Get Happy: How to find joy by taking your own advice

How often do you encourage others to believe in themselves? Think about it. In your day to day, how many times would you encourage, advise and cajole another to take a chance on their own abilities and go for that promotion, sky-dive jump or interior design course?

I do it quite a bit. Just little things, here and there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sitting high atop a Greek mount wrapped in linen dolling out a constant stream of sage wisdom and encouragement. But I have a hand in the ‘get happy’ advice business. I really do.

Most often it comes from a kind place. A warm spirited place of love. It’s my way of making others feel better.

If you were a gecko on the wall you may observe that at times they sound like a bumper sticker scroll has unrolled like a fat rubbery tongue from my mouth.

Just believe in yourself.

You can do it.

Stand up for yourself.

You get the point.

That last one wasn’t another example, it was just advice about how to take my advice. I told you I had a problem.

Now the thing is about all this ‘get happy’ encouragement is that I rarely take it myself. I can kindly mould myself into a soft place to fall for those I love with comforting words when needed. But if I was my own friend I’d be horrified at the self-doubt, recrimination and blame that I lay at my own feet.

It’s about time I took my own advice. It’s time I was my own friend.

It’s not all giving. I have also received powerful and earth-shatteringly poignant advice about how to find joy in life. They were so powerful that I have committed them to memory and locked them in my central advice system.

One of these gems lodged itself so firmly into my way of seeing the world that it has become a traveller through my blood. It’s inherent to me and who I am. It sits in a safe place inside and I draw on it readily, like the most recently read book in my heart’s catalogue.

It came from a smiling Vietnamese man.

Several years ago I was travelling through Vietnam. It was my ‘how to figure out how to extricate myself from a horrific relationship’ trip. I was broken. I was a buried soul; numb to any inherent self-value and spiritually on the floor.

My Vietnamese tour guide was the complete opposite.

He was perpetually, deeply and gleefully happy. He grinned from ear to ear in a muppet-like caricature of joy. There was very few things that didn’t turn on this ready grin and there were even fewer things that wiped it from his face.

Huy was just happy.

As it neared the Vietnamese New Year’s Eve, Huy asked us if we’d like to make a slight change to our already intrepid schedule and go with him to his home to celebrate with his family.

If you’ve visited South East Asia before you would have seen that there is a heavy emphasis on luck; finding it, organising furniture to bring it into your home, wearing colours that conjure it and only dealing in numbers that encourage it.

Huy explained to us that his happiness was something of good luck charm in his village. The reason that it was so important that we return to his birthplace was that people were depending on him being there.

There was an in-house competition every year to be the first to entice Huy into their home after the clock struck twelve.

If you were the ‘lucky’ one then all of the beer, sweet treats and ethanol flavoured liquor that you lavished on Huy to get him there would have been worth the unending luck that would come your way that year.

You see, everybody in that little village peppered with ancient ritual, hard working Vietnamese and superstition wanted a piece of the action.
They wanted a slice of Huy’s happiness.

The morning before we were to leave for Huy’s village we woke in a beautiful seaside resort. I sat for a breakfast of tropical fruit and banana pancakes. We were surprised to see Huy walk up to the table dripping wet and smiling from glistening ear to the ear.

When responding to our question about where he had been, Huy looked at us with his benevolent grin and stated quite simply; “I was bringing luck to the fish.”

Here was a man so inherently entwined with his own positive self-belief that he believed that the mere act of going for a dip in the ocean brought the fish diving beneath his happy Vietnamese feet luck.

Ok. This doesn’t strictly fall into the category of advice giving. But inherently it was. It was advice through example. And I took it.

The take home message? Believe that your attitude affects others. That if you are happy, it spreads. Believe that you’re worth this happiness, that it belongs in your heart without guilt, blame and shame. Believe that your happiness is treasured, and you’re worth that treasure.

At times I have forgotten this. I’ve become riddled with painful self-doubt as though I had been ripped through by a machine gun of recrimination. It has left wounds. It has stopped, stalled and retarded great dreams and fantasies of success. At times I have been my own worst enemy.

I’ve told the story of my Vietnamese ‘Happy Feet’ many times. So many that I’ve forgotten. Always giving this advice to others in an attempt to care for them, at times forgetting that I have also needed to care for myself.

I was feeling particularly low at the end of one school year. I was spent. After an emotionally exhausting period of guiding a whole cohort of seniors through their own self-doubt and fear I had little room for my own self-belief.

On the last day of school a young boy who I particularly adored and admired for his fierce intelligence and blinding wit presented me with a beautifully wrapped gift. I thanked him and took it back to my office to open it later, believing it to be the usual sweet but small gift of a box of chocolates.

Back at my desk I unwrapped it. My heart caught in my throat.

It was a framed picture of a rose that he had drawn himself in achingly precise beauty. Above it were these words:

“Thank you for teaching me Miss Hardwick. I will never forget what you have given me. Always remember that you bring luck to the fish. Fish like me.”

I make a point of taking that photo frame and holding it carefully in my hands at the beginning of every year as though my heart is the first house that Huy visits.

But Huy’s advice has become more than that. Now it’s become my advice. And you know what?

I’m taking it.

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