In addition to being able to hit rock bottom emotionally, we humans can also hit an emotional ceiling.
Despite having a biological mechanism that is constantly seeking to find pleasure and avoid pain, some have also discovered an emotional mechanism that starts shutting down the pleasure if it gets overloaded.
Did you hear that right?
Yes, that means it is possible to be too happy!
Gay Hendricks writes about this happiness-regulation mechanism in his book, The Big Leap. He calls it “the upper limit problem” and describes many times where things in his life were going well and getting better. And just when he was enjoying a peak moment, about to soak up all the sunshine of his success, a gloomy negative suspicious thought would worm its way into his mind and make him doubt the whole thing.
Or worse, he would pick a meaningless fight, resort to snarky comments, become careless with important deadlines, or sabotage his own success in some uncharacteristic way. He watched this happen time and time again in himself and also with his clients, until he started to see the formula:
Everyone has a Happiness Set Point.
And when we get too far away from our happiness set point, even on the positive side, our biochemistry will kick on like a thermostat to bring us back into our normal range. This theory has been studied by the American Psychological Association and many others and is now known as the “happiness set point theory” among psychologists.
So what can we do about it?
Here are the 3 steps I use to gradually expand my capacity for Joy & Happiness:
Whenever I have a few wins in a row, or I reach a long-awaited goal, or even if I just have a particularly good day with my hubby, I become aware of my ceiling as it approaches. It accompanies phrases like:
“I didn’t know life could get this good.”
“It doesn’t get any better than this!”
“I think this is the happiest I’ve ever felt.”
Now, I’m a words girl, so hearing these phrases is how I know my ceiling is near – I say it or think it in words. It may be different for you. It may be a feeling so big in your chest that you just have to spread out your arms and dance around, or you may feel your cheeks aching from smiling all day. Whatever it is for you, start becoming aware of it.
Be aware of when you are nearing your previous happiness ceiling.
2. Stretch & feel safe
Okay, is it time to let that old ceiling crack and let your happiness overflow and raise the roof! I focus on feeling it, savoring it, and rolling around in it, even though I’ve never felt this happy before, and I remind my subconscious mind that I am safe, and that it’s okay to feel this way.
I work out my happiness muscle with every second, knowing that even 10 extra seconds is a big deal! If other thoughts pop up, I set them aside and return my focus just to the Joy for just a liiiiiittle longer…. after all, if it is like most emotions, it may only be around for 90 seconds or so. Enjoy it as much as you can!
3. Enjoy the natural downhill
If I’ve allowed myself to feel the joy fully, it usually starts to fade softly and naturally back down to my typical range. And I am left with a fond memory of a peak experience, an expanded capacity for joy in the future, and a sweet buoyant contentment.
Sometimes, I don’t feel this way afterwards, and I can usually see that I’ve either:
a) tried to hang on to the feeling because I didn’t want it to fade – sort of clinging and grasping and trying to make this joy last foreverrrrrrrrr!!!
b) I’ve “picked a fight” with myself, another, or the situation itself. I may have started noticing how it wasn’t perfect, or tried to control it, or wriggled out of the moment in some new creative way. When I do this, I am left with a tainted memory, and a feeling of frustration.
Here’s what happened to me on the day of my wedding reception. It was a beautiful day, with a lot of little details that mostly went really well. Not perfectly, but really well. It really was one of the happiest days of my life, being with all my friends, family, and my wonderful new husband, in the mountains eating BBQ and playing games.
I felt beautiful, and cared for, and totally myself. For hours. Plus, the day before had been an incredible day as well – a spa day followed by our small evening ceremony on the lake. Wow, okay, I was nearing my happiness limit!
Afterwards, we went back to the cabin to put our feet up and just savor the glow for a bit before dinner. However, the cabins had made a mistake and checked us out a day early, and our keys did not work in our door!
This was an opportunity for me to snap out of my joy and drain all my pleasure away. And I started to. I felt myself frowning, and then I felt the wave of wanting to list alllllll the little things that had not gone right! I was picking a fight with my beautiful day, and starting to turn my attention to the tiny details.
