The Happiness Connection  

Change story, change life

Humans are designed to relate to stories. It’s one of the quickest ways to illustrate a point or capture someone’s attention.

Before it was common to read and write, cultures passed on their history, knowledge, and wisdom through storytelling.

I frequently refer to myself as an edutainer — a person who both educates and entertains. This is a perfect description for a storyteller.

One type of traditional story is the fairytale. These began as a way to teach people how they should behave and what would happen if they didn’t. The original accounts weren’t written for children, and were gruesome.

In the Brothers Grimm version of Snow White, the fate of the wicked queen went like this. “They put a pair of iron shoes into burning coals. They were brought forth with tongs and placed before her. She was forced to step into the red-hot shoes and dance until she fell down dead.”

While being entertained, listeners were learning that horrible things happened to bad people. It encouraged them to think twice before straying from the straight and narrow.

It wasn’t until these stories became child-focused that this level of horror was removed.

It’s common to think of stories as harmless entertainment and, in many cases, they are. However, storytelling can be a psychological way of trapping yourself into limiting beliefs.

I’ve often heard people say that everybody has at least one book in them. It might be truer to say you have many volumes of short stories in you. You may never publish them, but you are their author none the less.

Humans create stories to justify and defend their actions and beliefs. Let me share an example.

When I was on my honeymoon many decades ago, my then husband refused to put on a life jacket and float above the Great Barrier Reef or near the shore in Hawaii. He told me he had almost drowned as a kid, so he had a fear of deep water.

I accepted his explanation without too much thought.

Months later, during a visit with his parents, the conversation turned to the experience Nick had mentioned. I asked for their perspective on the event. His mom and dad looked at me with amazement and then told me it had never happened.

Apparently, his older brother had fallen into deep water when he was young, but he had been quickly rescued with no lasting trauma. Nick wasn’t even born when this happened.

Somehow, he had taken the story and recreated it more dramatically with himself in the central role. He was positive it was true. It took some convincing by his parents for him to accept that it hadn’t happened.

He used this fictitious tale to justify his mistrust of water. It stopped him from experiencing what was possible. Instead, he limited himself.

When he realized that he had been using this story as an excuse, he slowly began to change his attitude about deep water. He started jumping into the middle of Okanagan Lake when we were boating with friends. He wore a life jacket to begin with, but eventually, that was released, just like the story he had been telling himself.

This is an extreme case, but it clearly illustrates a behaviour we all have. We make excuses for how we feel or what we believe is right, by creating stories to back us up.

I repeatedly told myself that I wasn’t co-ordinated, and therefore I couldn’t play any sport well enough to join in and not look foolish.

When I announced this to my father-in-law, he challenged me on it. He offered to teach me to play tennis well enough to join in on club nights without embarrassment.

I went along with his scheme just to humour him, but he was right. I did learn to play tennis. I was never going to be a star, but I was good enough to have a lot of fun.

When I realized the story, I’d been repeating to myself was false, I stopped telling it.

I know that if I wanted to invest enough time and energy in a sport, I could get good enough to enjoy playing it. I haven’t felt that urge, but then life isn’t over yet.

Rather than living in your stories, try to recognize them for what they are and then let them go.

Instead of believing you must keep your house spotlessly clean because that’s what good people do, keep it clean because you want to, or don’t keep it clean.

My mother is almost 90 and she still tells herself that she has to iron my dad’s shirts. If she doesn’t, people will judge her.

I can’t imagine many people noticing wrinkles on other people’s clothing or caring if they do. Don’t freshly ironed shirts get wrinkled within minutes of being worn?

For years, I believed the only way I could accomplish all the things I needed to do was by making a list and crossing things off. That wasn’t true.

I’ve proven that because I rarely make lists any more. When I do, it’s because I’ve chosen to. I don’t have to justify it to anyone, including myself.

Take some time to look for the stories you’ve created to explain the way you are. When you start rationalizing your beliefs or justifying why things should be done a certain way, there is likely a story at the root of it.

