We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves. –Buddha
Today, I’m pleased to bring you an interview with Galen Pearl, a talented writer and blogger, about her lovely new book, “10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There).”
Galen, what is, “10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There)” about?
My book is about developing habits to grow a joyful spirit. However, it is not so much a how-to book as it is a book of reflections. My hope is that by sharing stories of how my own life was transformed from fear to joy, others might discover their own inner happy place.
How did you choose these steps?
An appropriate question for you to ask, since it was definitely an intuitive process! In fact, the title came to me first before I had any idea of what the 10 Steps were. Only then did I sit down and try to discern the specific steps. All the steps are facets of the same concept, that within all our spirits is a core of pure light and love and joy. The specific steps reflect practices that are central to many traditions and that were particularly meaningful for me as I removed the blocks of fear to reveal the joy within.
Which step or steps are the most challenging for you?
Step 3–Give up the delusion of control–is the most challenging one for me. For so much of my life, I handled my anxiety and fear by trying to control my external circumstances, including other people’s behavior. As you can imagine, that never worked out too successfully, and it was exhausting. The urge to control comes from wanting things or people to be something other than what they are, so Step 3 is connected to acceptance. Learning what I can control (my own thoughts, words, and actions) and what I can’t control (everything else) was a relief, although the impulse to control my external environment still pops up now and then.
How can a reader use this book?
The book is structured to be accessible in a number of ways. It is divided into chapters based on the 10 Steps. Each step has its own chapter. Within each chapter, there are a number of short sections of one or two pages. You can read straight through the book if you like. You can pick a step that seems most relevant to your life at any particular time and focus on that chapter. You can read one small section a day as a thought to reflect on, or as some readers have said, a daily devotional. Or you can open the book at random and see what that section says to you. Perhaps the last one is more of an intuitive approach.
You can read the book on your own, and it is also adaptable to a group. For the last two years, I have led a monthly discussion group, taking one step a month. The book can be used by a group to generate discussion and support.
What has been the biggest obstacle to happiness in your own life?
Fear. The same obstacle that blocks happiness for all of us. Fear can manifest in many ways, such as anxiety, depression, anger, criticism, hatred, fanaticism, and so on. In my own life, it manifested as a need to be constantly vigilant, believing that if I relaxed my guard, something terrible would happen. My mind spun out a constant stream of looming “what if” disasters, just waiting for me to turn my back. Through practicing the 10 Steps, my beliefs shifted to reflect a trust in the basic goodness of the universe, and an understanding that bad things were not caused by my being happy.
You mention the importance of habits. How are habits connected to our happiness?
Research has shown that only 10% of our happiness is based on our external circumstances. The rest is based on a combination of our basic temperament and our habitual thoughts. We think 40,000-60,000 thoughts a day and most of those are habitual thoughts, the background chatter in our minds. Of those habitual thoughts, a large percentage tends to be negative. That’s tens of thousands of negative thoughts a day, creating and deepening neural pathways in our brains.
The great news is that we can choose to create new neural pathways by consciously developing new thinking habits that will enhance and reinforce happiness. Once we do, these new habits will become the default background in our minds. Happiness becomes what it was meant to be, our natural state. Without the constant bombardment of negative thoughts, our minds can relax, bringing peace to our spirits.
Does living in our happy place mean feeling happy all the time?
No, it doesn’t. I think of my happy place as a place of calm, abiding joy. My surface feelings continue to come and go. Sometimes I feel happy and elated. Sometimes I feel sad and tender. Sometimes I’m even angry. Our happy place is like our home page on the computer. We might visit other sites, but home is always there and we always return.
People are sometimes surprised to find out that you are a lawyer. Is there a link between your legal career and your focus on happiness?
Ha! That’s so true. As one person observed, what does a lawyer know about being happy?! It’s no accident that my legal career was centered in contract negotiation and drafting. I was paid to do what I did best–anticipate every horrible thing that could happen and take steps to prevent it. Step 3 control issue front and center! And yet, as my inner life shifted, I somehow adapted my legal perspective to match what was happening spiritually. It would take another book to sort that all out, but I found that my career and my focus on happiness blended in very satisfying and rewarding ways.
What changes in your life can you attribute to the 10 Steps?
The most obvious one, of course, is that I am happier. I’m more relaxed and I have more energy. I’m a better parent and a better friend because I’m more present and less controlling. I’m more self aware of those times when I stray away from my happy place, and I can more quickly and gently return. During challenging times, I am less fearful and more resilient. I have practiced the 10 Steps long enough and consistently enough that they permeate my consciousness and form the basis of how I interact with my world and the people in it. All this grounds me in a state of humble gratitude for the countless blessings of each day. (And my daughter says that I don’t yell anymore!)
How does your book help people develop more joy in their lives?
I hope it helps most of all by example. I don’t have “the answer.” Or rather, I do have it, and so do we all. Living in our happy place is a worthwhile and attainable way to live. We don’t need to go spend years with a guru on a mountaintop (although that is a fine thing to do if that is your path). What I have tried to show with my own story is that there are simple techniques for changing our habits, techniques that we can weave into our everyday lives. And if we do, we’ll discover the happiness that has been within us all along.
Where is your happy place? What steps do you take to create happiness in your life?
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P.S. To learn more about using your intuition to find happiness – click here.
Galen Pearl’s stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul and A Cup of Comfort anthologies, and her popular blog, 10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There), attracts thousands of readers every month. Recently retired from teaching law, she regularly leads retreats and workshops on developing habits to grow a joyful spirit. A Southern girl transplanted to the Pacific Northwest, she enjoys her five kids and two grandchildren, martial arts, her cabin in the mountains, and mahjong. Visit Galen’s blog for more of her inspiring stories: http://10stepstofindingyourhappyplace.blogspot.com/
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