Happiness Tip: Change Your Mantra

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“How are you?” A good friend asks at lunch. You haven’t seen her for a month or so. You feel guilty that you’ve been out of touch; you tell her all the reasons that you’ve been so, so busy.

She reassures you with 10 billion reasons that she, also, has been too busy to meet earlier or to return your calls promptly. Your detailed lists of your busy busy busy lives leave you both feeling overwhelmed.

Sound familiar?

Our most common greeting from loved ones and casual acquaintances alike (“How are you doing?”) doesn’t really work for us, or our happiness, when the answer generates feelings of overwhelm.

It’s time to change this common little dialog. What if, instead of recounting all that is happening in your life, you use “How are you?” as a prompt to think about something you are grateful for? Even if you don’t feel too busy, taking a moment for gratitude is likely to give you a happiness boost.

Take Action: The next time someone asks you how you are doing, pause for a moment and reflect on something that you a grateful for. Then tell them about that. Perhaps you are grateful for the May sunshine (or needed rain), or that your little girl lost her tooth last night, or that you’ve been reading a particularly fabulous new novel.

What other ways can you change this common dialog? Inspire others by leaving a comment below.

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  • KP

    Your suggestion made me think, what if instead of asking, “how are you?” I asked, “what are you grateful for today?”  I like that much better.

    • http://www.christinecarter.com Dr. Christine Carter

      Have you tried it? Does it throw people off?

  • Lulybb100

    How about simply saying “Hey, it’s great to see you!” Then follow up with whatever it is you got together for. After all, it’s this moment I’m grateful for, whatever is happening. And time is our most valuable commodity. And here we are getting together. What better news is there?! 

  • Dimpletahilramani

    I’m would like to express my Gratitude to God for giving me one more chance to live this new day in the Best possible way…Thanks Christine,loved your Mantra :-)

  • Lindawil1

    Ask what is going well, what top three things today made you (or your friend) happy , ask what is “right”, rather than ask what is “wrong” and remember much of what we do is our choice, we chose to be so busy, for all the things we feel we need/want, if that is not the case,  you are struggling, than be glad you can at least turn on your tap ( or the one in a park, public place)and drink the water, the majority of the world is not so fortunate

  • Valerie Herr

    Finding something good to say gives you that moment to reflect before you speak – like pausing before you might be about to take after some shop assistant or neighbor with a pesky dog. Pause, think, speak.  As my uncle told the my cousin and his wife at their marriage 52 years ago, “There are two things you can not recall – time and the spoken word.

  • peg

    One of the best people I ever worked with, always answered “excellant”

    It made you feel positive almost now matter what-
     Thanks for the reminder about gratitude-
     I think it is time for me to stop qualifying my own response and go with a more upbeat answer-

  • fairlady68

    I cannot think of any suggestions (at least right now) to beat (or even add to) the one you have made in this post, Christine!  What an excellent idea to take advantage of this common “prompt” of “how are you” to put us into a moment of mindfulness and gratitude.  And think of how much it helps the other person, too!  

  • Alma

    This really resonates with me – when people ask me how I am I often tap into this tired, overwhelmed place and I love the idea of responding differently.  Now I’m looking forward to running into someone so I can try it out!

  • Paashi

    Thank you for bringing awareness to making our encounters with others positive rather then a list of explanations.  I will be putting it into practice and not get anxious with the habitual looking for rational excuses.
    Paashi

  • Meghan

    Yes, this is great, thank you!  I have grateful for READING this!  And I am going to share it…

  • June Gifford

    I am really great because I have you as my friend and we get to spend time together.
    I am fabulous cuz I have been enjoying the sunshine and the breeze on my face.
    I feel wonderful because I made a connection with a passing stranger by smiling and getting a smile in return.  It fills me with joy to pass along a warm greeting and get one in return.

    • Christine Carter

      Wonderful

  • Deb

    I like to ask people, “So what are you reading now?”

    • Christine Carter

      fun!

