To Be Happy, Change Your Mind
The right to change our minds is our first freedom.
Yesterday, I had an opportunity to go hiking on a trail with my family and friends. It was a beautiful and warm morning for a hike. The trail was partially covered by trees, so we found some shade as we walked under the hot sun. I enjoyed the foliage, the company, and the sense of exerting myself up an undulating trail on an incline. I enjoyed a good sweat.
When we reached the top, my young friend asked me a question. “Do you think that money makes people happy?”
I could not resist the opportunity to answer the question. So I did. I pointed out to him that money doesn’t make people happy. I said that I’ve seen people showered with fabulous gifts and still they could not find happiness because they could not change their minds. I also pointed out that the prisoners in the concentration camps in Germany and Poland during the second world war found a reason to keep living. They made a choice to keep finding a reason to keep living. They changed their mind in order to find a reason to live.
Changing our mind is the first freedom. No matter what happens to us, no matter what gifts we’ve received or had taken away, we can always change our minds. I should know. I’ve moved furniture with my wife, and she knows how to change her mind. The first freedom, the right to change our minds, rises above all others for no one can take that freedom away from us.
I have found the right to change my mind. I exercise that right every day, every hour, and every minute if I have to. There are some days that I have to change my mind every minute until I find a state of mind that suits me. Every day requires a decision to be made. That decision is often to decide whether or not I’m happy.
I explained to my friend that people often neglect to make the decision to be happy. People often think that something or someone outside of them will make them happy. The world is not that small. We can wait a long time before someone else will make us happy. A decision awaits us.
What does this decision look like? It looks like gratitude. The simple act of finding gratitude for even one little thing is often enough to change one’s mind. We must decide to find gratitude to be happy.
It’s kind of like a switch that you can turn on or off. You decide if you’re happy or not. The moment you decide you’re happy, your attitude changes and then you begin to see the world differently than if you had decided you’re not happy. I’ve seen this myself. The process starts by finding something to be happy about. In some circles, we call this an attitude of gratitude. For the moment that we find gratitude for even the smallest thing, everything changes. Our entire outlook changes.
The moment we find gratitude, we forget our expectations because we’re not thinking about what is going to happen, what we might lose, nor are we planning for our next disappointment. I used to plan my disappointments.
Once we find gratitude we no longer worry because, with gratitude, we find that we already have something we wanted. With no additional effort than a turn of a decision, we find happiness. Happiness is not about changing the world. Happiness is about changing how we see the world.
I wasn’t like this so long ago. I didn’t have this attitude when I was a young man. Back then, I wanted the world to change for me. I wanted the world to make me happy. As a result of my choices, I suffered long bouts of loneliness, poverty, and unhappiness. I had difficulty maintaining relationships and even myself. I did not value myself for a time. Being unhappy was making me tired, so very tired. I had to do something different.
I found a support network. I became aware of my thinking processes through writing. I became aware of my self-talk. I took note of what worked for me and what didn’t. I found environments that supported my well being and I spent more time in them. I found friends that supported me. I supported them. I found that I had value to them. I began to find gratitude.
I didn’t want to find gratitude, I wanted to suffer so that I could say, “See me suffering? Please help me.” I thought that was what I was supposed to do.
At first, gratitude was uncomfortable. Why should I have gratitude when what I really wanted wasn’t in hand? I was waiting for the thing that I really wanted rather than noticing all of the gifts that I already had. My hands were clenched in fists of jealousy and lack.
But when I cracked the door of gratitude, I began to soften my attitude. I began to notice that I could replace all those thoughts of longing, wanting, and wishing, with thoughts of happiness about things that I already had. I began to look around me and see all of the things that I could be grateful for, with no additional effort beyond acknowledging the gifts around me. I began to write a gratitude list every morning. I began to take notice of things to be grateful for throughout the day. My happiness became independent of my surroundings.
At first, I just noticed the basics. I’m alive. I have food and water. I have a place to live and clothes to wear. I began to notice that I had enough for today. The quality of my life hadn’t changed, but my perception of my life changed. The filters of my perception changed. The focus of my attention changed. I began to notice that most of the time, I get to choose what to pay attention to. After a few years of doing this one thing, changing my mind, I found contentment.
Once I began to feel contentment, I started to notice more opportunities. My mind was clearer than before, so I began to exercise those opportunities in earnest. Then I began to realize abundance in my life, and that in turn gave me more reasons for gratitude. Huh. Another virtuous circle. Then contentment became a normal state of being for me. For me, contentment is knowing how to get my needs met and still maintain peace in my life.
Money can’t buy happiness because I’ve seen that even if I have money, I still have to make a decision to be happy with that money. This applies to anything. Fancy cars, homes, wild vacations, jewelry…whatever…even great relationships. None of that can make us happy until we decide to be happy with it.
Happiness is not a passive experience. The road to happiness is paved with a stream of decisions to be happy. We make decisions every day, every hour, sometimes every minute to be happy. I have tried letting other things make me happy and found it wanting. I’d rather keep that power to myself. I’d rather take responsibility for my own happiness.
I have found that in order to be happy, I must make a decision to be happy. The cool thing about happiness is that often, I only need to make the decision to be happy. I only have to change my mind to be happy. I have a right to change my mind to be happy. That is my first freedom.