the weaving of the veil of selective perception that determines what you see. Do you want to see the sky as a glorious sky with the celestial rays streaming from behind billowing clouds, or an ominous, rain threatening sky? Same sky, different mind set.

These mind sets add up. Most books on the subject advise developing a positive attitude to become successful. The problem is; how do you create and keep that positive attitude? The answer is inside you. You've already enjoyed a positive attitude so many times, each time you've had the pleasure of a PE. Learn to harness your positive experiences so you can tap them in an organized, practical way, rather than enjoying them in the moment then letting them gather dust in your memory.

Store Your Emotional Treasures Carefully

We are all very rich with PE memory treasures-- wonderful times we've enjoyed. Everyone has thousands of these. But how many can you quickly recall. Five or ten or twenty? These memory treasures are not exactly emotional liquid assets. It takes time to dig them up. Your mind doesn't provide ready access to these treasures from the deep. They become obscured and hidden by mists of time and layers of experience. The encrustation of time must be peeled away layer by layer so the luster of positive feelings can glow warmly through your whole being. Once you dig up these good memories, you can analyze them to understand what made you feel good, how you connected with the good feelings, how you let go of inhibiting behaviors and what you did to help make the experience happen.

I can't promise that reading this book will make you happy, but I can assure you that it will: teach you a great deal about what has made you happy and what can make you happy. It will provide you with many new skills for creating and magnifying happiness. It will help you develop the habit of keeping inventory of your positive experience memories so you can use them as models and examples of how to enhance the performance and pleasure in your life. It will encourage you to collect positive experience memories you can share them with others. It's a way of moving what I call heart energy.

end chapter 1

if you liked this chapter, I am considering posting more chapters from the book. I have already posted one other--the last one:

The Future of Feelings A chapter describing the future of feelings from a positivity, positive psychology point of view

You can also access other related materials from the Positivity Central Page

Contact me with comments, suggestions, etc at Rob Kall