  • Andrew

    Thanks – great tip.

    I’m grateful for the beautiful smiles from my 6-year old at his bedtime, and then the ones he brings when he wakes me up at 6am :)
     

    • Christine Carter

      Hah! A mixed blessing, to be sure.

  • Kathy

    Sometimes — no matter how busy we are — a certain friend always cheers us up. Just seeing them or talking to them on the phone brightens our day. It’s good to remind others of this (and to be reminded ourselves :-) We can say “Thanks for bringing a smile, thanks for listening, thanks for laughing with me …” Everyone appreciates being reminded that they are loved and appreciated.

     I think it was Maya Angelou who said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

    • Christine Carter

      I can think three friends I have that always leave me feeling happier…I love that Maya Angelou quotation, and strive to always be the person who makes my friends feel “seen.” :-)

    • Paashi

      Kathy,
      Thanks for bring up Maya Angelou’ s “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  This is truly an intuitive awareness, that I try to keep in mind when spending time with my grand daughter.

      • fairlady68

         Interesting to know this quote comes from Maya Angelou…I always wondered who said it first.

  • Mary

    I really like the idea of initiating this conversation with, “what’s energizing you these days?” to have a meaningful discussion instead of trite pleasantries that turn into whining.

    • Christine Carter

      love it

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kim-Davison/586021988 Kim Davison

    Thank you for a little help in dealing with some really unpleasant realities that have come my way in the past few months. I have been running into people lately that I don’t see often, and I have been caught flat-footed with how to respond to this greeting. I don’t HAVE to automatically fill them in on everything that has happened in the past two months! I can choose to highlight some things that are  in the offing that are worth looking forward to. 

    • Christine Carter

      I’m so happy that I can help – that I can bring more happiness to peoples’ lives! :-)

  • Sarah

    Thank you! I am grateful for the opportunity to take on fun new challenges at work! How many Spanish teachers get to learn to solder or teach classes on repurposed materials and collaborative consumption? I’ll keep thinking of ways to change the dialog. I love this idea.

    • Christine Carter

      Can’t wait to hear some of your ideas about creating more positive dialogs…

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  • patti

    Thank you, I think this is a great idea!  In a similar vein, it recently occurred to me that when talking with someone — especially a loved one with whom I may not have spoken in a while — that one way to invite that person to focus on something positive would be to ask something like, “So what’s coming up?  Tell me about something on the horizon that you’re looking forward to… ”   Asked at the beginning of a conversation, or as a way to turn the focus onto something more positive mid-stream, I think this would be a great way to help ensure that a typical conversation has at least a few positive elements; it seems like an easy way to keep the conversation from centering solely on problem-solving and/or rumination (if deemed appropriate to the particular circumstances, of course).  Things that people are looking forward to are by definition things that bring them joy, and I think anyone would be delighted to receive this kind of invitation to share their joy.  As a bonus, the inquirer just might discover something new and interesting about their friend/loved one!  

    • Christine Carter

      I like to do what you suggest with my kids on the way to school (and the whole carpool): “What are you looking forward to today?” Anticipation can be a very positive emotion.

  • patti

    Thank you, I think this is a great idea!  In a similar vein, it recently occurred to me that when talking with someone — especially a loved one with whom I may not have spoken in a while — that one way to invite that person to focus on something positive would be to ask something like, “So what’s coming up?  Tell me about something on the horizon that you’re looking forward to… ”  
    Asked at the beginning of a conversation, or as a way to turn the focus onto something more positive mid-stream, I think this would be a great way to help ensure that a typical conversation has at least a few positive elements; it seems like an easy way to keep the conversation from centering solely on problem-solving and/or rumination (if deemed appropriate to the particular circumstances, of course).  Things that people are looking forward to are by definition things that bring them joy, and I think anyone would be delighted to receive this kind of invitation to share their joy.  As a bonus, the inquirer just might discover something new and interesting about their friend/loved one!