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No more 'buts': Do what makes you happy

By Christine A. Scheller,
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Thu March 20, 2014
  • Busy schedules are challenging, but happiness demands time
  • Happy people focus on their own achievements, not anyone else's
  • Pursuing a hobby that makes you happy can also banish loneliness

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(CNN) -- Perhaps it's not surprising that a scientist who chases disease cures under a microscope likes to chase total solar eclipses in her spare time. But making time to pursue her passion is as much of a challenge for Jeanne Loring, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, as it is for anyone else.

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Loring and her husband haven't let busy careers get in the way of their pastimes. Instead, they've found unique ways to make their hobbies work for them, resisting the kinds of excuses that often keep people from pursuing their passions. Excuses like...

But... I don't have time

"We could just work forever, all the time," observes Loring. "But if we say, 'We're leaving at this time and not changing the time of our trip because the eclipse isn't going to change,' then it doesn't matter what's happening in the rest of the world or whether people want us to stick around for a meeting or whatever. It's just off the table."

upwave: Making time for yourself: 5 excuses debunked

But... it's too expensive

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Back in 1979, Loring and her husband drove all night and slept on a friend's floor so they could see their first eclipse (at Oregon's Columbia River Gorge). Exotic, pricier locales came later. A lack of funds doesn't have to keep you from following your bliss.

But... I'm not very good at it

In one happiness study, social psychologists Lee Ross and Sonja Lybomirsky found that happy people focus on their own performance instead of getting caught in the comparison trap. Unhappy people, on the other hand, become upset when someone else does better than they do -- even if they themselves are successful.

upwave: How to stop comparing yourself to others

The key is to be happy with what you have. Loring doesn't let her amateur-photographer status keep her from taking pictures of the spectacular sights she sees. "My pictures are never as good as other people's pictures, but I just have to do it," she says. "I started taking pictures with a manual camera; I got this gigantic lens for it. For the first few eclipses, I used that one. Now I have a camera I don't really use very much unless we go to eclipses." Loring built filters for it using cardboard, electrical tape and an opaque Mylar material -- not exactly the equipment of an expert, but good enough for a woman pursuing a passion.

But... I had a bad experience with it once

Life events can be remembered in either a negative or positive light -- it all depends on what you choose to highlight. Says Ross, "You can say, 'Poor me! I've had this unhappy thing [happen].' Or you can say, 'That was then. Things are better now.'" Loring recalls her 1980s trip to an unexpectedly chilly Zambia to see an eclipse. "The temperature [dropped] 20 degrees over a few minutes," she says. "[That's] a really dramatic, hard-to-ignore kind of phenomenon." But according to Loring, her young niece, who was also on the trip, described the scene this way: "The cows went back to the barn and the night birds started singing and all the day birds went to sleep." See? It's simply a matter of perspective.

upwave: Does a positive outlook make you happy?

But... I'm lonely

Pursuing a hobby that makes you happy can eradicate loneliness because it gives you the chance to connect with people who share similar interests. Loring and her husband have visited Antarctica and Peru with friends they met while chasing eclipses over the years. "If we don't have an eclipse to go to in a particular year... we go on another trip that is adventurous," she says.

upwave: No more BUTS: Go on an adventure

So, what makes you feel happy? Is it making music, painting, digging in a garden? Something more exotic? Whatever it is, ask yourself: What am I going to do today to make it happen?

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