The Big Happiness Interview: Why being gentler will make you happier

I can feel my shoulders dropping two inches as I talk about gentleness with Danielle LaPorte, best-selling author, member of Oprah’s Super Soul 100 and a former think-tank director.

I can’t remember when I last contemplated the idea of being gentler with myself, but in Danielle’s new book How to Be Loving: As Your Heart Is Breaking Open and Our World Is Waking Up (Sounds True, £20.99), she encourages us to stop trying to fix and improve ourselves, but to instead, just accept ourselves and others with a kind gentleness that feels so rare in these days of haters, trolls and polarisation.

Danielle insists we start with ourselves: ‘It’s about creating a new relationship with the contents of your mind. It’s looking at the tone that you speak to yourself in. Think about how harsh our inner voices can be. Think how we say things to ourselves that we would never say to someone we loved,’ she says.

‘What would happen if you could see yourself and others through a loving gaze? What would change? Everything!’ she says.

Here Metro.co.uk talks to Danielle about why creating a more loving relationship with yourself and the world will make you happier.

You write about ‘heart intelligence’ in your new book – what is that?

Heart intelligence is letting your heart guide your life and love to direct your thoughts.

The mind is the most powerful tool that we have, so heart intelligence is getting the mind to refer to the heart when making decisions. It’s having your mind say: ‘What would the heart do right now? What’s the compassionate thing to do right now? What’s the forgiving thing to do right now?’

It’s life changing and world changing. Instead of asking the ‘ego questions’: How can I be superior? Why am I inferior? How can I win? What have I got to lose?

That kind of thinking makes us contract. Make a commitment to expand by doing something loving. Be kind, care for others, nurture yourself.

But what if you forgive and you’re compassionate, but people take advantage?

When you choose to be loving, notice that little voice which will pipe up: ‘Don’t be too loving, don’t give too much. Take it back. You’re too generous. Are you taking too much time off, or are you too relaxed?’

The antidote is to be loving even to that voice. You can’t tell your inner critic to sod off. You can’t yell back at the inner voice that’s yelling at you. It just turns into this anxiety spiral.

The mind is the most powerful tool that we have, so heart intelligence is getting the mind to refer to the heart when making decisions.

You have to say: ‘Oh, you want to contract in fear? It’s okay. You don’t have to contract in fear. I hear you. I see you. Oh, you’re still a little bit scared. That’s okay. You’re feeling a little bit greedy. That’s okay.’

And then that voice starts to calm down and really, I think that’s mostly what we want. We just want that inner voice to relax a bit. It’s not going to totally go away. You’re human. But you will feel yourself relax a little. You can proceed from there.

But I’m not sure I can choose to be loving all the time.

Just focus on the baby steps. Every time you choose a loving thought versus a fearful one, there’s a course correction. If you keep on doing that, before you know it, you’re going in a whole different direction. And you’re also creating muscle memory of what it feels like to be more loving instead of contracting with fear.

And maybe you do that twice a day and then eventually you notice a year later that you’re walking through the world feeling more open, gentle and courageous, more loving. Don’t underestimate the power of those micro moves.

How can I become a calmer person?

Try meditation. Meditation is just mental hygiene – it’s a powerful tool. You can commit to sitting – whether it’s seven minutes, or 30 minutes every morning – and just clean out some negative thinking. Make it part of your routine, just like you brush your teeth. Start your day, so you’re not bringing yesterday into today.

Many people find meditation very hard – what advice do you give to newbies?

My advice about meditation is the same as my advice about relationships, which is keep going until you find the right one.

We’ve all heard people say, ‘I’m not into commitment’, and then they meet the right person and commit. And then you hear people say, ‘I’m not into meditation,’ but it’s just they haven’t found the right meditation for them.

There are so many different kinds, and you simply need to find a practice that feels good. It doesn’t mean it’s not going to take discipline, and there won’t be some bumps, but experiment.

My advice about meditation is the same as my advice about relationships, which is keep going until you find the right one.

