Late last year, I was fortunate to learn about 10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There), a wonderful book by Galen Pearl. After reading the book, I had the pleasure of interviewing Galen—about the book, her life, and the 10 Steps.
I’m grateful to Galen for taking the time with me. The interview is longer than some of the others I have done, so set aside a little time to enjoy it.
1. You’ve written a wonderful book, you write an inspirational blog, talk a bit about your background.
I grew up in Memphis, and I now live in the Pacific Northwest. As a single mom, I’ve created a family with five adopted and foster kids, all grown now, and two with children of their own. I retired two years ago after teaching law for twenty years and practicing law for ten years before that. During the ten years I was practicing, I was fortunate to live overseas in three different countries. Now I’m more of a homebody. My cabin in the mountains is a place of great peace and joy for my spirit. I practice martial arts. And I play Chinese mahjong (but not well).
2. You write a lot about your children/being a mom. You certainly have a non-typical family. Talk about your family and how they have impacted you—in general and in your life as a writer.
My most influential spiritual teachers have been, without a doubt, my children. I have three adopted children and two permanent foster children. Although I rarely use the labels “adopted” or “foster,” or even think of them, sometimes I do when it seems important to explain the various connections. My kids come from a variety of backgrounds, including race, nationality, culture, language, faith, and abilities. And they came to me at different ages and out of birth order.
To others, my family might appear complicated. My kids and I have all come from different birth families to create our own family, and in its own quirky way, it works for us. That doesn’t mean it has been easy. Each child presented his or her own lesson for me, and sometimes I’ve been a slow learner. Looking back, though, I see that each lesson has been a blessing. In turn, each child, I believe, has been blessed by being part of this family.
How have they impacted me? The most significant way, I think, is that they have taught me how little my plans or expectations really matter.I’ve learned a lot about acceptance and about trusting the basic goodness of the universe from my kids. Step 3 of my 10 Steps comes directly from parenting – Give up the delusion of control!
3. Why did you write 10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There)?
There was the “surface” inspiration and the “deep” inspiration. The surface inspiration came from my daughter, who described her boyfriend’s forlorn expression one day by saying that he was looking for his happy place. The phrase helped me realize that I had found mine, and inspired me on a deeper level to reflect on the transformation my life had taken from one based in fear to one based in joy.
The desire to change my life led, years ago, to a multi-faceted quest to change my basic “default,” through changing my habitual thought patterns. While there are many ways to do this, there were certain practices I found particularly helpful and meaningful. Those practices became the 10 Steps.
Identifying the 10 Steps led to teaching them in various settings, and my blog (by the same name) began in connection to what I was teaching. The book grew out of my blog. A number of people encouraged me to write the book. My sister said that if I did, she would design the cover. I did, and she did! That is her lovely painting gracing the cover.
I also wrote the book as a way to support Edwards Center, an organization that serves adults with developmental disabilities, including my two sons who have autism. My sons live in one of their group homes and work at one of their work sites. Edwards Center is a wonderful organization. All the proceeds from anything associated with the 10 Steps, whether through publishing or speaking, are donated to Edwards Center.
4. I like when you said in your book’s introduction, “We can remember happy times in the past, and we can anticipate happy times in the future, but happiness can only be actually experienced in the present moment.” I also love the image, “Like finding your glasses on top of your head, you wake up and realize that your happiness was here all along.” Talk about those as relates to choosing to be happy.
So many of us hold our happiness hostage to some future event. We think we can’t be happy until something happens—we get a new job, we find the right partner, our kids behave the way we want them to, we go on vacation, and so on.
Likewise, many of us block our happiness by reliving things from the past that did not go the way we wanted. Or perhaps they did, and we long for “the good old days.”
In both cases, we are living in a world that does not exist. The only reality is this moment, and it is the only moment in all our lives when we actually have the ability to choose to be happy.
And that is the other key—that happiness is a choice that we make. We make it moment by moment until it becomes a habit. When I say choosing, that is a bit misleading since I believe that happiness is our natural state. So choosing happiness is really a matter of removing the blocks we have put up. When we are able to do that, then we see that happiness is always right here. I’m glad you like the glasses analogy. Another one I’ve heard is that it’s like a fish in the ocean asking where the water is.
5. In your Step One, “Give Yourself Permission to Be Happy,” you say, “…being happy is one of the most unselfish and socially responsible things we can do in our lives.” Please explain what you mean by that.
When speaking with groups of people, I find that although people say they want to be happy, they have some ambivalence about happiness as a worthwhile pursuit. This is true even though the “pursuit of happiness” is recognized as an inalienable right in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, and joy is at the core of all major faith traditions. Despite all these bases for valuing happiness, it’s often seen as frivolous, insensitive, or selfish. We sometimes think it is wrong to want to be happy.
However, research shows that the benefits of happiness are widespread. Happy people are healthier and have more energy. This causes less demand on the healthcare system, and also saves losses in the workplace. Happy people are more emotionally well-adjusted, making them better parents, spouses, and friends. Happy people are also more prone to volunteer and to give more generously to their community. Thus, happiness benefits not only individuals, but also families, communities, and the economy.
In my own life, I can see how my own happiness benefitted my children by giving me more patience and energy, lowering my stress, keeping me healthier and more active. Most important, I modeled for my children that we are each responsible for our own happiness, and I gave them permission to be happy themselves.
I’ve come to believe that shifting from fear to joy is the single most important thing we can do in our lives to make the world a better place.
6. In Step Two, “Decide if You Want to Be Right or Happy,” you talk about your time as an attorney and the cost of adversarial disputes. I can relate to that from my experience in the liability insurance business, where I have seen that there are no winners in legal disputes. You also have a great line about, “having an open hand rather than an upper hand.” Tell us more about that.
As a practicing attorney, I negotiated and drafted contracts. As a law professor, I taught students to do the same. I told my students that their goal was to help the parties reach a deal that they could both live with. If the contract ended up in court, then both parties lost, no matter who “won” because they had lost time, money, trust, and perhaps relationships.
We see this playing out in the current political climate in the United States. Each party is so set on winning, on being right, that the whole country is losing.
Just because one party, whether a party to a contract or a political party, has the upper hand, doesn’t mean that it is wise or beneficial to use that bargaining leverage to drive the other party into a corner. As long as we see everything in terms of “us” and “them,” we will always be operating from a place of defensiveness and fear. One battle just leads to another. It never ends.
An open hand, conversely, represents a willingness to listen, to respect, and to work together in good faith toward a common goal. It doesn’t mean that everyone will agree on everything. It means that fairness is the guiding principle rather than conquest.
7. You have a great analysis of the serenity prayer. Say a bit about that.
I love this prayer. It covers a lot of ground in three lines!
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
I like to start with the last line. This is easier than it seems because basically we can control everything that we do or say or think, and we can’t control everything else.
Backing up to the second line, what we are really asking for, then, is the courage to change ourselves. That’s really what the 10 Steps are all about. All the steps are geared towards developing habits in our thoughts, words, and actions that will grow and sustain a joyful spirit.
The first line is the hardest—at least it is for me. Step 3 of the 10 Steps is “Give up the delusion of control.” This step is the most challenging for me and may be for others as well. Wanting things to be something other than what they are, or trying to make them something other than what they are, causes us more suffering than we can imagine. As Buddhism teaches, this is the suffering of suffering. An example of this in my own life was all the years I spent trying to “cure” my son’s autism. I caused us both a lot of needless suffering.
When we focus on the only thing we can change—ourselves—and let go of the rest, serenity flows naturally and abundantly. At least until the next time!
8. From Step Six, “Judge Not,” please talk about changing the words “I have to” to “I get to”.
This is such a simple technique! Listen to yourself as you go through the day. How many times do you think or actually say that you “have to” do something? How does that make you feel? It makes me feel like a victim. I feel resentful and resistant and powerless. But when I change that one word, everything changes. I recognize my own power. I feel grateful. I have more energy for the task.
Just this morning I was thinking “Oh, I have to get up early to go to martial arts class.” It was raining and I really wanted to stay in bed. But when I thought, “Oh I get to get up and go to martial arts class,” I remembered that this is something I really enjoy doing. I’m so lucky to have the physical and financial ability to participate in something that gives me so much pleasure. Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to get up and get to class!
As an additional note on this point, it’s interesting how often we say we “have to” do something that is really totally our choice!
9. In closing, what do you hope readers get out of your book?
I hope it helps most of all by example. I don’t have “the answer.” Or rather, I do have it, and so do we all. Living in our happy place is a worthwhile and attainable way to live. We don’t need to go spend years with a guru on a mountaintop (although that is a fine thing to do if that is your path). What I have tried to show with my own story is that there are simple techniques for changing our habits, techniques that we can weave into our everyday lives. And if we do, we’ll discover the happiness that has been within us all along.
What did you think of Galen’s interview? Join the conversation with your comments…