Begin by examining the tale you are telling to see if it is stopping you from living your most expansive life. If it is, try letting it go. Lean into possibility rather than limitation.

When you feel safe within yourself, you won’t need those stories any more. You’ll feel strong enough to accept yourself, just the way you are.


Life is changing again

Just as we’re getting used to social distancing and living with a pandemic, life is getting ready to change again.

Schools will be back in session soon, and experts are advising us to shrink our bubbles as the weather changes and we’re forced to spend more time indoors.

With no school-aged children and an already smallish bubble, it looks like more of the same is in my future. My energy is slumping and I’m finding it more difficult to stay motivated.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this situation. Normally, I’d fall into my favourite way of adding some excitement to life. I’d fly or drive off to visit friends and family in England or the States.

Because I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon, I had to find a new strategy.

Instead, I’ve turned to the self-determination theory, established by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci. It states that people are driven by three basic psychological needs:

  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness
  • Competence

In other words, people like you and me can increase our motivation through self-empowerment, personal growth, and social connection.

By upping any or all of these areas, you can improve your state of well-being and increase your zest for life.

Autonomy – choosing for yourself rather than being controlled by others.

When you find your circumstances changing without any input from you, it’s easy to feel that life is happening to you. When this happens, focus on the things you can control in your life and maybe add some new ones.

When I broke my ankle, I chose to honour the three speaking commitments I already had. I couldn’t prevent my ankle injury and surgery, but I could choose whether to let it stop me.

Take control of your fitness, find projects you want to complete in your house, or choose not to do anything that’s on your to-do list.

Empower yourself by taking charge of aspects of your life and giving them your attention.

Relatedness – feeling connected to others and the world around you.

Positive psychologists have been studying the relationship between social connection and happiness for decades. Studies show there is an overwhelming link between them.

Happy people have more connections and connecting with others makes you happier. Connection is about feeling you belong or have a bond with another person even if it’s short-lived.

I’ve connected with people I’ve met while travelling on the bus, train, or tube. When the journey is over, I may never see them again, but the time we spent together linked us and left me feeling good.

Competence – being good at what you do. This comes from personal or professional growth.

Humans are designed to be continuous learners. It makes us feel good. Sadly, not everyone takes advantage of this fact.

You don’t have to take courses or gain certifications. Acquiring knowledge through books, taking up a new hobby, or stepping out of your comfort zone are all good ways of increasing competence.

Listening to podcasts or online summits is another great way to foster personal growth.

I was asked to speak at the Awakening Joy Summit that will be aired online from Sept. 19-30. Twenty-five experts are sharing how to master the art of joyful living.

If this is something you might be interested in, you can sign up for a free ticket. The intention is to give back by helping people add more happiness into their lives.

This is a triple whammy. You can find ways to boost your happiness, improve your level of motivation, and receive a lot of free resources from the speakers, all at the same time.

I’m giving away my book To Know You is to Love You: a guide for self-love. The only way to get a copy is to join the summit.

The conversation about motivation is also applicable to anyone who has school-aged children. Use the self-determination theory to help your students as they transition back to school.

Help them foster growth, connection, and empowerment.

Try to focus more on what they’re learning rather than the grades they’re achieving. Learning and grades are not always as closely linked as you might think.

If they feel isolated, build connection into other areas of their lives. Share the fact that it’s more about the quality than the quantity of friends you have.

Make sure your children have some level of autonomy. This may start with what they wear, or what they take in their lunch bag. As they mature, increase what they get to choose and have responsibility for.

It can be hard to relinquish control when you want to keep your children safe and you believe you are older and wiser, but it’s important for everyone to have control over some areas of their lives.

If you feel a need to increase your motivation, create a strategy to increase empowerment, social connection, and personal growth.

I’m going to spend some time today making an action plan. If you want to increase your zest for life, I suggest you do the same.

How's your energy?

Do you have days when you feel worn out, anxious, or grumpy?

I’m having one of those days today.

