Excerpt: 'Be Happy: The Power of Happiness in You'

Read an excerpt from Robert Holden's new book, "Be Happy."

ByABC News via logo
May 28, 2009, 2:48 PM

June 1, 2009 — -- You can train yourself to be happy, according to Robert Holden's newest book "Be Happy: The Power of Happiness in You."

He shares the key steps to take in the follow-up to his previous bestseller.

According to the book, one key is to put your past behind you and focus on being happy now. Another is to stop blocking happiness from taking root in your life. As you put the principles into practice, you can help others become happier, too.

Read an excerpt of the book below and head to the "GMA" Library for more good reads.

Choosing Happiness

The real reason why happiness means so much to you is that happiness is your true nature. Happiness is who you are, and it is what you experience when you accept yourself, when you relax, and when you stop neurosing about being a "size zero," about "why he hasn't called", and about "what I should be doing with my life." Happiness isn't "out there." And, when you really think about it, the blocks to happiness aren't "out there" either. Why? Because there is no "out there" out there.

The happiness course shows you how your psychology creates the world you experience and how it can either enhance or block your awareness of true happiness. Happiness is not a state of mind; it is your true nature. That said, certain states of mind can either help or hinder your experience of happiness. In other words, happiness is your original nature, but you may well be suffering from psychology. Your psychology (that is, your perceptions, your beliefs, and your self-talk) is what stands between you and happiness now, success now, and love now.

Over the years, my work on happiness has been independently tested by psychologists and neuro-scientists who are able to record the wonderful results that happen when people change their psychology. A new belief, a new perception, can undo your mind and open up a whole new world of possibility. Scientists have shown that when students in my course change their thinking they literally alter the chemistry of their brains, which shifts their experience of the world and also increases their happiness, peacefulness, and well-being.

I begin the exploration of the psychology of happiness by asking my students to answer the following question with a "Yes" or "No." The question is: "Could you be even happiereven if nothing in the world around you changed?" I give my students a full five minutes to choose their answers so that they can really think the question through. That said, most students tell me that they only need about five seconds. The answer is almost always an emphatic "Yes." Over the years, I would estimate a percentage split of 90 percent for "Yes" and 10 percent for "No." In the most recent course, the score was 100 percent for "Yes."

These very high scores appear to confirm the "negligible role" that life circumstances play in happiness. To be truly happy, you have to get your head around the idea that circumstances don't matter as much as you think they do. Leading happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky says, "The general conclusion from almost a century of research on the determinants of well-being is that objective circumstances, demographic variables, and life events are correlated with happiness less strongly than intuition and everyday experience tell us they ought to be."1

Happiness research studies reveal that most people who score consistently higher levels of happiness than you do not experience markedly better life circumstances. Nor are they happier because they haven't experienced any difficult life circumstances. So, what's happening? One answer is, they know how to enjoy their life better than you. On the other hand, people with lower happiness scores than you do not necessarily experience markedly worse life circumstances. In fact, they may be much better off than you, in financial terms, for instance. It would appear, therefore, that these people are unhappy not because they are suffering from bad circumstances, but because they are suffering from psychology.

Happiness scientists, philosophers, physicists, and Indian swamis all agree that your state of mind literally creates the world you experience. For example, the 19th-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, "The world of those who are happy is different from the world of those who are not." This idea is supported by Sonja Lyubomirsky's research into why some people are happier than others. She concludes: "A common thread running through the research is that happy and unhappy individuals appear to experienceindeed, to reside indifferent subjective worlds."2

When my students respond "Yes" or "No" to the question "Could you be even happiereven if nothing in the world around you changed?" I also ask them to write down the reasons for their answers. I have compiled hundreds of responses over the years, and all of the reasons for "Yes" fall into five broad categories, each of which testifies to the power of making positive choices. The first positive choice is "choosing to accept myself more." For example, "I can choose to be less critical of myself and accept myself more, and that way I will be happier regardless of what happens in my life."

The second positive choice is "choosing to see things differently." For example, "I can change my perception of things that I think are 'wrong' or 'bad' or 'not good enough' and look for the gift in everything." The third is "choosing to be more grateful." For example, "I can be happier by appreciating all of the gifts that are in my life rather than longing for what I don't have." The fourth is "making better choices." For example, "I can choose to slow down, be more present, reprioritize, connect more, and attend even more to what really matters." And fifth is "choosing to be happy." For example, "I can choose to be happy, to be loving, to be kind, to have fun, and to appreciate my life. It's my mind, and I can choose how I work it!"

late to choose to enjoy this moment

and to choose a better future.

When I teach about the mental blocks to happiness, I use a model called the "Unholy Trinity" of the ego. The Unholy Trinity is made up of 1) Beliefs: the learned beliefs you identify with, such as "happiness has to be deserved" and "happiness must be earned." I will explore these beliefs in depth in the next chapter, "The Happiness Contract." 2) Fears: the learned fears that attract unhappiness and repel happiness. I will explore these fears more in Chapter 11, "Fear of Happiness." 3) Lack: the illusion that "something is missing" and the ego's blindness to what is already here. More on this in Chapter 12, "One Hundred Gratitudes."

The most important thing to remember about true happiness is that happiness exists regardless of your life circumstances and regardless of your state of mind. Some states of mind, like gratitude, forgiveness, and humor, make it easy for you to experience the happiness of your original nature. Other states of mind, like resentment, jealousy, and cynicism, make it more difficultbut they cannot wipe out your true nature. And that is why when you change your mind, you can rediscover the joy that has been with you all the while.

The intention to be happy is what changes everything. When you decide with all your heart to be happy, you are calling upon the grace and the power of your original nature to help you out. In truth, happiness is a choiceless choice. Why? Because your Unconditioned Self has already decided to be happy. It wants to be what it is. So, when you choose to be happy, you are not trying to create something that does not exist yet; rather, you are choosing to be yourself again. Happiness is a journey home from the ego-mind to the heart of your Unconditioned Self.

Happiness is
a journey without a distance,
a journey that takes no time,
a journey that has already
been made.