One early morning, during her annual visit to Hong Kong, my mother had a massive stroke alone in her bed. She laid there, eyes wide with terror, unable to move, gurgling and rasping for help until her friend in the next room found her. My mother, who once arrived at my future place of employment—the corporate headquarters of Reebok International Inc.—unannounced, demanding to see the CEO and chairman and her daughter’s new office. Unsurprising but painfully embarrassing to me when I found out later, the CEO, my boss-to-be, actually took a break from the company’s corporate board meeting to show my mother around the building. This woman, who was so used to getting whatever she wanted, is now totally without voice or physical movement and at the mercy of her caregivers. 

As I sat next to her, massaging her hands and singing to her, I reflected on life. Are you living the life of your dreams? What if you woke up one day immobilized and gasping? Would you be at peace or would you wish that you had chosen to live your life differently? 

Pursuing high daunting goals is built into my consciousness. It was my way of coping with impossible expectations. My family wanted a boy and so I spent my young life trying to make up for something that was impossible for me to achieve.  Happiness was elusive. I was never going to be good enough.

My mother’s stroke reminded me again of what I learned many years before but would still forget at times. I was good enough just as I was. Approval had to come from the inside. Her approval is not going to happen. Happiness is when my heart and mind are at peace with being me. In the end I had to live my life the best way I know how. 

Over the years I found some effective ways of bringing myself back to equilibrium and equanimity when I have been down. The most effective happiness tools are readily available for everyone. Not necessarily easy, but definitely accessible. Just like all exercises, they get easier with practice. I do these myself regularly, and especially when I sense that I sense that I am sliding down to a less than centered and happy place.

  • Move – physically move your body. Stretch, dance, walk do Tai Chi, Yoga, swim, sing, do something to get your muscles and voice to be engaged. Physical activity takes your attention from your thoughts into your entire being. You might soon find that you are enjoying what you are doing and not ruminating on whatever was causing the heavy weight in your mind.
  • Give gratitude – find five things to give thanks for. What do you have that you value? Be specific. Start small if you have to. It can be as simple as how fast you can get ready if you are in a hurry. Or something you may take for granted, like that you can see. The key is to shift your consciousness from lack to focusing on the good in your life. Do this every day and it will help lift your spirits. 
  • Smile – fake it if you have to at first. The very act of moving your facial muscles into a smile sends positive endorphins into your brain and body and you will begin to feel better. Smiling at a person or people most often elicits smiles back – and that will even be more effective. 
  • Help others – do something good for someone else who may need more help than you do. If you are grieving a loss, help others with their loss, get trained and volunteer at the homeless shelter, animal rescue, hospital, after school programs, spiritual groups, hospice and art, dance and music programs.
  • Connect with a kindred group – people who share a common experience can offer other tools and techniques to shift your mood. You may find that you have more to offer them from your perspective. Feeling empowered is healing. Sharing in the safety and company of kindred people may be soothing and help engender inner peace.
  • Spend time with a spiritual community – seek the comfort and wisdom of a spiritual group/institution that calls to you. Listen, share, open your heart. There are reasons for things to happen that may not be apparent at the time. With the spiritual support and companionship of a spiritual community, you may feel less alone and more nurtured. Your own inner knowing that you are loved may be awakened more.
  • Seek professional help – therapists, psychiatrists, spiritual professionals and others who are specifically trained to assist people who are in emotional distress. Avail yourself of them as you need. It is perfectly healthy and sound to get professional assistance when you need help with your emotional wellbeing.

It’s been some years since my mother’s stroke and death four and a half years later. I give gratitude for her; she showed me with her life how I need to live in peace and happiness each moment. Living in judgment and the endless quest for more brings only more unhappiness. How the next moment may develop is not up to me. I can choose to be happy now because what happens next is not known. I am enough and I am happy. And you? What are you choosing?