Your Health on Happiness

Chat with ‘Happiness’ Expert + Author Shannon Kaiser.

Shannon has been named the Happiness Guru and Top 100 Women to Watch in Wellness by Mind Body Green. She is the best selling author of Find Your Happy, an Inspirational Guide to Loving Life to Its Fullest, and Find Your Happy Daily Mantras, and a six-time contributing author to Chicken Soup for The Soul. [Transcribed phone chat.] 

Shelby: I think a really good place for us to start is to talk about happiness; How important is happiness to your health?  And here’s why I’m asking—I don’t think most of us think about this to the extent that we should. I think that a lot of us think about happiness as something that will happen someday if we set ourselves up in a manner to achieve that happiness. Whether it’s getting that perfect job, or finding the perfect partner , someday we’ll be happy, and I think we need to bring it back to the present moment.

Shannon: It’s so important. In fact I think we cannot separate it, and that’s one of the main reasons I do what I do today, because for the majority of my 20s I really did hit a quarter-life crisis. And I was unhealthy; I was unhappy. I was suffering and diagnosed with clinical depression, and it was all a result of me not being happy. And once I really realized that there’s steps I can take to find my happiness now, instead of waiting on something to happen for me to be happy—you know that job, or more money, or the better boyfriend, whatever it was—once I reversed that and said I’m going to make finding happiness right now my full time mission, my health started to improve. I started to gain confidence. I started to find self-love. So, I personally truly believe you can’t separate them. To be happy is to be healthy, and to be healthy is to be happy.

Shelby: Can you tell us a bit more of your background and the journey that you just mentioned—how did you become an expert on happiness?

Shannon: Yeah, absolutely. I actually haven’t always been this happy. Today, I’m one of the happiest people—I love my life fully. I truly wake up every day so connected to everything I’m doing. But it wasn’t always that way. I had a quarter-life crisis in my 20s. I was pursuing the corporate route much like you had, and the agency world is very high-paced, very aggressive. And I thought that’s what I wanted to do. I went to grad school to be in advertising, and I was planning on running my own agency by the time I was 30, and on the outside it looked like I had it all. I was dating a man who wanted to marry me. I lived in this beautiful loft in downtown Chicago and I was working in an agency that had accounts all over the world and I was traveling, and it all looked great. It really did. I was checking off the boxes of what they say you should do, right? It was a totally different story on the inside, though. I was suffocating in fear. I felt lost. I really was also in a dark place suffering from eating disorders and drug addiction. All of that was kind of the side effect of me not being true to myself or listening to myself, and my doctor diagnosed me with depression and I realized that I had a choice. I could use more drugs and prescriptions to try to get better – or I could actually really get to the source and the root cause of what’s happening here. And I realized that it was really tied to what I wasn’t – I wasn’t following my heart. Once I said, “Okay Shannon, follow your heart,” things started to shift. And as I started to do that it opened up possibilities for me to write. I realized I’m a writer so I started writing books. I love travel, so I became a travel writer. And then by doing what brought me the most joy, I started to really understand the tools—bring in the psychology—of what makes happiness and how we can be happy. And, today I teach other people how to be happy.

Shelby: And I know in your work you do talk a lot about play—you’re the founder of Can you tell us a bit about how to bring play into our day, and infuse that a bit more into a work environment?

Shannon: Play with the World is my website and it started with me just kind of sharing my experiences as I was leaving corporate several years ago. I started to travel more, and I wanted a place to document my journey. And it turned into this real wonderland of adventure for people. People were coming, and what I recognized is when I was in corporate and I was suffocating and deep in depression, there wasn’t really an outlet that I could go to where I realized someone was like kind of going off and creating their own path—at least I didn’t know of any at that time. And so it became this kind of sanctuary for the soul, if you will. And I realized the importance of play – not so much play like ‘let’s go skip down the street’ even though I started to do that – instead of walking my dog I’m like “let’s go skip” You know? It’s really about finding the moments that are more joyful, in each moment, and so play, as a rule, is really about exploring all of the different ideas that come to you, and it’s really about honoring your true path and trusting yourself.

Shelby: And perhaps it’s saying yes more often than no.

Shannon: That’s exactly it. It really comes back to looking at where we’re settling, and I realize the majority of my life I was settling in terms of doing what was expected of me, but not what I really wanted for myself. And I had never, at that point, asked what I wanted for myself. There’s this big shift, this huge difference. Once I kind of crossed over, I realized that I matter, my dreams matter, these goals and aspirations I have are part of living a fulfilled life. It ultimately became a real joyful journey and that’s what Play with the World is, it’s about saying, ‘hey—you matter; your dreams are meant to come true, so go after them.’

Shelby: You mentioned the concept of following your heart – it’s one of your key messages or your mantras, if you will, across your work. But let’s say, though, that somebody is in a job they have at the moment and they know that it’s not for them—for the long term—but they need to make it work for right now. Perhaps they have student loans or they have bills, or they have a family to support. Whatever it is, they need to make this position, or this job work for them right now. What are certain steps or actions they can take to still feel connected, and perhaps aligned with their purpose or passion— and I guess, second question – if they don’t know what that is what could they be doing to stay in their current position, but also be headed in the right direction?

Shannon: I’m glad you bring that up because that’s fear. Fear is the number one thing that keeps us from moving forward, and a lot of times we get fearful, so it gets to a place where we know what we want but then we actually get fearful—how am I going to make money doing what I love, or do I have to start over? And I have responsibilities. Following your heart is about having direction for your life and accessing the wisdom from within. It’s really about knowing that you have a greater purpose. When I was in corporate I had my moment where I realized this wasn’t working out and I want to leave—and I left. But then it wasn’t until six months later that I really left the industry and then it was three years of behind the scenes of me building a bridge, and that’s what I call it—a bridge. If someone is working toward their dream job, make sure to dedicate off time toward that dream job because—what happens is—we have this kind of transition period that has to happen. And I was still following my heart the whole time, and it’s just a matter of taking one step at a time and knowing there’s a bigger picture at play. I think a lot of people think it has to happen overnight. And if it’s not happening overnight, we’re off track. But that, by no means, is actually how it works. What it really comes back to is taking action every day—I always say do one thing every day your future self will hug you for.

Shelby: Is it possible to be stressed—as in how people use the phrase ‘Oh I’m so stressed out about work’, or whatever it might be—is it possible to be stressed out and still be happy at the same time? And I’m asking because I think a lot of people have this tendency to dream or envision a happy life as it being stress-free, or carefree, or perfect…and we know that’s not realistic.  So, can you be stressed out and can you also be happy?

Shannon: Yes, I think a lot of us—like you said—think if we’re stressed out then we’re kind of going crazy and we’re not happy, but you convert. Being happy is not necessarily Rainbow Brite and unicorns jumping in fields all the time. I like replace ‘happiness’ with the word ‘joy.’ You can still be joyful and you can still have a joyful life even if you’re stressed out. And I get stressed, but I really have tools to manage it and bounce through it.  It’s actually about managing the stress that you do have in a more productive, positive way.

Shelby: How important is money to overall happiness? I think a common thing that you hear is oh I can’t take that trip or that vacation until I’m making more money, or my life will be so much better if I would just that 10% raise, and so on. It’s that constant future projecting of happiness dependent upon a certain condition unfolding. In your first book, you talk about money as energy or as a force, and I think this is super important for folks to understand. So can you walk us through a bit about that chapter in your book?

Shannon: Yeah, so in my first book, Find Your Happy, it’s money is your friend.  I think the easy thing to say is money doesn’t buy happiness. But the reality is what we’re really searching for is—go deeper—it’s security or fulfillment. So, you can ask yourself why is it you want the money, and what is it going to bring you? So I started to focus on how can I feel abundant now? No matter how much money is in my bank account, what can I be grateful for? And when I started to do this, my real money worth started to grow. Time and time again with my life coaching clients, and in my book, I talk about it. I have a lot of people who will say, “I’ve been saying money is the problem, but I realized the only problem is me stopping myself.” And so I have one wonderful story that I share about a life coaching client, who went through the process that I share in my book, and she said, “You know, for seven years I wanted to go to Bali, and I kept saying, “I don’t have money, I don’t have money, I don’t have money,” and I realized all I had to do was put the deposit down. And I put a $200 deposit down. And that’s it. I was showing the universe that this is something that was important to me. And guess what? Once I did that, more money came and I started to have more clarity.” If we don’t do anything, nothing is going to move forward. So it’s really just one step at a time. And recognizing, oh my gosh, the money is there. Because, honestly, we always have enough time, money and energy for what’s truly most important to us.

Shelby: Let’s talk about comparison for a minute, because I think other than money this could be the second biggest driver in creating that cycle of unhappiness in yourself. And I think this comparison game plays out tremendously in work situations, especially if it’s a competitive environment. So what tips or advice do you have for those that tend to get stuck in that comparison cycle: like—oh, why did so and so get the promotion, and I was passed over, or he’s so great in meetings, and I’m struggling to contribute. When you’re constantly having those thoughts, what can you do?

Shannon: Yes, there’s a three-step process that I do. I actually believe comparison just robs us of our joy and stops us more than anything else. No matter where you are, whether you’re just starting a new business, whether you’re in a job, comparison is usually tied to jealousy, and what we see in someone else is what we actually want in or for ourselves. So, they got the raise, I wanted it. They have more social media followers with their business, I want that. The first thing I actually say is give gratitude. Say thanks emotionally and energetically to that person for showing you what’s possible. When we’re comparing, it’s a lacking mentality, and we’re making ourselves feel less-than. And we feel like there might not be enough to go around. But the reality is that the universe is very abundant, and we’re our unique selves. I always say, “Thank you for showing me what’s possible, I now know that I can have that many followers, or that income can be attributed at my age,” and so on.

The second thing I always suggest is actually detaching. Maybe it means unfollowing them on social media. Or maybe it means don’t hang out with them so much at the workplace because you’re still so frustrated. And this allows us to detach, and allows us to really process the feelings and recognize that it’s not about them, it’s really about us. Finally, instead of saying, Why do they have that? Why didn’t I get that?— turn your ‘whys’ or ‘hows’ into a ‘what.’ What can I do to get that outcome? So your friend or coworker got a 10% raise, or they got the position you wanted, instead of harping on it, or saying woe is me, say —what can I do to make sure I’m next in line to get it? And just roll up your sleeves and keep going.

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