There is a belief that we are born predisposed to character and personality traits that can either lead us to happiness and well-being, or hold these things beyond our reach. That may be true, but it’s only one part of the puzzle. The whole of us is made up of many things, and research proves that we can build our happiness muscle despite our genetic predisposition.
I have faced many health issues, as well as personal trauma. I am, however, fortunate to be someone who loves to learn, and that is what prompted me to search for help to ease the pain. The first step for me was to embrace the fact that we can change. That belief is what allowed me to make better choices and reach for my fullest potential.
Throughout the decades of my life—I’ll spare you how many—I lived on a wing and a prayer. That worked for me first as a blues singer traveling the world, and later, when I became a mother to three wonderful human beings, adopted a young boy, and inherited another son. Raising these five diverse, energetic, and loving individuals took all my physical and emotional energy. I had quit high school to go on the road as a singer, but eventually, I went back to school and became a social work counselor and then director of a non-profit teaching positive parenting skills. (I think I drove my kids a little crazy with all the different parenting styles and programs I tried on them!)
When my children were grown, I realized I felt stuck. I no longer knew my purpose. I asked myself, Who am I now? I wanted to build a meaningful life for myself, but how? Did I deserve it? How much time had I wasted? Did I have the ability to accomplish anything more? Could I go back to school again? I was in my 50s—was I too old?
Then I heard about the Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology, and something inside me, something I had not previously paid attention to, screamed at me: Go! And I listened. At 55, I became certified in positive psychology and my life began to reshape itself. I started a small business teaching and sharing positive psychology, called Happily Ever Actions. Just as it was poised to take off, COVID hit.
Since I could not go out to speak or teach, I decided to write. My first book in what I soon realized would be a trilogy was The View from Within: Spiritual Pathways to Happiness, co-created with my fiancé, photographer Joseph A. Bologna. Published in June 2021, it’s a gorgeous collection of photos depicting the sights, insights, and teachings of spiritual practices from around the world.
The next book to emerge was Finding Unshakable Happiness, released in August, which brings together the stories of 25 CiWPP alumni. Each chapter offers a personal testament, and each story is heartfelt and beautifully written. Together, we have accomplished something magical.
The book is divided into five sections according to the five positive psychology concepts that I find most powerful. These ideas and the practical tools that go with them have changed absolutely everything in my life. Amazingly, the topics the authors chose to write about fit perfectly into those five sections. Here they are:
The Ideal Self: Understanding who I was as my best possible self, finding role models to follow, and learning how to show up in that way, confident and strong, gave me a new road map. Suddenly I knew how I could overcome obstacles, build resilience, and be myself, with a moral compass that nothing and nobody can shake. In the presence of a pandemic, family issues, or any crisis, the Ideal Self can show up in everything we do, when we remember that it is our choice to respond in that way.
Positive Emotions: Joy, interest, contentment, love, happiness … Barbara Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory describes how savoring positive emotions can transform our thoughts into behaviors and shape our daily habits. The broadened mindsets that rise from these positive emotions are in contrast to the narrow mindsets created by negative emotions. For example, joy sparks the urge to be playful. Interest sparks curiosity and the desire to explore. Contentment is the emotion that allows us to savor. Love allows us to share these emotions within safe, close relationships, feeling understood, heard, and seen.
Living with Intention: Appraising and reappraising who we are, and following the moral code outlined in our personal road map, leads to understanding the character strengths that are part of our personality. Using this knowledge about ourselves, we can begin to align what we believe in and value with what matters and gives us meaning. Then we simply choose our actions and responses from that foundation. This took a lot of practice for me. However, once it becomes a habit, it affords us many possibilities; we can be more open, hopeful, and resilient. The best part of living with intentionis that “negaholism” will no longer zap your self-confidence or energy.
Benefit Finding and a Life Well Lived: Utilizing a benefit-finding growth mindset helps us stay open to learning more about ourselves at different developmental stages of our lives. I have a friend who is 92! She has a benefit-finding mindset, helping her navigate life and inform who she is and how she can serve. She is an inspiration. Perseverance, persistence, and the work put into developing the practices and habits that enhance well-being—like benefit finding—are key to fully engaging in a life well lived.
Full-Hearted Love: The fifth learning that has most impacted my life is knowing what it means to thrive and flourish. For me, this means understanding the role of gratitude and full-hearted love. Full-hearted love is not romantic love, although that can be an excellent side effect of this knowing! It is accepting the variety of people and situations in life, and choosing to be grateful for it all. It’s the choice to let love lead the way, to be the response to just about everything.
These five things are in my toolbox and those of my co-authors, supporting us to be unshakable, strong, resilient, healthy, and happy. My hope is that the book, like positive psychology itself, will have an endless ripple effect, touching people everywhere.
Donna Martire Miller
Donna Martire Miller is devoted to teaching, writing, and speaking on subjects that increase happiness and make life worth living. She holds a Master’s in Counseling and Human Resource Development, is a graduate of WBI’s Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology and Positive Psychology Coaching Certification, and has also studied with the University of Pennsylvania and the VIA Institute. Donna is an adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport, where she teaches courses on happiness, and has been an international keynote speaker, trainer, and presenter. For 30 years, she served as executive director of HELP for Kids, a positive parenting, family-strengthening center in Southern Connecticut. Donna has worked with large private and public organizations in developing practices and strategies to support more successful interventions. She is the founder of Happily Ever Actions™, providing people with actionable strategies, thought-provoking insights, and evidence-based tools for optimal living.