I was about to exchange the huge incredible warmth and wonder of that day for a little taste of righteousness about people being incompetent.
Luckily, my support system kicked in. Justin, my new hubby, got on the phone with the cabins, and we knocked on the door of our friends’ cabin who let us chill on their couch. Now it was up to me how I would handle this. As the bride, they would all probably follow my lead – and we all would have either had a total bitching fest, or a great memory.
The happily ever after is that I chose to bring up the joy, and savor the sweetness of the day. I counted my blessings, we told stories of old friends, and we all laughed and cried together on that couch. It is one of my fondest memories of the whole week, and I am so happy I loosened up and let it happen.
How about you?
In what ways do you limit your joy?
How do you know when you’re approaching your happiness ceiling?
How do you remember to stay focused on the joy, and not get jolted out of it?
And how will you gradually expand your range of happy?
Amanda’s passion is working with women who find themselves in higher levels of leadership than they planned – needing to speak, negotiate, or sell. She shares tools to help them stay in Joy & Authenticity as they lead. You can find out more at Everyday-Light.com.Join the Conversation
For years before I started blogging I was a motivational junkie. I read blogs, books, and articles that were motivational and inspirational. I attended seminars and programs that filled my head with encouragement. Getting motivated was a high.
When my health hit bottom, I realized I needed to make some changes. Real changes. I started blogging about my journey to work-life balance, reduce stress, and increase happiness. Now I was accountable to someone- I was accountable to all of you. No more getting my motivational high and repeating the same unmotivated patterns over and over and over. I started doing things differently.
Today, as a career and business coach I notice the motivational junkies at conferences and seminars- they’re just like me. They love inspirational quotes, vision boards, and post motivational messages on Facebook. They come for the high, to feel good for a little while, but ultimately go back to their miserable life.
Like any addict, they think they are okay, especially when they’re not. They think they can go it alone. They think they are in control of their life and nothing is further from the truth.
Look at me- it took 7 surgeries in 6 years for me to realize I wasn’t in control. It took losing my health to accept that I was abusing myself with my expectations, ambition, and never-say-die attitude. I can do it all- just watch me. Yeah, right, watch me sit on my ass in a hospital bed recovering from surgery again and again and again. Watch me suffer in pain from shingles.
I’m here to scare you straight! Or, you know, scare you into action! Action to stop getting high from motivation and to get motivated to do something differently in life.
How to get motivated to create change
01. Start one positive habit
02. Stop one negative habit
03. Confront your fears
Change is scary. Stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something new will feel uncomfortable. Confront your fears.
04. Accept responsibility for the quality of your life
Stop waiting to be happy. Start being happy.
05. Get support
Find a group of like-minded people who are living a healthier and happier life. Join a group or club! Spend time with these people!
06. Be accountable
Get a coach. Get an accountability partner. Teach others what you’re learning to do. Find someone to be accountable to.
07. Be the change
Do the work. Be the change.Join the Conversation
The idea of the unknown is, at times, completely terrifying. What’s going to happen if I’m not following a plan? Where am I going if I don’t know where I’m going?
Somehow, over the years, I’ve become more comfortable with the unknown. Life rarely goes according to plan, and even less often do things turn out the way I expect they will.
I’ve been in many situations that changed when I didn’t want them to, but looking back, the changes seem to have a positive affect on my life. Of course the positive affect isn’t always something I notice at the time, but looking back, I acknowledge the blessings even unwanted change brought me.
Some years ago, I had a job I enjoyed at a company I enjoyed- until my company was bought out. I had a lot of anxiety about the acquisition and my new role- it wasn’t a role I would pick for myself or even something I thought I’d enjoy. Looking back, that company and that job provided me with great friendships, great professional experience, and I even enjoyed the work! When the acquisition was first announced, I was filled with fear and uncertainty, but of course it all worked out just fine, as most things do.
I’ve also experienced those transitional times in life, where I don’t know exactly what’s next, but I know what doesn’t work but I don’t know what does.
