Driving Yourself to Happiness
Everything you achieve in a day depends on your attitude that day. Sure, you can be angry, frustrated and grouchy and still get a lot done, but those accomplishments are diminished by your lousy mood. The best way to move confidently towards your goals, and get farther and farther each day, is to be happy, regardless of your circumstances.
What is the one attitude killer most of us face before the day even starts? Our drive to work. How often has your day been ruined before it begins by a horrible commute? Did it make you feel out of control to be stuck, with nowhere to go…stewing? I bet that didn’t make for the most productive workday, and definitely not the most enjoyable. How could it? You started in a happiness hole.
But there are some easy techniques you can practice every day to make your commute a lot less tense, or at least keep it from spoiling the other 23 hours in your day.
Prep yourself for your upcoming ride. Before you get in the car to drive to work or school or wherever, stop for ten seconds and prepare yourself for traffic. Say, “I have no control over how long it will take me to get where I’m going, so I’m not going to get upset about it.” If you tell yourself this every morning, soon enough you’ll discover how easy it is to stay calm and enjoy the ride. Even when it’s really slow.
Make the interior of your car a calming oasis.
The sounds you listen to on any long drive can make a world of difference in your mood. You may love that talk radio station that agrees with all your political views, but how often does their content just make you furious? Do you arrive at work angry because of what you heard on the news? Unless your place of work has Secret Service agents outside the door, chances are you’re not going to be able to change anything about the story you heard, and getting angry at the start of the day is not conducive to your happiness. Save that for the ride home. The same goes for listening to a morning show that has long commercial breaks that annoy you. Find the content that gives you the most pleasure – whether it’s a music CD or a podcast or an audiobook – and make sure that’s in your car. There are podcasts for every taste, and most are free to download to your phone, so do a little research and find the one or two or ten that are right for you. Make your ride into “me time” — a chance to indulge in pleasant entertainment that you otherwise wouldn’t have room for in your day.
Love Your Landmarks. Have you noticed your route? Really noticed it? What’s at the halfway point? What spot generally means you’re five minutes away from work? Is there a car dealership along the way that has goofy blow ups? Is there a billboard with a grammar error that makes you cringe? Find the regular landmarks along your route and use them not only to mark your distance, but also to make you smile. Okay, don’t plow into the back of the car in front of you while sightseeing, but starting tomorrow, really pay attention to the view. There’s a lot more to look at and appreciate than you had realized, and if you think of your commute as going to a museum for an hour each day (or a zoo!), you can have a lot of fun with it.
It’s a Whole Wide World of Happy Colors. Right now, think of your absolute happiest memory. Flashback to a moment of your life of unbridled joy. Now, what color comes to mind with that memory? Is it your wife’s white dress? The pink flowers you planted in the first place you lived on your own? The green door of your high school sweetheart? The blue jerseys your team wore when they won the national championship? Imprint your happiest memory with a color. Got your color?
Look around during your commute and notice how many places you see that color. Everywhere you see it, let it remind you of that happy memory. Relive the joy, and be glad this time in your car allowed you to do so. If this effect wears off, come up with a different memory each week. Cycle through a few of them. Make your commute a time to reflect on how happy you’ve been, you are, and you will be again.
In the book Happiness as a Second Language, I offer techniques for quickly getting over a bad day, and one of them is to give a compliment to a total stranger. Buy the guy behind you a cup of coffee. Do something completely outside yourself and then reward yourself for doing it by dropping the bad mood. The same can be true of your commute. Do you see someone desperately trying to change lanes? Let that person in. Then, smile to yourself for being a good person. When I lived in Oakland and worked in San Francisco (perhaps one of the worst commutes on the planet), I decided once a week to pay the Bay Bridge toll for the car behind me. Those were some of the best days of my week. In fact, if I knew I was going to have a crummy day at work, I would make sure I covered the car behind me on the way. That way, at least one awesome thing was guaranteed to happen that day.
If you’re stuck in traffic, getting angry about it will not change your circumstances. In fact, it’s only likely to make your bad day worse, so relax, stay calm, flash back to a happy memory, find signposts on your way that amuse you or remind you of things you love. Enjoy this time to think about how awesome your life is.
For more tips and insights on learning Happiness as a Second Language, check out SpeakHappiness.com and join the conversation.
Until next time…stay empowered, stay happy!
“Always focus on the front windshield and not the rear view mirror.” –Colin Powell