In their research-based treasure of a book, “How We Choose To Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People: Their Secrets, Their Stories”, Rick Foster and Greg Hicks identified accountability as the second key attitude common to individuals who are exceptionally happy.
They define accountability as “the choice to create the life you want to live, to assume full personal responsibility for your actions, thoughts and feelings, and the emphatic refusal to blame others for your own unhappiness.”
Bad things happen, and we don’t choose which ones we get. People say and do unkind things or cause us harm – sometimes by accident, sometimes on purpose, and even sometimes with good intentions (That’s why we need malpractice insurance).
But if we get stuck in the blame game and surrender our personal responsibility for our own happiness to bad luck, fate or people that have harmed us, we remain victims. We give up our greatest power, and condemn ourselves to being helpless, hapless and hopeless.
In my February 20th post at http://wp.me/p1jqMQ-1L , I wrote of our power to choose. When patients come to discuss difficult situations – a challenging work environment, relationships problems and unhappy marriages, I remind them of their choices – without of course telling them what to do.
In any difficult situation – one that causes you distress in the form of anger, misery or anxiety, you usually have three choices: leave it, change it or reframe it.
Sometimes realizing we can choose to walk away – quit that job or end that relationship – can provide some relief. It can also be empowering. We might choose to delay our departure when we are more able to, or we might realize that we find great value in our work and in our relationship and we really don’t want to leave.
When considering changing our situation, we start looking for ways in which we can better communicate our thoughts, feelings and needs. We can look at our own accountability in the situation, asking, “What can I do to improve this situation?” In relationships, constructive change comes easier if both parties recognize the need to work together. Of course, in some jobs, there isn’t a lot of wiggle room, but still there is another option.
To reframe a difficult situation we must take a step back and consider alternate perspectives, asking, “Is there another way of looking at my situation?” Friends and family may be helpful – or not. If they don’t like your partner or spouse, their advice might be option 1: “Leave the bum!”
I find it helpful to take a quantum step back and look at my situation from the perspective of my whole life, my deepest values and my greatest dreams. This holds me back from reacting emotionally and without reflection.
I might ask, “What meaning can I find in my present situation? What have I learned and what am I learning? What approach will serve my highest values and what I cherish most in life?”
Stepping back from the ego allows me to consider other points of view, including the thoughts and feelings of everyone else involved. This reminds me of my own accountability for my attitudes and actions.
Good and bad things happen to all of us, and we can’t choose the circumstances of our lives. Accepting accountability allows us to take what life gives us and live the way we choose.
Since February 1st, I’ve been sharing the insights I’ve learned from my patients, friends and family in “A Hundred Days to Happiness.” Each day (unless late night deliveries intervene), I will post one new insight on facebook.com/davidicus.wong, twitter.com/DrDavidicusWong and my blog at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.