The Happiness Connection  

Finding the missing piece of the puzzle

Striving for completion

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you’re probably aware of my love of jigsaw puzzles.

I was down to the last few pieces of what, for me, had been a very challenging 1000-piece puzzle. I could feel a familiar sense of accomplishment building inside me.

Humans have what’s known as a “completion bias.” We like to finish a task, because when we do, dopamine is released by the brain, making us feel good.

It wasn’t until I sat back to take in the beauty of the finished picture that my eyes were drawn to the middle of the scene and a puzzle piece shaped section of white. A piece was missing.

Suddenly my satisfaction was gone. I looked on the floor and under the box. Because the puzzle was new. The piece had to be somewhere. I remembered I’d moved the puzzle downstairs while we’d been away. I searched in the basement. No luck.

I asked my partner if he had seen the piece and when he said no, I sighed and remarked that I’d have to throw the puzzle out. I went on to explain I would never buy a secondhand puzzle. I didn’t want to invest a lot of time in something only to discover it was incomplete. He just looked at me with an eyebrow lifted.

As is often the case, his expression got me thinking. Was I overreacting? Was the missing puzzle piece offering me an opportunity to learn something about myself?

After considering the situation from a less emotional perspective, I accepted that the answer to both these questions was probably “yes.” If fact, I was being given a great opportunity to think more deeply about the way humans tend to feel about incompletion and imperfection.

Here’s what I learned.

Incompletion isn’t wrong or bad

Incompletion is a normal part of life. There will always be times when, for a variety of reasons, you aren’t able to finish something. Maybe you leave your job before a project is wrapped up, or the parts you need for something you’re building are no longer available.

When this happens, your best plan is to accept what is. Take a deep breath and release your need for completion.

This strategy also works if you choose to give up or change directions because that serves you more than continuing until something is finished. Make your decision with a clear conscience. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed.

Incompletion builds resourcefulness and flexibility

Sometimes not being able to finish leaves an opening for creativity and problem solving. How can you course-correct, or adapt the original plan? This way of thinking encourages resourcefulness and flexibility which are both important for fostering wellbeing and resilience.

Release your need for perfection

Although people frequently strive for it, there’s no such thing as perfection. What you’re probably aiming for is a specific outcome, that you think will provide you with your desired goal.

If that isn’t what you end up with, don’t think you’ve failed or that the result is worthless. In the case of my puzzle, it was important for me to remember that one missing piece shouldn’t take away from the beauty and accomplishment of the other 999.

Shift to a more positive perspective

This builds on the previous point. Believing that one tiny blemish ruins everything else isn’t a positive way of viewing the world. I love things that are quirky and unusual. It makes them unique. So, why did I react so strongly to a missing puzzle piece? I took it as a sign that I have more inner work to do.

Value the journey more than the outcome

The joy is in the journey, is a well-known saying. As soon as I discovered that a piece was missing, I released all the satisfaction I was feeling. I overlooked the accomplishment of putting 99.9% of the puzzle together successfully and all the fun I had doing it.

It turns out that dealing with a missing puzzle piece provided me with so much more than a moment of frustration. It gifted me with both a column idea and a learning opportunity.

If you’re wondering whether I kept the incomplete puzzle, the answer is yes. In fact, only a few days ago my partner told me he’d found something I’d be really happy about. I was mystified and made a few incorrect guesses.

He told me to look on the counter. I scanned the surface. When I saw a puzzle piece, my first reaction was confusion. It took me a moment or two to remember there’d ever been had an incomplete jigsaw. What had seemed so important at the time had completely faded from my memory.

I wasn’t even sure which puzzle it had come from. So, I made an educated guess and dropped into one of the boxes with the other 999, or maybe 1,000 pieces.

I may have to put all my puzzles together again to figure out if I guessed the right box. I suspect that by the time that happens, I’ll have forgotten a piece was ever lost or even that it was eventually found.

Yep, life is funny like that.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Being mindful of your own mind

Importance of awareness

My partner called me outside on the weekend to see where he’d hung our fuchsia. My first reaction wasn’t supportive. I told him I didn’t like it and suggested an alternative place.

As he went to move it, I realized I was falling into a familiar pattern. When a new idea is presented out of the blue, I tend to have a negative first reaction. Through personal growth and self-discovery, I’ve come to understand I need a little time to get used to whatever is being suggested.

Because I noticed what was happening, I asked him to leave the plant where it was so I could see if its placement grew on me. I see this as a sign of growth.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of mindfulness is: “The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.”

This has been a popular topic in the health and happiness space for some time. You’re probably aware of the positive effect that mindfulness has on your wellbeing. However, have you tried being mindful of your mind? Unsurprisingly, being aware of your thought patterns can make a huge difference to your quality of life.

I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again, awareness is the first step to transformation. If you don’t know you’re in a hole, you won’t take the necessary steps to climb out of it so you can move towards your desired destination.

Emotions are internal mental experiences. They’re about how you react, not the event or situation itself. It isn’t the stuff that makes you miserable, but the meaning you attach to it. Recognizing thought patterns, emotional reactions, and behaviours allows you to examine them and then change them if something else serves you more.

It’s important to know that mindfulness is about awareness not insight, and certainly not judgement. That means you don’t have to figure out why you react the way you do or feel bad about it. Recognize, accept, and then if appropriate, make a different choice. It’s possible to change something you don’t’ understand.

Of course, if you keep falling into holes, it might be useful to understand why, so you can stop doing it. In my case, knowing the origin of this habitual pattern doesn’t make a difference. It might be an interesting exploratory exercise, but not a necessary one.

I’m working towards mental mindfulness. I’m trying to observe my thoughts when they appear and then pausing to consider whether they’re serving me. If they aren’t, I’m trying to consciously choose different ones that are less emotional and triggering.

In the case of the placement of the fuchsia, I noticed the old pattern as it emerged and chose to react differently. I didn’t dig in my heels or buy into the first story my brain presented me with. That’s what allowed me to shift and view the situation less emphatically and less emotionally.

Being aware of traditional thought patterns and choosing to change them isn’t a process that’ll you’ll adjust to overnight. It’ll require some effort and continuous monitoring. But if you try this and your experience is like mine, you’ll feel more contented with life, create healthier relationships, and make better decisions.

It’s important to realize that you’re in control of your mind and your emotions. When thoughts and feelings arise, it’s up to you to decide whether they serve your highest good.

If they don’t, choose to be mindful of your mind and shift or replace them with something that does.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Finding joy in the little things

Tiny positivity boosters

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

The expression suggests that if you pile enough small stresses or problems onto someone, something as light as a feather can be the thing that causes them all to collapse under the strain.

I have to remind myself of this wisdom from time to time. It’s easy to take on tasks that seem small, but when you put enough of them together, they become unmanageable or overwhelming.

I wonder if there’s a similar saying about the effect of piling small positive things on top of each other. If so, I’ve never encountered it. I tried to create one but so far haven’t landed on something that has the same impact as the camel and the straw.

At its core would be the idea that if you want to have more positivity in your world, you don’t have to find the one magic bean that will do that. Instead, gather mini beans. By themselves they may not have a lasting effect, but together they have the ability to impact your life in a major way.

Recently I was reminded that mini zaps of positivity are a powerful part of practicing happiness. When I was updating the software on my smart watch, I noticed there was a new watch face that featured the cartoon characters Snoopy and Woodstock.

These are two of my favourite animated characters. I’ve been part of the Snoopy fan club since I was a child. To make it better, I had the option of changing the background colour. Anyone who knows me can probably guess what colour I chose. Of course, it was purple.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I looked at my watch, but the result was better than I could possibly have hoped for. A tiny, animated clip sprang into action. I laughed with delight.

Not thinking much more about it, I was surprised when I checked the time later and noticed the clip had changed. I’m not sure how many different scenarios Snoopy and Woodstock are involved in, but I’m still finding ones I haven’t seen before. Each and every time I look at my watch, I find myself smiling.

Viewing the antics of these two might not give you the same warm, fuzzy, reaction as it gives me, and that’s OK. The trick is to find things that give you pleasure and a little jolt of joy.

By adding enough of these tiny positivity boosters, you can fill your happiness chest to overflowing and take your enjoyment of life to a whole new level.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Consistent small steps can lead to bigger things when you want to get stuff done

'Slow and steady wins race'

When my partner and I moved into our house, we decided to use two of the upstairs bedrooms as our offices. They’re side by side and face the same direction.

They’re arranged and decorated very differently, but that isn’t the only thing that distinguishes them. At night, the light that comes into my window is soft. By contrast, the other room feels like it’s overlooking a major city, not downtown Kelowna.

How can the view from two windows of the same size, facing the same direction and only a few feet apart be so different? That question strikes me every time I walk down the upstairs hall after dark.

After a few months of marvelling at the difference in light coming through the two windows, I realized this situation could be applied to many things in life. For example, a plane going from Vancouver to Tokyo that’s one degree off course will end up 650 km away in Osaka.

This understanding can be especially useful if you feel daunted about making changes in your life. Cleaning one drawer a day may serve you more than expecting to get your entire house decluttered in one weekend.

The key is consistency. A small step once a month isn’t going to get you very far. Instead, find something you can commit to doing every day. This is where the strength of this strategy lies.

If you want to develop a journalling practice, you don’t have to start by cramming every page with words. Try instead with one sentence a day. It’s better to start small with one thought, phrase, or list of words that you create regularly rather than going strong for a week or two and then leaving your notebook to collect dust.

The same technique can be used if you want to adopt a more positive view of life. You don’t have to change your mindset, values or beliefs in one fell swoop in order to be happier. It’s about tweaking.

Start by finding something good in every interaction. Look for a learning opportunity in negative experiences. When a friend disappoints you, consider there might be something going on that you aren’t aware of. Find a reason to be grateful as often as possible.

I’m trying to apply the one-degree shift approach to increasing my level of health. I want to walk more and would love to get 10,000 steps a day, but I’ve decided not to beat myself up if I don’t. I’ve resolved to walk every day. When I have time for a long trek that’s what I do, but 20 minutes is better than nothing.

Small steps are starting points. Decide what you want and then ask yourself, “What’s one thing I can do to move myself towards that goal?”

Once you’ve begun your journey and created a consistent practice, you can add a new step or adapt your original one. Don’t stop yourself before you even get started by thinking you have to make a 180-degree change to see results.

Think about the Tortoise and the Hare—slow and steady can win the race. It can also help you reach your goals.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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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.

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