In the meantime, simply start to focus on how you speak to yourself – be warm and friendly with yourself. Start there.

You talk a lot about acceptance, but that can be hard when you’re faced with the challenges of life.

I think there’s this misperception that if we accept things the way they are, they’re never going to change. But acceptance of the situation in the moment frees your energy.

Okay, so this challenge is here, this day may not be what you want, this event may not be on your bucket list. But it’s here, so breathe in, exhale, accept it and you will begin to see clearly, and you’ll know the next best move. By accepting reality, you get this surge of energy that helps you make the next step.

Often my response to life’s challenges is to run away – how do I stop running and face the music?

Well, I think running away can be a good thing sometimes. We could reframe the runaway impulse as inner guidance to just take a break, go on a retreat, press pause, get quiet and get centred. The impulse to run can come from a wise place. Hiding however, is different.

Hiding?

Running away can be retreating, which can be really healthy, an act of sanity. But hiding is when we don’t think we have the power to change the situation or don’t have the ability to meet the situation.

Hiding comes from a place of crippled esteem, thinking ‘I’m not able to cope with this’. We often hide by numbing ourselves. Numbing is a response to trauma that hasn’t been healed. You might feel: ‘I’m done with being traumatised,’ so you just eat, or drink, or take substances, or shop to try and hide.

I think running away can be a good thing sometimes. We could reframe it as inner guidance to just take a break, go on a retreat, press pause, get quiet and get centred.

Often life and its challenges can feel overwhelming so hiding seems a good option sometimes.

Feeling overwhelmed is understandable, it’s a human reaction, a natural response. But when we get into overwhelm, we’re disempowering ourselves. It’s choosing instead to believe that you can meet this challenge and you have the tools that life is going to support you. I believe it comes down to your commitment to living.

What do you mean?

It’s asking yourself: ‘Do I want to feel alive?’ Yes? Then let’s stay awake. ‘Do I want to feel powerful?’ Then resist numbing yourself.

If you want more love, more vitality, want to think more clearly, want to feel lighter, want to feel more flexible, want more emotional intimacy, then you can’t choose to numb yourself.

There might be a little bit of discomfort. Expansion always includes some discomfort. It’s like your first salsa lesson or your first yoga class – remember how vulnerable you felt? You always feel like you’re the only one who doesn’t know what they’re doing. But whether it’s a first date, or a presentation to the team, allow yourself to feel what it feels like to expand. It may feel uncomfortable but know that the discomfort is you being alive.

How do we start to break our habits of numbing ourselves?

Breath is key. Mystics have been talking about this for thousands of years for good reason. Breathing calms the nervous system, helps you think more clearly, actually helps you move into your heart centre, where all the power and the clarity is.

The bottom-line is we have the tools, and they are really simple and always free. A simple breathing practice will revolutionise your life. This is all science backed.

It moves you into a state of gratitude. I love box breathing – breathe in for four, hold for four, breathe out for four, hold for four.

How to empower yourself:

What else can we do?

I do a really simple practice where I put my left hand on my heart, I put my right hand on my belly and I just ask myself: ‘What do I need?’

Asking that question does two things. Firstly, it’s super calming to the part of you that’s freaking out. Secondly, it’s also sending a signal, a verification to your whole system that you are in charge and that you’ve got this.

You may feel out of control but there is some part of you that’s alert that can ask: ‘What do I need?’ It can stop a panic attack, the wrong decision. It can stop the inner critic, it can prevent you from saying something that you’re going to regret. It can get you off the train and getting to work in a totally different state.

What’s the connection between happiness and love?

The Buddha taught that they were really one and the same. But there’s a twist in there, which is learning to be happy with whatever shows up. It’s not about controlling things, making things better, so that you can be happy with yourself or with the situation. It’s about just bringing your love to bear on what’s showing up. That’s true happiness.

How to Be Loving: As Your Heart Is Breaking Open and Our World Is Waking Up (Sounds True, £20.99) is out now.

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