The core lesson in this chapter is based on one you learned as a child: “If you don’t have anything nice to say about somebody, don’t say anything at all.” We only have to modify this adage a little so that “somebody” includes yourself and the situations in which you find yourself.
The idea is, very simply, to reach for a positive feeling before you speak, whether it’s in your head or out loud. If you can learn to do this one thing, you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel and, consequently, how much your relationships and your life will improve as well.
Start editing your speech by listening to what you think and say. Find ways to reframe, rework, or recraft unpleasant stories so that you find and share the upside — the appreciative side — of the story. For example, when you’re on your way to a business meeting, don’t repeat in your head the mistakes you made the last time; focus instead on appreciating this fantastic opportunity to be surrounded by other intelligent, competent individuals and how grateful you are to work for such a leading-edge company.
When you’re getting ready for a date, don’t focus on how fat you look in your jeans, how badly your face has broken out, or how little money you have in your pocket. Instead, focus on how great it is that you have the opportunity to spend time getting to know somebody and how exciting it is that somebody’s interested enough in you to devote an entire evening to you.
When you’re relating your day to your friend or partner, tell him or her what you found most intriguing, interesting, exciting, or delicious about your day. What was your favorite part of the day? What did you like most about your week? Who brought you the most joy? What inspired you the most? What are you most anticipating the following day, week, month, or year?
Always ask yourself: Is what I am about to say going to advance the cause of my vision, mission, and goals? Will it uplift the hearer? Will it inspire, motivate, and create forward momentum? If you hear a negative story, simply don’t repeat it. Decide that that story has gone on long enough and be vigilant about not thinking about it or retelling it. This practice will eventually begin to shape your thoughts. And as you model this behavior yourself, the example you set for others will be a teaching mechanism for them, too.
Tell a Better-Feeling Story
You cannot be unhappy without an unhappy story. Negative emotion itself is not unhappiness. Only negative emotion plus an unhappy story equals unhappiness. Likewise, you cannot be happy without a happy story. Positive emotion itself is not happiness.
It needs a happy story to equal happiness. Stories provide the value judgments and meaning that are needed for emotions to become a condition of happiness or unhappiness. A friend provided a great example of this idea:
My father died suddenly when I was working at a job that made me quite miserable. I went home for the funeral, and during the course of a painful week, I realized that my sorrow at my father’s death was hard, but it wasn’t toxic. We shared good memories, I found love with my siblings, I felt bad for my mother but also proud of the life they had shared for forty-five years. I learned that sorrow doesn’t have to be toxic or ugly; it can be beautiful. And
I realized that what was toxic and ugly was my job, so I went back and quit because I couldn’t allow myself to remain in a position that felt so wrong. Something that is hard or challenging isn’t necessarily “bad.”
Improve the content of the story you tell every day about your life, and your life will become that ever-improving story.
Sometimes I joke with my new clients. They’ll ask me how I’m doing and I’ll say something like “Today is my favorite day of the week.” They’ll respond with something like “Wednesday? Wednesday is the best day of your week? Why?” Then I’ll quip, “Every day is better than the day before it in some respect. I’ve learned more or done more or am expecting more or have more to be grateful about. So, yes, today is the best day of the week. And the same will be true tomorrow, and the day after that, and so on.”
In order to successfully tell that better-feeling story, you have to look for a positive, appreciative feeling inside you before you speak. Once you find this feeling, you can speak from this positive, appreciative place, and then you can keep trying to improve or enhance or exaggerate that feeling. You will feel better and better as a result. That’s the point of the storytelling.
Language doesn’t just describe our world; it creates it. Consider some findings. A recent study of young children found that the kids who heard the most words at home while they were growing up did the best scholastically and continued to do the best throughout grade school.
Further, the kids who heard the most words also heard the most constructive words (words of encouragement, hope, empowerment, and love), and these kids excelled at bonding, exhibited the best behavior and self-esteem, and tended to view the world in the most positive terms. One lesson of the study is clear: it’s through language that we create the world, because it’s nothing until we describe it.
About the author:
Robert Mack is the author of Happiness from the Inside Out. He is the resident life coach for Miami Life Center, of Travel & Leisure’s top twenty-five health and wellness centers. Visit him online at:
Excerpted with permission from Happiness from the Inside Out © 2009 by Robert Mack. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.
It will look like this: How to Tell a Better Story By Sharing The Upside