What’s the key to happiness? Is it possible that it could be something as uncomfortable as vulnerability? Vulnerability. Thinking of it tends to wipe rather than paint a smile on most faces. But let’s think of some opposites to being vulnerable: being guarded, hiding, masking our true feelings, avoiding realities that often need to be addressed. Those don’t sound so great either, do they?
Before I go any further and risk sounding like I have this whole vulnerability thing figured out, let me share a recent experience.
After a typical professional group meeting tinged with tension and tough talk, I left the business world to attend a “circle” event. This intimate gathering is based on openness, trust and letting go. In other words, vulnerability. It’s a beautiful thing to be part of. And I enjoyed every minute of listening to others’ challenges and offering my perspective and encouragement. But I skipped my turn to share my own challenge. And afterward one of my circle mates (and friends) called me on it. “Were you afraid to be vulnerable?” Ha! Not me! I’m a coach. And then I thought about it some more on the way home. And then I asked my husband if he thought I held back sometimes. We agreed I had some room for improvement.
Of course, vulnerability is relative and depends on the context, which makes it that much trickier. How much of ourselves we expose in a job interview is very different than what we show to a romantic partner (I hope!). But what about all of those in-between moments? Often we are influenced by those around us. We may protect ourselves if we sense that’s the norm. Or we may demonstrate our vulnerability with pride among more guarded companions, only to find ourselves needing to recalibrate when we change environments. What happened in the circle was that I was surrounded by extremely courageous women who have worked for years to get to the point of being able to surrender their “protective” layers and trust that good comes from letting go. Being surrounded by that much vulnerability helped me see that I still have some more barriers to remove.
So, now back to my point about vulnerability and happiness. The documentary Happy offers a 75-minute dose of profound joy and these universal keys to happiness:
- Connecting with others
- Caring about things bigger than ourselves
- Having new experiences
- Doing things that are meaningful
Think about the stuff that holds us back from each of these. When we are guarded, we limit our ability to connect with another person. When we try to protect our own happiness, we find it difficult to embrace spiritual ideas like gratitude. When we don’t give ourselves the permission to fail, we avoid trying new experiences. And if we are tangled up in our own mess, it’s hard to direct positive energy toward others.
These are the links between vulnerability and happiness. Of course knowing this intellectually is a lot easier than actually doing something about it, right? So how do you get started?
Here are some ideas:
Pro the Cons
Make a list of everything that gets in the way of your happiness. Next to each item write something positive about it.
Get Informed and Inspired
Watch Happy (it’s streaming on Netflix). Or read Stumbling Onto Happiness (see review below). Notice the parts that resonate with you and give yourself a happiness assignment.
Go For It
Choose a skill you’ve wanted to learn or improve. Set a goal for your first steps—and find a process or person to hold you accountable.
Identify a cause or area that interests you and find an upcoming opportunity to volunteer.
Feed your spiritual self. Whether it’s through meditation, yoga, prayer, or a stroll in the woods, make time to connect with something more powerful than yourself.
For myself, I have committed to writing regularly. And I doubled up on my coaching sessions so I can break through those lingering barriers. I’m ready to let it all out and become even happier!