Strangely enough, I’m usually surprised when these moods arrive. More often than not, the time leading up to them has been good. Suddenly, my life goes from heady to heavy.

Why do I feel drained and dissatisfied when everything was going so well?

With few exceptions, this situation comes when I haven’t managed my energy efficiently. I was probably creating or enjoying that feel-good phase with activities that consumed a lot of my vitality.

This dip in mood also happens when I encounter a situation that is a high energy drain.

You can’t expect to stay as energized as normal without taking some special steps and yet often that is exactly what I expect.

Everything you do, think, and create, takes energy. You probably know that, but do you have a management program to help prevent those heady highs being followed by heavy lows?

Obviously, I don’t have a system that I am consistently good about honouring. I tend to get caught up in life and forget to check in to see how I’m doing.

Waiting until your battery is critically low or has died completely before recharging, is not ideal.

I’m confident that I’m not the only person who suffers from a lack of energy maintenance, so I wanted to share some of the things I’ve had to remind myself about this week.

Your battery only works for so long before it needs recharging.

It’s interesting how often people ignore this fact. You give and give and give and then you’re surprised when you hit a brick wall; just getting out of bed seems like a challenge.

At this point it’s easy to feel like life is getting the better of you. I find my mood takes a serious nosedive when I’m depleted.

Not all activities consume the same amount of energy.

Getting caught up in drama and negativity takes more energy than being surrounded by peace. Even facial expressions follow this tendency. Your muscles work harder to frown than they do to smile.

Intense brain work or stepping out of your comfort zone will also zap your energy more quickly.

Ask yourself whether the high consuming activities are worth your energy?

Just because something burns a lot of energy, it doesn’t mean it isn’t good. If it’s good for you, it doesn’t mean it’s good for everyone or that it will be worth the energy consumption at some other point in your life.

Notice what’s draining you and ask yourself if it’s worth it. It’s a little like shopping. Is that purchase worth the money?

Don’t wait until your battery is critically low before you start looking for your charger.

It’s important to consciously be aware of how much energy you are using and what level your battery is at?

When you’re involved in high-energy activities, you’ll need to recharge more often. If you are surprised at how quickly you’re feeling depleted, examine what you’ve been doing.

High-energy consumption isn’t a bad thing, but being aware and choosing whether you want to continue it, is empowering.

Just like choosing not to accept an invitation to jump onto the drama train, you can choose not to indulge in an activity or viewpoint that is draining.

Not everybody gets recharged by the same things.

Life would be simpler if you could recharge by plugging yourself into an outlet. Instead you need to figure out what recharges your specific brand of energy packs?

Common ways are:

  • Eating
  • Meditating
  • Taking a nap
  • Getting out in nature
  • Exercising
  • Laughing,
  • Sitting in the sunshine
  • Spending time by yourself
  • Getting together with rejuvenating friends
  • Gardening
  • Reading

This is not an exhaustive list. Only you know the best ways to rejuvenate yourself.

Try something and then check to see if it has had the desired effect. What works for your partner or friend, may not work for you. There’s a certain amount of trial and error involved in this process.

Managing your energy is something few of us are taught at school, or by our parents and yet it is a vital skill.

Check in with yourself regularly during the day.


  • How am I feeling?
  • Does my energy need a top up?
  • Am I surprised at how drained I’m feeling? What has caused that?
  • Is what I’m doing worth my energy?

If you can maintain a consistently strong level of energy throughout your days and week, it will improve your quality of life exponentially.


Don't ride the drama train

I think it’s fair to say that this past week has been challenging.

My already full plate was given a few extra helpings of work and frustration. I kept wondering why this was happening.

“Why? Why? Why?” I asked the universe.

I threw out the big question and then waited for an answer. One showed up yesterday, although it wasn’t what I expected.

It wasn’t even an answer. It was a moment of clarity.

Have you ever been caught up in the drama of a situation?

I’d be surprised if you say no. I’m not sure anyone could get through high school without experiencing it.

