Forgive and start NOW. The beacon of light at the end of the tunnel in this whole Covid 19 ordeal, is TIME. Almost any positive scenario borne from this crisis that one can mention involves having the time to do now what one would not have accomplished before. Take the time to heal a wound or two with a once close friend or family member. That act right now may provide a level of support far beyond expectations for them and for you.
As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Keith P. Felty
Mr. Felty is a 27-year trial attorney and expert in happiness. He is the author of “America, the Happy,” a long-time researcher of the philosophy of happiness and purveyor of the site, americathehappyplace.com. He is currently working on two additional books on the subject of happiness and developing a global happiness App that will incorporate several methods of promoting personal happiness in our lives in good times or bad.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Mycareer path is in two parts and a bit unusual. At 14, I decided that I was going to be a lawyer and that I would defend cases against doctors. The 80’s decade was the height of medical malpractice lawsuits. I had heard the stories of big verdicts and settlements as well as constant advertisements by lawyers trashing the medical profession. I just thought that I wanted to do something about it so studied to become a lawyer. Most people to whom I tell that story are surprised that I made that decision at 14. I have been practicing law for over 27 years now and have dealt with countless unhappy people.
I have also been studying the subject of happiness and the whole philosophy of happiness for about 30 years. I was really intrigued by the Declaration of Independence and the “pursuit of happiness” phrase more than any other part of our history. I remember first sitting in a college philosophy course and telling myself that I was going to figure out the allure of that specific language and why it’s really the hallmark of our lives. I’ve read just about every book I could find on happiness over the years and last year I finally wrote my own book on the subject, titled “America, The Happy.” I’ve also just started a blog site americathehappyplace.com. I think this one phrase is really a key to life and bringing that idea to more people is something that I really believe is a purpose in my life now. I am trying to make it even easier to pursue happiness by developing an APP that will inspire people to pursue and monitor their daily happiness. The APP will be available soon and I’m excited about it.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Two books have been equally impactful for me. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. Growing up, I had always been a more independent, self-reliant person than most of my friends. Reading that book confirmed for me that sticking to principles and approaching life that way is effective in one’s personal and professional life. Robert Collier’s The Secret of the Ages. The lesson he teaches is that you and your own mind are the central powers to accomplishing anything. I wish I would have learned that concept and put it into action thirty years ago. Circumstances don’t make us, we make the circumstances and the only time that matters is right now. I’ve learned to approach every day like that and it has changed me for the better.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Five Philosophical reasons to see light at the end of the tunnel: The factors that lead to increased happiness are well known. From my perspective, examining them under perceived extreme times will create positive pursuits within the bigger picture of our lives. That’s what comes out of dealing with crises. The Light at the End of Tunnel is where we are going and I believe the following steps along the way will help make the journey more peaceful and result in a better life for us.
- Work on Relationships — Time and again, studies have proven that personal relationships and especially loving relationships make for happier lives. Difficult times enhance the personal relationships that matter. With a stay at home orders, the excuses of time or distance are removed as barriers to spending more time with loved ones. The number of hours spent with those who matter to us will increase exponentially for vast numbers of people and obviously should reduce the threat of loneliness. Substitute your old commute time with preparing a meal together, change from watching the bad news on t.v. to board game time. These are seemingly simple things that bring us some closer time together. More time for even the small things in relationships is time well spent.
- Express Gratitude to start every day — When things get tough, human nature often turns to a misery loves company response. The flip side is what actually works in creating happier lives. Rather than wallowing in fear or self-pity, there is no more time for actual thought about the positives in our lives. When we have and acknowledge our health, our family members/loved ones/friends, and the stuff we REALLY NEED, thinking about and expressing gratitude for them makes us happier people. More time for gratitude is time well spent. Two examples of such expressions are writing down the stuff for which we are most grateful. Second, verbalizing gratitude publicizes it to others and makes our thoughts more real. Every day is Thanksgiving, not just one Thursday in November so doing this exercise with loved ones more regularly or daily, especially now, is a great idea.
