Well, it’s not. But I think the world would be a better place if we thought it was.
It seems like happiness is a passive experience in modern life. We seem to be living in a culture that thinks that if we could just shove enough stuff in our face, mouth, ears, homes, and pockets, happiness is automatic. It’s not.
Happiness is a decision, and therefore it is action. I have known people who got what they wanted after a long struggle, and then still found a reason to be unhappy. I have given people what they asked for and still, they found a reason to be unhappy. I have watched wealthy people buy whatever they wanted, expecting that those things would make them happy. They did not.
In every case, I’ve seen for others and myself, that there is a certain discomfort to be found when looking outside oneself for happiness. People like to say that happiness is not a destination, rather, it is a state of mind. I agree. While it is true that some people find happiness in their surroundings, it is also true that people can make a choice, or a series of choices not to be happy.
I’m not getting what I asked for. My mate isn’t pleasing me. My kids are driving me crazy. My beautiful new car has a scratch. I love my job but the air conditioning freezes me every day. I love my home, but the backyard is too small. In all of these cases, a decision is made to be happy or not.
I don’t make it anyone else’s job to make me happy. I tell my kids it is not their job to make me happy. I tell my wife, it’s not her job to make me happy. It is most certainly not the job of my friends to make me happy. Things don’t make me happy on their own initiative. I will find my own happiness and share it with the people around me. I’ve spent enough time alone to find it. I’ve spent enough time chasing things for my happiness, only to find that their evasion of my grasp forced me to come to another conclusion.
I must make a choice to be happy. I’ve been poor. I’ve been in rich surroundings. I’ve found my own prosperity. But no matter my economic circumstances, I’ve had to make a choice to be happy.
However, it’s not, “I’ve made a choice to be happy forever after.” No, it’s more like I have to make a choice to be happy every day, every hour, every minute. I have to look at my circumstances, my surroundings and make a stream of decisions to be happy. And if I’m not finding happiness in my own decisions, then I have to take actions that will make happiness easier to find.
Probably the single greatest reason for me to find happiness is learning new skills and applying them. Mastering new skills is something that we all can find happiness in. Have you ever seen the joy of a child who has just figured out the trick of walking? I have. Their joy of walking is undiluted. When a child learns a new skill, they love to show it off to their parents. Both parties must make a decision to be happy about this wondrous thing we call walking.
About 2 years ago, I had a problem with an outdoor light fixture. The outdoor lighting was managed by a light sensor, such that I could just leave the light switch on, and the sensor would close the circuit upon darkness, giving power to the outdoor lights on my garage and on my front porch. One day, that sensor stopped working and I needed to replace it. I wanted to know how to replace it, but I also wanted to hire someone competent to deal with it. I was on the edge of indecision because of my own fear of electricity.
I have long had a certain fear of working with electricity. I have seen the awesome power of electricity in an electronics class in high school as I managed to experience mild electrocution as my arm went numb. And then, as if by instinct, I let go of whatever was in my hand.
I have also had the experience of working on a ladder as an HVAC mechanic. The ceiling grid had been hung already and I was mounting grilles and connecting the ductwork to the grilles. As I was working, I saw the entire ceiling grid jump about six inches, and then the power went out. I was startled and then scared. So I stopped what I was doing and asked around. I learned that an electrician had managed to connect the wrong cable to ground, and the ceiling grid was connected to ground. Hence my fear.
I needed help to fix that light sensor. I happened to know that one of my neighbors was an electrician. I asked him for help a day or so before I was ready to replace that sensor. I learned with his help, how to set up a safe environment for working with electricity by turning off the breaker. I learned to match the colors — black to black, white to white, green to the bare ground wire.
Then that night, I saw that the sensor was working as expected. When it got dark, the sensor closed the circuit, providing power to the porch light and the lights straddling my garage in front. The next morning, the sensor broke the circuit, cutting power to the exterior lights on the front of my house. Success.
From there, I replaced a ceiling light that threatened to fall due to a disintegrating screw hole in a junction box. I replaced the fixture on my back porch. Months later, I replaced the fixture in my kids’ room. I replaced another interior fixture at my front entrance.
I got to know the breaker box. I learned which breaker was for which outlets and fixtures. The panel has a chart to show the relationship between each breaker and its service area, but the person who wrote on that panel wrote in chicken scratch. So I started to document the breakers in a spreadsheet with something I could read and elaborate on.
I started to refine this new skill of replacing light fixtures to the point where I had confidence that I could look at a fixture that I wanted to replace, shop for a replacement fixture, find the corresponding breaker to the area that I wanted to work in, turn off the breaker, remove the old fixture, install a new fixture, turn on the breaker an test it.
I just did two more yesterday. I replaced a fixture in my half bath because the lights kept going bad, so I bought one that had integrated LEDs and was good for about 35,000 hours, or 40 years. I replaced the fixture on my front porch because the birds were sitting on the fixture and crapping on it and my porch. So I found a fixture that makes it harder for a bird to park there.
I learned a new skill. At first I was self-conscious and asked for help. Over time, I developed knowledge about the skill. I developed experience and I learned from my mistakes. I developed competence with this new skill. And since I had worked through a few mistakes, I got better over time. I developed resilience to stick with the project until it was done because I knew I was safe as long as the breaker, the circuit, was open. I was free to tinker, free to work at my own pace, free to get the job done the way I wanted to do it.
I derived satisfaction (happiness) from learning and applying this skill. I did two light fixtures yesterday, and I was so pleased with the results, that I think I will do two more today, just for consistency.
Remember how I talked about resilience? Happiness is a by-product of resilience. To me, resilience is knowing that when a disturbance appears, I will have peace when the disturbance passes. And because I have resilience, my threshold for happiness is very low. I know that I can always go back to that place after a disturbance.
That means that whenever someone in my life tries to impose their drama on me, I know its, “Not my circus, not my monkeys”. I also know, it’s not forever. I know that people can’t live in drama. They can’t be upset for very long. Being angry or upset is very, very taxing. That state of being requires tons of energy. So I learned to find my peace even when other people are in drama, and to wait them out. When they’ve run out of breath, I start working on restoring peace again.
All of what I describe here are skills and how I applied them to problems that we all experience in life. Happiness is not something that we can give to ourselves by something outside of ourselves just by exposure.
In order to have happiness, we must make a decision, or even many decisions, to be happy. Somedays, I make that decision every minute. Other days, I find contentment to last for a day. But I still have to make the decision to be happy. There is no other way.
Those decisions to be happy, they’re actions. And that makes happiness a verb.
If you liked this article, you might like this one, too: