May 5 2014

Harriet Cabelly,


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Action, Goals, Gratitude, Mindfulness




Circumstances, attitudes, genetic make-up – key words for how we live our life. Because inherent in life are hardships and those slippery slopes, we know that it can’t always be rosy and yummy. But it can be meaningful, purposeful, enriching and pretty awesome. We need to live it in a flourishing way – pain and all – and get the most out of this one-shot deal. (unless of course you really believe you’re coming back for another chance)

There is so much cutting edge research being done on {that word} happiness, thriving, flourishing and just plain living well. We’re learning that the brain is constantly making new connections and there is more and more scientific research showing the huge interplay of the mind and body. It is a circular, fluid connection.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychologist and researcher in the field of happiness, came up with a pie chart representation showing the three main determinants of happiness : 10% is circumstance, 50% is genetics and 40% is our behavior, our intentional activity.

After getting over the surprise that circumstance plays such a small role is our overall happiness, we can hone in on the idea that there is so much in our control that we can do for ourselves to improve our well-being.  Yes, that means it’s up to us. We can do more for ourselves. Yep, that may mean some work on our part and taking some responsibility. But holding onto that victim-like, helpless notion that we’re just born a certain way with a pre-disposed make-up is a recipe for self- imprisonment and points to a pretty low-grade level of contentment and positivity in life.

Life deserves a lot more from us since we’ve been given a blessed chance to play out our role here in goodness and service to others, while appreciating and enjoying the miracles and awesomeness that there is all around us.

So with 40% in our pocket, we can really create something pretty awesome. We can build up lots of muscle so that when the inevitable tough times come, we have the resilience to weather the storm, coming back with renewed meaning and purpose. We can decide to incorporate lots of small happiness boosters that can make big differences in the quality of our life. It’s not about “I’ll be happy when…… our life can go by while we wait for the big When; but rather it’s about making constant choices in the now, in how we live, moment by moment. When we start to string together all those small steps, we start to get a beautiful chain of vibrancy.   When I smell my lavender oil before bed and write in my gratitude journal, I’m going to sleep in a much better frame of mind.

What are a couple of choices we can make that will pretty quickly improve our time here?

Gratitude is probably one of the biggest. For “when we appreciate the good, the good appreciates.” (Tal Ben-Shahar) When we focus in on what we have and what we’re grateful for, even in the midst of trying times, we get a lift which can help us step better along the rocky road. And we’re more likely to notice more of the good. And guess what – it starts appearing more, to our mind’s eye. Are you appreciating the beautiful red rose or focusing on the thorns? They’re both there but what will you hone in on? We can train our minds to shift to the more pleasant.

Mindfulness is another biggie. When we keep ourselves in the present, we can really experience it fully. We’re not thinking about tomorrow’s to-do list or yesterday’s agitation, but we feel and take notice of what it is we’re doing right now.   I really tried to incorporate this at my daughter’s wedding a few years ago. I wanted to feel the five hours of magic and fun and be completely engaged and attentive. My code word was ‘aware’. I would remind myself and her to stay aware of it all – the butterflies in the stomach, the exhilaration, the emotionality.   And it made a huge difference in how I went through the wedding and how I can feel it now when I think back or look at the photos.

We can waltz through life almost in a fog, never really sinking our teeth into anything. But auto-pilot living is not very enriching or engaging. I guess it’s what you call surviving as opposed to thriving.

So what are you doing – surviving or thriving? And can you start to take ownership of that 40% so as to take your current level of well-being to a higher level?


Harriet Cabelly is a social worker and life coach emphasizing living life to its fullest and creating a good life out of (or despite) adversity. She blogs at her site,  Her Interview column highlights people who have transcended their personal challenges and carved out a life filled with meaning, joy and growth beyond their difficulties.  Harriet is also passionate about parenting and facilitates many parenting workshops, empowering parents to step back from hovering and encourage their children’s resiliency skills.  Recently she’s added ‘laughing’ to her repertoire of presentations and you can now find her leading laughter workshops with many varied groups.