Over at SRC, Emily’s post Choosing Happiness really fired up my dendrites. Rather than leave a post sized comment, I thought I’d continue the discussion over here, because I think it’s an important one.
That hasn’t always been my answer. At times in my life I thought that there were just “happy people” (and conversely unhappy people) or that “the only reason to be happy is if you have something to be happy about” (cause and effect) Those two little gems walked me down the path of feeling like a real Jane Eyre trudging through my days. If I was sad or upset I was out of the running for being a “happy person.” And the happy somethings always seemed to happen less often than the unhappy somethings (especially in my drama-rama 20’s) It got so bad that when good things happen I would emotionally “brace” for the bad thing that had to be coming immediately after.
These days I have no problem acknowledging that happiness is a choice. It’s the most important choice to make every single day and in every moment I can, regardless of what life brings.
I’ll spare you the nitty gritty of what it took get to this point. It came down to the simple fact that I just WANTED to be a happier person, much more than I was willing to live life according to the status quo. There is a quote often attributed to Anais Nin (turns out nobody knows exactly where it comes from) but it fits my own transition ideally:
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”
It’s takes a concerted, conscious effort to be happy; gratitude, joy and pleasure don’t come from being happy, rather the opposite is true. The search to express gratitude whenever possible, find joy in any moment and take pleasure in life is the road to my happiness.
It’s not about skipping around pretending that everything is all roses. And I’m not one of those “everything happens for a reason” kind of people, either. Awful, yucky, painful, violent, uncomfortable things happen every day. I don’t believe that it’s MEANT to happen (not even on the days I wish for ‘Instant Karma’ to strike the BMW that cut me off in an intersection) I certainly wouldn’t expect that someone suffering be immediately able to slap on a smile and declare the world ok. But I would argue that the ability to forgive, overcome and get back on track to happy is essential to our survival. I gotta give that Pollyanna credit for being a tough little chica when the chips went down.
Our choices make us who we are (don’t even get me started on quantum theory and the multiverse) We may not be able to control the things that happen to us, but we can control how we respond to them. Choosing to be happy in the face of life’s challenges is sometimes the hardest work I do any given day. But for me, it is work worth doing.
TBH, I don’t think there is a one size fits all to getting your happy on. Sometimes it’s taking pleasure in the little things, or giving to others, or finding ways to dance and laugh in spite of pain or being grateful for something. Maybe it’s a combination of them. For me it helped to learn to look at things differently and to reserve judgement on the overall impact of an event until I could get perspective. Sometimes you have to be pretty far away from the cloud to see the silver lining.
I’ve blogged about this old proverb before, but it’s worth mentioning again here because it gets at the way changing my the way I thought made happiness a choice, rather than a coin toss. In the event that you are not a link-clicker, allow me to summarize.
A farmer encounters a series of events stemming from the escape of his horse – you know me, love a good horse story – and after each a neighbor comes over to commiserate or celebrate based on his own interpretation of whatever’s transpired that day. But the farmer just shrugs it off saying “good luck, bad luck, who’s to say?” (or “who knows” in other versions) because each event has an outcome that would be largely unanticipated if the judge went by simple binaries of “good” and “bad.”
(FYI, Similar stories have appeared in a multitude of cultures, in case you were curious)
Sure enough, some of the most interesting opportunities have come out of the most annoying, frustrating or ridiculous challenges. Of course, I don’t often appreciate them as such without a little distance – there’s a reason we have a cliche about the acuity of hindsight.
What makes you happy? How do you find, create or restore happiness to your day when challenges arise?