- Reflect on your purpose — Social distancing is a new term for interacting with others but staying at a safe distance. Alone time has been an often-used saying for years and it is no less a promoter of health and happiness. Many will use some of the extra time they now have to reflect on what’s most important in their lives. Having a purpose, whether it’s being a great spouse or parent, a caregiver for the needy, a spiritual advisor or a mentor of others unequivocally increases happiness in our lives. More time for finding and reflecting on our purpose is time well spent.
- Seek Wisdom/Faith — With crises come questions and with questions we seek answers. When big things happen, especially ominous events, big answers are pursued. The answers are found in faith when reason doesn’t seem to provide any solace. People who have faithful beliefs in something bigger are nearly always happier people. If a crisis results in more people turning to faith or seeking wisdom beyond our conscious minds, the light at the end of the tunnel is bright. Time spent in faith is time well spent. A great example of seeking such wisdom may be as simple as reading positive quotes from great minds, reading scripture, or prayer.
- Learn to accept happiness as a moral obligation — When confined with others, the necessity of a happy, or at least pleasant, a disposition is underscored. Honestly, no one wants to be with downers and no one really wants to hear our problems. Be happy, act happily, and it spreads to others. Being together and relying on those closest to us will lead to more understanding that being happy in our lives and our interactions is a moral obligation. The Founders understood this and so will we when reach the end of the tunnel. The best advice is the “fake it ’til you make it” idea of acting happily. This may seem a bit weird to people but it works and is quite easy to do until it becomes a habit.
Those are the five big life steps to increase happiness and eliminate fear at any time in life. With the five tips above, it is also helpful to remember that over 95% of what we fear NEVER happens.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Some of the steps to support others are the same as we can take to support ourselves, but the five best are:
- Be positive and give others around you a few practical reasons why they should be positive. For example, remind others that they now have more TIME to do the things they’ve put off. Personally we have now cleaned out our closets that we’ve complained about for the last two years. This change has made us feel more organized and in control of our stuff, but it probably would not have happened if it weren’t for the stay at home order. The same is true of remote abilities with education, work, and relationships. There are answers to really high tuition, taking care of the kids and working at the same time, and to communication with those who are not so near. Covid 19 is teaching us how.
- If healthy generally, remind others in your home or by phone, skype, text that they are healthy; talk about good health rather than illness or tragedy. Turn conversations positive when they start down the wrong road. Seems obvious but hearing these facts from others makes it more real and calming. I do this all of the time; if conversations go negative, I subtly turn them around by reminding my wife or one of my sons what is going well at the moment.
- Tell others why you are thankful for them. Expressing gratitude about what we have is powerful as we’ve already discussed and verbalizing to others we care about is a double whammy because it’s good for you both. Too often, we find it easy to fault those we’re closest to, but we don’t say enough of the positive things we appreciate about them. In tough times, it’s more natural to go negative, but instead, try harder to draw on the good, so start doing it now and then let it carry over as a habit for the long term.
- Offer to help those who need it. Doing what we can to lend a hand for those who need help or support, not only helps them but also us. When we do positive things for others, there is a return. Life is balanced that way. For example, I can count several times where I’ve given to charity, and somehow, without any effort, the money I’ve donated has come back to me in some way. We get back what we give so giving should be easy and often.
- Forgive and start NOW. The beacon of light at the end of the tunnel in this whole Covid 19 ordeal, is TIME. Almost any positive scenario borne from this crisis that one can mention involves having the time to do now what one would not have accomplished before. Take the time to heal a wound or two with a once close friend or family member. That act right now may provide a level of support far beyond expectations for them and for you. Often, the reasons for the estrangement are trivial compared to the real problems in life. Patching up a previously perceived big issue that now is revealed small will help you both.
I have a final word of advice relative to the five steps: This crisis underscores how our days are full of practical choices. A virus may cause the choices to be different ones, but still, the choices are ours to make. These choices steer our pursuits of happiness or unhappiness. A virus has provided us the cure to poor choices just like viruses themselves are the healing component in any vaccine.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
This may seem a bit harsh for some, but the best resource is one’s own mind. Once we make the choice to focus on what we already have it really opens up a whole different approach to the world. Anyone who tries 3 or 4 weeks of waking up, writing down a few things that they are thankful for, a few goals for the day that are “happy” things, then puts them into practice, I guarantee will have a changed life. There are many great self-help books like “The Secret of the Ages” by Robert Collier or “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankel that support exactly what I am saying — the grass right where you are in the greenest, but YOU have to fertilize it. No one can alter or steal your thoughts, and thoughts put into action to create happy lives. That’s all that really matters.
A quick observation may help those who are anxious even though it is anecdotal and not a scientific study at all. My wife and I walk about 3 1/2 miles every day in our neighborhood with our golden retriever, irrespective of the weather in Michigan. There are probably two or three other couples who are hardcore walkers out there like us. During this stay at home time, we still see those hardcore people, but also dozens and dozens of others walking and riding bikes as families. Though this observation may seem insignificant, seeing families together doing the little things is reassuring and heart-warming. The positives are out there to see depending on our perspective.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
There is no question that my dad’s life lesson quote is the most important in my life: He said multiple times that “It’s more important to listen than to talk.” This quote is relevant to my life as a trial attorney, a husband/parent, and as an author and purveyor of happiness.
Trial attorney: As a trial attorney, I can’t tell you how often other lawyers talk over judges, witnesses, and other attorneys and fail to listen. Even when admonished by judges, they just will not listen and simply fail to answer direct questions they are asked. Lawyers will ask witnesses questions and then start reading their notes and not listen to the answer. The ability to ask an informed follow-up question is lost by not listening to an answer. Listening is a skill and it has to be practiced. Having been told this early on, I was able to develop the habit of listening and it has made me a much better trial attorney.
Husband/parent: The listening habit has also made me better in my personal life. Great relationships start with communication. Listening is more important than talking when you’re interacting with those whom you love. A connected interest in those we love creates stronger bonds. Even when starting a new relationship or meeting new people, there are numerous studies that support how listening to others when they are talking about themselves, their interests and so on is so important in establishing a good first impression and a bond. A good ear, along with some sincere eye contact will put you in the right place to establish better trust and better relationships.
Happiness and hopefulness: Approaching our interactions with others with a happy demeanor and then combining that positivity with the habit of listening projects our happiness on others. They feel our interest and good spirit. It’s really a double whammy when we do our best to be positive and “happy” while we communicate with other people. Even in trial work, demeanor matters. Some lawyers beat up on witnesses or opposing parties in lawsuits for example. However, I have found that with witnesses, even the opposition, projecting kindness, eye contact and listening with interest compel the answers I am looking for far more often than not.
Listening works in every area of life and was a great life lesson even though it took some time for it to sink in. Parents should be happy to know that it does sink in even if it seems like the opposite much of the time.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The “Advancing Life Movement” would be my theme. Life is about moving forward and advancing in body, mind, and spirit. Starting a day (and this movement) with a few statements of gratitude for what we have, then acting NOW to move forward to better ourselves is living. Focusing on the difficulties of our past, creating “reasons” why we cannot achieve or blaming our circumstances or others in our lives for our own failures is not advancement. That mindset is stagnation. There is no reason to focus on the past because it is impossible to change it. There is no reason to lazily daydream about the future because we never have any certainty that there will be a tomorrow. There is always today and today is the only time that we can have an impact on our own lives or those around us. Get into the idea of advancing your life right now and you will really be amazed by what you can do.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
I just started a new blog website americathehappyplace.com and soon I will be releasing a mobile APP where people can put the above steps into practice, chart them and stay on track in pursuit of happiness. My book “America, the Happy” is also available online.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!