Years ago I went through a divorce. My marriage certainly didn’t work out the way I wanted, or the way I thought it would. The end of my marriage changed my entire life plan; I didn’t know what was next. Once again I was fearful and uncertain.
I find myself facing the unknown again today. My professional choices haven’t helped me meet my goals, and so I find myself without a plan. At least temporarily. Do I adjust my strategy? Do I rethink my goals? Am I on the right path? What is the right path?
Today, I’m not afraid of the unknown. I’m embracing the unknown. I’m feeling patient, peaceful, and purposeful. I don’t know what’s next, but I know life is full of opportunity.
I’ve done a lot of conscious and intentional work to get to where I am today. Maybe all I really need to do is get out of my head and let the next step happen. Maybe what I thought I wanted isn’t really what I want at all, and I’ll find myself doing something I love- even if it’s not what I thought I’d love.
I know that real happiness isn’t about getting what I want, it’s about wanting what I get. It’s making the most of what I have.
I’ll be sure to let you know as soon as I know the next step. I’ll tell you one thing, the next step involves continuing my path of enlightenment and growth, which includes writing this blog. I hope you’ll find patience, peace, and purpose reading about my journey, and it will help you navigate your own.Join the Conversation
I lost my inspiration. I lost it for a long while. I wondered if, when, and how I might find it again. In the meantime life had plenty of ups and downs to keep me busy.
A few weeks ago a spark of inspiration started to burn again. It’s not something I did, not really, though my choices did ignite the spark. It came, not from within, but from without.
It started during conversations with wise friends, and continued when I attended a networking group of like-minded individuals, and finally my spark burned bright during a transformative seminar.
Hello, old friend, it’s wonderful to see you again!
The lesson I learned from this experience was the importance of spending time with people who are doing, or aspiring to do, just what you want to do with your life.
Now the hard part was doing something different than I’d been doing. I had to make my personal growth more important than my excuses to sleep in, to binge-watch tv shows on Netflix, to do anything and everything that was keeping me stuck but somehow seemed oh-so-important at the time.
You have to get out there! Find your people, find your tribe, find the supporters of your truth! Listen when someone tells you about an event they’re attending and get off your keister and join them!
And speaking of events, I am extremely excited to attend Awaken Your Impact, a 3 day event in Phoenix in September. I’m out of my slump and ready to awaken! Boy, am I ready! Watch out for big things from me!
And remember what I said about listening? Yeah, this is an opportunity to find your inspiration, too.Join the Conversation
In my experience, life rarely goes according to plan. At least not according to my plan. This isn’t because I’m unlucky, or life sucks, or any such nonsense- it happens because, well, I don’t control what happens in life, I only control what I do with my life.
It’s really not a problem when things don’t work out the way I thought they would as long as I let go of my attachment to the outcome and embrace whatever new opportunities are presented to me.
You see, where I get stuck- where most of us get stuck- is feeling as though things not working out the way we plan is a bad thing. We get stuck on our perception that life was supposed to work out one way or another. The key to a successful and happy life is to not get stuck in this moment, at least not for very long, and to look for opportunities in the setback and adjust our plan. Let me give you an example.
Last night I planned to sit down and write today’s blog post but my plan was thwarted by an area-wide internet outage. I thought about writing the post I had planned in a Word document but when I expanded my plans to include other possibilities I realized I really wanted to relax and enjoy the evening- and that’s exactly what I did. This choice to view the internet outage as an opportunity to do something different than I had planned got me thinking about other times a perceived setback wasn’t necessarily a setback at all.
Image credit Jason Tester/ Guerrilla Futures
Several years ago I had just started a great new job when I found out my company was being bought out by a much larger organization and my particular job no longer existed in the new organization. I felt discouraged, stressed, and anxious- as I think most people would- but as it turns out I wasn’t being laid off, I was being offered a different job within the new organization. I decided to embrace the opportunity and expand my skills and experience in this new role, even though it wasn’t a role I would have pursued otherwise.
I worked hard at my new role for 2 and 1/2 years until I realized I was suffering from job burnout. Instead of finding another high-pressure, full-time, corporate job, I decided to try working part-time. What an amazing opportunity to do something completely different than I’d done my entire career! This definitely wasn’t a setback, it was my time to fully embrace work-life balance and do more with my life.
As I thought about this topic more I realized there are opportunities to change my plan every day- like when the car in front of me is driving 10 miles under the speed limit and I choose to perceive at this common annoyance as an opportunity to slow down, take a deep breath, and think of one thing in my life I’m grateful for. For just a moment I stop focusing on where I’m going and focus on where I am right now. Thank you, slow driver, what a gift you’ve given me! Or perhaps it was a gift I gave to myself my simply adjusting my plan and finding the opportunity in the moment.
Now I’m feeling especially grateful for the internet outage last night that got me thinking about this idea. As I go about my day I’m going to look for opportunities to let go of what I had planned and make the most of whatever happens, and I invite you to do the same.Join the Conversation
Earlier this year I found myself dealing with job burnout and was faced with a major life choice- what direction to take in my career. Seek another full-time job? Take a part-time job? Start offering work-life balance and professional development coaching services on the side? Start actively pursing paid speaking engagements? Take a risk or follow the “safer” route?
Ultimately I decided to set aside my fears and take the plunge into part-time self-employment. I took a part-time job, officially became a professional blogger, scheduled my first paid speaking engagement, and am in the process of working on a business plan for coaching services. Talk about a major life change!
Of course this isn’t the first major decision I’ve made that’s changed my life for the better. I’m not someone who’s content to keep doing the same thing if that thing isn’t working for me. I’m willing to try a new solution and risk it all for the chance at my best possible life!
Maybe you’re a risk-taker, too. Or maybe you’ve stayed in a situation too long because you’re just barely comfortable, or you’re immobilized by fears. Fear no more, I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned about making good choices in life!
How to make big life decisions
Image courtesy of Pablo Fernandez
Put yourself first
If you want to make healthy choices, you’ve got to put yourself first! Live your own life. When you make decisions based on what’s right for anyone else you’ll end up unhappy, and so will the people around you. When it comes to your life, you’ve got to make the best possible choice for you.
Believe in you!
Believe you can do amazing things and you can- at least believe it’s possible to do amazing things to get you started. If you want to accomplish anything great in your life, you have to believe in yourself. If you don’t believe you’re worth it, no one else will, either.
Do your research
If you’re about to make a major change such as switch careers or move across the country it’s time to do some research. Request an informational interview with a professional in your desired career or talk to locals where you’d like to live. Gather information that will inform your decision.
Ignore other people’s advice
No one else knows what’s right for you and regardless of what someone else has experienced- no two people have the same experience. No one else has to live with your choices- no one but you. When it comes to advice, take what’s useful to you and leave the rest.
Kick your fears to the curb
Your fears are not looking out for your best interests. Fear keeps you quiet, and meek, miserable, and stuck! Stop making fear-based decisions. Tell your fears to stick it where the sun don’t shine!
Take a chance!
Sometimes you just have to take a chance! As Wayne Gretzky said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
Let go of the outcome
You don’t know what will happen next and no outcome is guaranteed. Maybe things will work out the way you hope, or maybe they’ll work out equally well in a way you never imagined possible. Sure, maybe things won’t work out for the best, but that’s not something you can control so stop worrying about it!
Learn from the experience
Life is all about learning, and every choice you make, or don’t make, is an opportunity to learn more about yourself and what is and isn’t right for you.
If things dnn’t work out as expected, so what? Chances are it what you had before you made a change wasn’t working out for you, either.
Try something different
If you make a choice and it doesn’t work out for you, try something different. Life is a series of experiments. Keep experimenting!
Live your life!
This is your life- embrace it, celebrate it, live it! Live your life with hope and joy and love! When you’re faced with a big life decision, make the most hopeful, joyful, and loving choice.Join the Conversation