Something happens. Then the he said, she said conversations start. You feel compelled to take a side. You talk about it, ad infinitum.

Whenever you get a group of people together, there is potential for drama. This is true regardless of whether you gather as:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Work colleagues
  • Community members.

Drama is consuming and exhausting. It’s the opposite of peace.

If you want a peaceful life, you don’t want to get caught up in this type of commotion. It leads to:

  • Gossip
  • Bullying
  • Negative emotions
  • Sleepless nights
  • Distraction
  • Division.

Drama reared its head in my community this week. It was one of the reasons I kept asking the universe that simple question. Why?

In the past, I would have been sucked into the drama, without even noticing it was happening. But not this time.

I am more aware of my emotions than I used to be.

I’ve spent a lot of time learning and helping other people learn the art of mastering them. This is one of the reasons I run a 12-week course that includes emotional mastery as a major component.

The moment I became conscious that I was being invited to jump onto the drama train, I made myself pause.

Life is full of choices. This was an invitation not a forgone conclusion. Did I want to accept or refuse the opportunity to participate?

I declined.

That didn’t mean that my emotions dissipated immediately. They were bubbling up and letting their presence be known.

How do you get off the drama train, or better yet, decide not to get on? Once you decline or get off, how do you get rid of the residual emotions?

There is a lot of work involved in understanding your feelings and knowing how to navigate them. They serve a purpose, even the negative ones. Negative emotions trigger the fight-flight-freeze response.

When this happens, you are in survival mode. You will think, say, and do things that you later wish you hadn’t, but at the time you believe they will give you the best chance of winning. In evolutionary terms, winning is the same as surviving.

It’s not a great place to be if you are trying to work with others, find a solution, or accomplish something creative.

I wish there were an easy answer to releasing unwanted emotions, but as with everything worthwhile, it takes time, energy, and commitment.

These are the steps I followed when I decided I wanted to release those drama-loving feelings.

  • I took a few deep, calming breaths.

This is a good place to start in any situation.

  • I reminded myself that I didn’t have to accept the drama invitation.

I believe life is full of choices. You have the power to view and respond to a situation, idea, or interaction in any way you want.

  • I wrote letters of forgiveness to everyone involved, including myself.

Forgiveness is a powerful action. Forgive yourself for your part in the situation, even if it was unintentional. Do the same for everyone else involved.

This may seem time consuming, but it will help you to release how you’re feeling.

  • I burned the forgiveness letters.

You can destroy them in any way you want. Shredding works well, too.

Emotions aren’t meant to be suppressed. That was the way I dealt with negative ones for years. I’d lock them in a container until they stopped upsetting me.

I didn’t realize that they were still there, even if I wasn’t aware, they were.

This step is designed to be a symbolic action of release.

  • Every time my mind returned to the situation, I thanked my emotions for showing up, but told them I didn’t need them any more. I then shifted my mind to something else or got up and did something physical.

By the time I went to bed, I’d let go of about 80% of the negativity. By morning, when I noticed there were a few unwanted feelings still hanging around, I continued with step 5.

As I was driving home from an appointment a few hours later, I realized I had released the drama completely.

Being able to do this saved me from sleepless nights, prolonged negative feelings, and continued energy drain.

Yesterday, when I discovered that the drama train was still chugging along, I noticed that I could observe it from a place of peace. I was an observer, not a participant.

I felt compassion for those affected by it, but I also felt a rush of gratitude that I wasn’t one of them.

I think that was the answer to my question. This was why was I having such a challenging week?

It gave me the opportunity to see how far I’ve come.

When you embark on a journey, you can get caught up in how far you still have to go and forget to take time to look back to see how far you’ve come.

Learning to recognize my emotions without being controlled by them or denying they exist, is one of the best skills I’ve ever learned. I’m going to take a moment to celebrate that.

I invite you to do the same. What have you learned or achieved in the last few weeks, months, or years?

Way to go.

More The Happiness Connection articles

About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories