Doing things differently since 1984
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about happiness….
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from my mother. I was getting close to graduating high school and being catapulted out into that vast wide-open plain known as Adulthood.
“Now, pay attention to this, because I want you to remember it: Happiness is a decision.”***
Happiness is a decision? The thought didn’t fully sink in right away. Life was so easy back then.
As with all of the best Truths, it was experience, and not logic or persuasion, that really convinced me of its verity. Life has its way of throwing a lot of junk at you. Sometimes the junk piles up so high you can’t see the top of it or around it. We can’t decide what happens to us. The decision rests in whether we decide to keep going anyway; whether we’re going to look at the junk or past it.
It’s important to mention that by “happiness”, I don’t mean a fleeting emotion that changes throughout the day like a temperature gauge, or an outward impression we’re able to give off to others. What I mean is a deep and abiding peace with life and with who you are. It’s like a foundation or an anchor laid within your soul, so that the day’s events may fling your emotions about this way and that, but when the dust all settles you know that everything is going to be OK.
I often make the mistake of thinking that happiness is like a juggling act – keep all the balls in the air, don’t make a mistake, and everything will be fine. This works out fine for as long as the balls stay in the air – when they fall, I think that I didn’t try hard enough. Guilt is a self-defeating anti-happiness.
I also often make the mistake of thinking that happiness is like a bubble. Inside my bubble everything will be rosy, and the world will be just the way it’s supposed to be. On the outside are all of these people bearing pointy objects, the enemies of my happiness, and when my bubble pops I rear up and look around for who to blame. Unfortunately, bitterness is also a loneliness-inducing anti-happiness.
Perhaps most often, I make the mistake of thinking that happiness is like that grass that’s always greener on the other side. I’ll say to myself, “If only ______________, then everything would be OK.” I am a woman of action, so the things that fill those “if only” blanks become ever-moving goals that keep me running around in circles. Maybe I’m just not the sort that enjoys the thrill of the chase, but the exhaustion and the shaky foundation of tomorrow’s promises have proven to also be an anti-happiness.
In the end – not that it’s the end yet – I’ve found that happiness is a chariot pulled by three horses: gratitude, hope, and charity (helping others). If we let any of these remain injured or malnourished, our lives will start to look darker.
Gratitude is crippled by envy, lust, and covetousness, and brought back to health by spending time and attention on what and whom we do have.
Hope is crippled by self-hate, guilt, and bitterness, and is brought back to health by faith and friendship.
Charity is crippled by looking only to one’s own problems and desires (though in moderation this is necessary), and is brought back to health by looking for opportunities to brighten the day or life of someone around you.
All of these are actions and attitudes that we must consciously decide to make a habit of, or go out of our way to find. It’s not always easy. We’ve all got a lot of reasons to be unhappy… some even more than others. But I’ve noticed that many people with the most reasons to be unhappy are the happiest, and many with the fewest reasons are the unhappiest. That’s because happiness comes from within, and not from without.
So there you have it – my Theory of Happiness. I’m sure it’s not perfect. I’ll probably end up revising it. I do know that it’s not a plan to get anyone rich, or to get/fix a relationship, or to devise one’s life purpose (hint: none of those things are the key to happiness). But it’s also something that’s free, doesn’t require waiting for something to get fixed, and doesn’t require adding anything to a to-do list. It’s an attitude and a way of living, and it’s something anyone can do.***
***I want to make sure I mention here that I fully recognize that there are a significant number of people who have medical issues that rob them of the decision to be happy – if you are one of them, please don’t think I’m blaming you. There are others who have had such traumatic life experiences that, although they could choose to be happy, it would be impossible to be able to get to that point without some extra help from professionals and friends. This post was not meant to judge unhappy people for doing things wrong, but to encourage those of us who don’t always get it right.