A Very Special Interview with Marci Shimoff
When life isn’t going the way you want it to, does all the advice people share with you go in one ear and out the other? Do you read article after article and every book you can find in hopes that something will click? Do you then find yourself disappointed, overwhelmed or just exhausted thinking about what you “should” be doing according to some expert?
We all hear what we need to … in the time that is right for us. When I was at my lowest point after losing my job, my financial stability, dealing with ailing parents and a husband with cancer, I was the poster child for antidepressants. Deep down though I knew I didn’t want to be in that place, and nothing I read or participated in made a difference until I read the book “Happy For No Reason” by Marci Shimoff. For me it was the simplicity and clarity of Marci’s words that resonated with me.
After nearly six years of following a simple journey, having the opportunity to interview Marci for this article and having her on the Simple Steps Real Change Radio Show is a blessing unto itself. I know, as a friend of Simple Steps, her message of love, kindness and forgiveness will speak to you too.
Cheryl(CM): You’ve been inspiring happy lives long before this was a hot topic. What started you down the path of studying happiness?
Marci (MS): I was not a happy camper as a kid. I say I came out of the womb with existential angst. I had great parents, great family – everything was good – but I had a dark cloud around me. I really, really wanted to be happy, but it escaped me everywhere I looked. I did what most people do to try and find happiness. I set some goals and thought if I achieved those goals, I’d really be happy. That was in my 20s. Those five goals were: having a career that I loved, a great husband, great friends, a great home and having the equivalent of Hallie Berry’s body. I have four out of the five; I don’t have Hallie Berry’s body.
I had all those things, but I wasn’t happy. In 1998, when I had three books on the New York Times Best Seller list, I had a major turning-point moment. I had just given a speech to 8,000 people, signed 5,432 books, and I felt like an author rock star. I went up to my hotel room, plopped on to the bed and burst into tears because I realized none of that stuff was going to make me happy. I could no longer fool myself into thinking that just the next thing will make me happy. That’s when I got serious about studying happiness.
CM: We think happiness comes from somewhere outside of us, but it doesn’t. You advocate it coming from within. How do you help people understand that?
MS: We live in a society where we’re trained to think that success is going to bring us happiness. We have it backwards. Happiness will bring us greater success.
When we’re happy, we have all sorts of benefits. For example, happy people on average make more money. Happy people live on average nine years longer than unhappy people. Happier people are healthier, more vital, have more energy and have better relationships. Overall, happiness is a great, great thing, and it leads us to success. The opposite isn’t true. All we have to do is look at Hollywood for proof of that. All the fame, success and money are not going to do it. They don’t create happiness.
CM: In your book you interviewed people you call the “Happy 100.” Did you find a universal quality among them that makes them happy?
MS: I would say they all had certain major tendencies. Perhaps the biggest one I saw was that they had some kind of a spiritual practice. That didn’t mean religious. It meant they had a feeling of being connected to a bigger energy in the universe. It didn’t matter if you called it God, the divine or nature. They thought they were part of a bigger whole. Many of them had some kind of a practice like a meditation or prayer practice, a walk in nature.
And along with that, they tended to have a belief that this is a friendly universe. Einstein once said, “The biggest question we can ask ourselves is if this is a friendly universe?” And if you believe this is a friendly universe, then you believe that life is on your side. Even though “bad things” might happen, you look for what is good in it for you. You look for what the lesson or the gift in it might be. Rather than ending up feeling like victims in life, they become victors in life.
CM: We don’t often put happiness and science into the same thought process, but you do? Why?
MS: Because science has cracked the happiness code. We now know scientifically what it takes for people to be happy.
We have a happiness set point. What that means is that no matter what happens to us, whether it is good or bad, we will always come back to our happiness set point. It’s like a thermostat setting. It may get colder or warmer, but the temperature will adjust to where we’ve set it.
As an example, consider people who have won the lottery. They are happy for a few months, but within a year, they have returned to their happiness set point. Surprisingly, the same is true for people who have bad things happen to them. Usually within a year they return to their happiness set point.
The happiness set point is the key to it all, and it’s 50 percent genetic; it’s in your DNA. You are born with it. Only 10 percent relates to your circumstances, and yet that’s what we all try to change. The other 40 percent of our happiness set point are our habits and behavior.
There are scientists that now say our DNA can be changed, which means 90 percent of the happiness set point can be changed. I went from a D+ in happiness to an A. It doesn’t matter where you are right now with your happiness set point, you can all change it.
CM: What Simple Steps can anyone take right now to begin to change their Happiness Set Point?
MS: There are three simple and important things anyone can do. They are:
Notice the Positive
We tend to notice the negative and not the positive. And we remember the negative. Happy people have shifted that. When we focus on the positive, we create new neural pathways that help us raise our happiness set point. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Look for the positive. For example, I talked with the Happy 100 for my book, and one of them gives out 5 academy awards for what she sees each day. When she sees something positive, such as the cutest dog of the day, she gives them an academy award. She may or may not share that with the owner. but she notices the good. This is a simple step, and it forces you to focus on looking for the good.
- Focus on what is good for 20 seconds so that it makes a deeper impression in your brain. A simple practice like a gratitude practice is so important. At the end of the day, every day, write down 5 things you are grateful for. That causes you to focus on them for 20 seconds. Research has shown that within 30 days of doing this simple practice for just a minute at night, you will raise your happiness set point.
Use the Inner-Ease Technique
I learned this technique from the Institute of HeartMath, the leading researchers on the heart and how it affects our well-being.
You can do this with your eyes open or closed. Place the palm of your hand over your heart. That simple act of putting your hand over your heart starts the flow of oxytocin. Oxytocin is dubbed the love hormone. It’s what we have more of when we’re bonded to someone, such as a mother to a newborn. Imagine that you are breathing in and out from the center of your heart. Do this at your own pace. Every time you breathe in, breathe in love, ease and compassion. You can remember a time when you felt love, ease and compassion, or you can just say the words and it will have a very strong effect. Exhale normally. When you’re done, take your hand away and notice how you feel in your body.
When you do this process, you’re moving into the love response, and that has specific brain activity and heart rhythms. Doing it once is a nice experience, but if you do it regularly, three times a day for two weeks, it will move you into the habit of being in the love response. You can do this when you’re standing in line in the grocery store or when you’re sitting on the phone talking to someone. It doesn’t have to take extra time.
Forgiveness is the fast track to greater happiness. If there is anything going on in your life that you want to improve, including your health, relationships, financial condition, then practice Oho Pono Pono. It involves repeating these phrases to yourself:
Please forgive me
I love you
This is a very simple technique that changes lives. I did it with my own sister and it turned around our relationship. It’s miraculous. Find a place in your life where you find resentment and repeat these four phrases for 2-4 minutes. Do it every day for a few minutes for a couple weeks and see what happens. You don’t have to do it with the other person. This is for you. You’re the one that is affected by forgiveness. We are doing this process for ourselves to clear our own energy.
CM: What is your advice to someone who seems to be surrounded by negative people and is struggling to find happiness?
MS: We do catch the emotional contagions of the five people we spend the most time with. You need to build your own emotional immune system. Create some boundaries so you’re not spending as much time with them. Sometimes you can’t do that because you live with them. In that case, you can build your emotional immunity so you’re not as affected by it. It’s the same as being around someone with a cold. If you have a strong immune system, you don’t catch their cold. The same is true with your emotions. If you raise your happiness set point, you are not as affected by them as much. In fact you affect them. Consider the Dalai Lama. If anyone is negative around him, he doesn’t get dragged down by the negative person. His emotional immune system is so happy he uplifts the people around him. We want to be the happiness magnet and draw the happiness out of everyone else.
A good way to build up your emotional immunity is through forgiveness. If you have a real problem with a negative person you are around, practice the Oho Pono Pono I talked about before. If you are holding anger and resentment towards their negativity, you will feel better when you release it. And watch and see what happens to them.
CM: We are surrounded by sound-bite negativity in the media. What do you recommend for those who don’t feel they can let go of all that is wrong in the world?
MS: We become addicted to the negativity. It’s some kind of intrigue. It’s important that we create pathways in the brain for more positive thoughts. We want to shift what we expose ourselves to. Everything has an influence on us, not just the people but the news we hear, the conversations we are around and the books we read. I tell people to be very careful about what you’re taking in in terms of media. It’s like food. Do you want to take in toxic food, or do you want to take in nourishing food? You can limit the amount of time you expose yourself to the news. And certainly don’t watch the news right before you go to sleep because what you do right before you go to sleep flavors the quality of your sleep. Be a very conscious consumer of the media, and I’m not saying to ignore what’s going on in the world, but you can get headlines. Unless your livelihood or your business somehow depend on getting the details, you don’t need to know the details. And then there’s always positive radio like Simple Steps Real Change. That’s what I invite people to really surround themselves with. The happiest people I know read positive things, watch positive movies and positive television. Try it; get yourself a new habit.
CM: It’s been six years since you wrote “Happy For No Reason.” What have you learned in those years that you didn’t know when you wrote the book.
MS: I’m six years into living in a stable state of happiness, and I’ve learned how possible it really is to have it be lasting. In the midst of some major challenges happening … In those six years my mother passed away, I had some dear friends pass away, and I got divorced … being in this happiness – in this greater state of happiness – allowed me to be much more resilient. I never could have imagined that I could have handled these situations as well as I did with this much inner solidity, inner peace, and well-being amidst all the grief.
I also learned about what I’m teaching now of Living in the Miracle Zone. As you raise your happiness level, you start to put yourself into this zone. Some call it the flow of life. I call it the Miracle Zone. This is where miracles start to happen more and more. This is where exactly the right things show up, where you find yourself standing in the right place at the right time and you never could have made that happen on your own. It’s where you’re with somebody or you have just met someone who is exactly the person you needed to meet for the next step of your life. I think there’s a step beyond happiness, and that’s the Miracle Zone.
CM: How do you help someone who has a miracle but dismisses it as chance or even believes that whatever positive they have experienced will be taken away from them?
MS: It’s important to celebrate our wins and our successes. What we put our attention on grows stronger in our life. So, if good things start to happen, rather than dismiss them, it’s very important to celebrate them. Where your attention goes, your energy flows. What I suggest is that people suspend any disbelief they might have just for a while. Great things do happen, and if you think that was just chance, then suspend your belief for a while and celebrate instead. Rejoice in the good things that are happening. Give it good energy and see if more doesn’t start happening. What I’ve seen is beyond chance. I wrote many books in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and I’ve read probably 20,000 stories. What I found was about 50 percent of them were about miracles. In this Year of Miracles Program we are consistently seeing people have miracle after miracle after miracle. You can create the circumstances for miracles to flow into your life, and celebrating the good things is a way of putting yourself in the miracle zone.
Marci’s work has done so much to lead me to create Simple Steps Real Change and to choose happiness. It may not be easy, but she provides so many Simple Steps for us to take. For more about Marci’s Year In Miracle’s Program click the image.
To read the book that launched the inspiration for Simple Steps Real Change click on the cover.