Happiness Turns On A Decision
No matter what our gifts in life, we still must decide to be happy.
One of the great things I’ve learned in life is that happiness is not a destination. It’s not a goal. It’s a transitory state of mind to be sure, but that state of mind is dependent upon something else. Happiness is contingent on a decision to be happy.
In the culture I live in, we have been training ourselves to be happy based on our external circumstances. We look at toys, cars, houses, the opposite sex, money, and other things in our lives and we say, “That makes me happy.” We have friends and family in our lives and we say that they make us happy, too.
We just saw a great movie, and we think that makes us happy. We just had a great date with someone we admire and we say that makes us happy. We got a raise and that makes us happy. We had a great night with friends, and that makes us happy, too. The culture I live in tells us that happiness comes from outside of ourselves.
When I see advertising on TV, I see all manner of inducements for a sale, offered as a path to happiness. A new Lexus with a bow on top, mouthwash, toothpaste, and shampoo are sold to us with the goal to make us happier. A giant portion of food at Applebee’s, TGIF or IHOP will make us happy. A trip to Disneyland will make us happy, even after we’ve won the Super Bowl.
And when I see this parade of things that we are told will make us happy, I consider my experience, my thought process and I wonder just how did I find happiness? I am fond of telling the young people that I meet that we live in a culture that has sold us on the idea that if we just shove enough stuff in front of our faces, that we will be happy. The reality is that no matter what gifts we have in life, ultimately, we still must make a decision to be happy.
I have seen this first and second hand. I know a few wealthy people. I know that at one point, they worked very hard to get their enterprise to take on a life of its own. And once it got running, they worked less and less. They could take vacations when their employees kept working. They could buy things that most people could only dream of. And through it all, they still had to make a decision to be happy.
I’ve been poor at times in my life. During that time, I learned to find things that I enjoyed. The sun, the sand, the moon, and a cool breeze. I’ve seen absolutely dreamy weather conditions and wondered if I was dreaming. And I made a decision to be happy about that, even when other circumstances in my life were not so happy.
I’ve had friends in life that I still keep in touch with because we can relate. I don’t really talk about it much with them, but we kind of get it that if we have any happiness at all in life, it’s because we made a decision to be happy, regardless of our circumstances.
When I think of what it means to be happy, I look back on my experience and ask myself how I became happy. And I really can’t think of an example when and where I was happy, without making a decision to be happy. It’s kind of like math. There is a logical sequence of events that leads up to happiness.
I have some prosperity in my life. I worked hard to get it. I work hard to keep it, but it doesn’t feel like work because I have found something to enjoy in every job I’ve had. So I keep working at it. The prosperity that I enjoy is a combination of the people and things in my life. I work to maintain the relationships in my life. I work to pay the bills I have to pay to keep the things that I have in my life.
But at the end of the day, I can look around me and see the gifts in my life, with my one good eye, and make a decision to be happy. I’m blind in one eye, and I still see enough to decide to be happy.
Happiness is not a passive experience. We don’t put something in front of our face and say, “That makes me happy.” Nothing can make us happy. The gifts in life can help to create the conditions for us to be happy. But we still have to make a decision to be happy.
I look at the people who engage in corrupt behavior as a contrary example. I’ve seen wealthy politicians and celebrities lie, cheat and steal. I look at their history and see that even before they engaged in corruption, they had more money than I would know what to do with. Ok, I’d put that kind of money in a Vanguard 500 account, and live off that, but even then, I’d still have to find a way to be happy.
Why do some wealthy people who are set for life with a pile of money, engage in corrupt behavior? I believe it is because they made a decision to be unhappy with what they had. They made a decision to think that what they already had wasn’t enough. They made a decision that what they wanted was worth more than the safety and peace of the people around them. Just as we can make a decision to be happy, we can make a decision to be unhappy.
That decision-making process is a skill. Our skill level is a big factor in determining our happiness. That skill can be taught. That skill can be improved. The skill of happiness can be practiced.
I’ve noticed that as I’ve grown older, I’ve become wiser. I’ve been honing the skill of happiness. I’ve tempered my ambitions with peace in my life. I make time for peace in my life so that I have the time I need to make better decisions. And when I make better decisions, the days between drama tend to stretch out.
I wasn’t always this way. I was once a very lonely, desperate man. I knew how to work and make some money, and I knew how to survive. But I didn’t know how to live. It wasn’t until I started working on myself, applying a blowtorch to my rigid mind and bending and molding it so that there there was more room for peace, that I actually had peace of mind. As I made room for more peace, I made more room for happiness.
I think back again on those people who engaged in corruption. Notice that I didn’t say that they were corrupt or bad. When I say that those people engaged in corruption, implied in that statement is that they made a decision to engage in corruption. Those people aren’t bad. That’s a judgment, and I’m not really qualified to judge others. They just had poor judgment in their choices, and that led them to investigations and eventually, to prison. The level of their skills determined the level of their circumstances, and that, in turn, determined how much room they had for happiness.
I have found that regardless of my circumstances, I have managed to find something to be grateful for. I know that if I look hard enough, I can find something to be grateful for. Gratitude is also a skill. It must be practiced every day to be a useful skill, too.
So every day, I write a list of ten things that I’m grateful for. I’ve been doing that for ten years now. That is the first thing that I do every morning. Ok, I check my stats on Medium first, then I write my gratitude list. But the idea here is to consistently practice the skill of gratitude every day. When I practice the skill of gratitude, the benefits of using that skill are cumulative and progressive.
I don’t think of my days as good or bad. That makes them personal. That assumes that the day, world and its dog, are out to get me. I’m just not that special. So I just think of what most people would call a “bad day” as a “challenging day”. And since I’m not taking the day personally, I make room for gratitude and happiness.
I’ve had some days that were so challenging that I could not sleep. So I’d silently go through everything in my mind that I’m grateful for. I’d repeat some of them if I had to. But I can recall a few nights where I “counted my blessings” until I fell asleep. That sure beats counting sheep. But I did fall asleep and I slept well. I can recall that as I was counting my blessings, my brain sort of kicked me out and I went to sleep.
I could have decided to be angry and bitter on those challenging days, but then I’d lose sight of all of the gifts around me. And even when I was poor, I could still see the gifts. I could still find a reason for gratitude. I can also say that I have enough air, food, sunshine, clothing, shelter, a running car and a battery pack to jump it when it won’t start, and on and on. In my life, there is always something to be grateful for. Always.
And that is a decision I made. And that decision leads to other decisions that create room for peace, and that peace leads to a decision to be happy. Those decisions lead to contentment. Contentment is a form of happiness. It’s not jumping for joy happiness. It’s a quiet acknowledgment that I have enough. Contentment says that when I go to sleep, I do so by making the decision to let whatever happened that day, to let it be enough. And those are the decisions I’ve made to be happy.