Welcome aboard to my first ever Psychology Today blog on “Happiness On Purpose.” This topic is near and dear to my heart for two reason: one, I’ve devoted 35 years as a practicing clinical psychologist to helping people rid themselves of their misery and finding their own true happiness. Two, as a human being, I want to sprinkle each and every one of my own days with as much fulfillment and happiness as I can.
You, too, should take a compelling interest in your own happiness. Why? For one, being human, you naturally harbor a built-in desire to be happy; your spirit longs for it. Don’t forget, also, that this is the only life that you know for certain you’ll ever have. While we all hope that there is an afterlife, life that lives on in bliss and peace through eternity, it is foolish to not strive mightily for happiness while we live this life.
Along the path to happiness, there is good new and bad news. The bad news is that happiness does not come easy. There are mighty forces arrayed against us, forces that make it difficult to find and sustain a happy life.
But, fear not, there’s good news. People who have succeeded in creating happy lives have left clues. Imagine their lives as a forest – they’ve sprinkled M&M’s here and there to tell us which paths to follow. They’ve also warned us about spots where the path might get rocky, where a briar path might cling to our side, where there are ravines into which we might tumble.
I hasten to add that, having counseled thousands of patients, I’ve studied these people to learn their secrets. And I will pass them along to you. The path may be steep and difficult at times, but it’s there for you to follow.
Think of these blogs as a banquet. I’ll bring the feast. You bring your appetite. You must be willing to make the dedicated, determined effort to habituate the new ways of thinking and acting that can make happiness your very own. If you do, you can bring happiness into each and every day of your life.
The Happiness Challenges
The road to happiness can be a treacherous obstacle course. But holding an alert awareness to these obstacles gives you the advantage. You can sidestep or overcome them and, in the process, avoid throwing a pity party to whine about your adversity. The obstacles come from three sources.
1. We live in a difficult world. The great French philosopher Voltaire said, “This is not the best of all possible worlds.” No matter who we are, life faces each of us with a stream of annoyances, frustrations, and – sometimes – tragedies, be it our health, perhaps marital conflict, career problems, or the need to care for an aging parent. This is our lot, sooner or later.
So what do we do? Why, of course we curl up with a bottle of bourbon and rail against God or the cosmos or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. And, whenever someone walks past, we make sure to unload all of our frustrations in a good old-fashioned bitch-fest.
The real answer, of course, is none of the above. If we learn to gracefully accept life’s vicissitudes as part of our collective experience, without protesting or catastrophizing, we can proactively act toward creating happiness, despite the difficulties we face in this world.
2. We do not live among angels. How true. We live among imperfect, fallible human beings who will frequently act foolishly and on occasion even treat us, less than sterling. Whether within our intimate inner circle or more distant from us, they will fairly regularly commit (1) sins of commission, by doing things we don’t like, and (2) sins of omission, by not doing things we do like. And, here’s the kicker; not only will people act badly, but they will do so whenever they do as opposed to when it’s convenient to us.
Wouldn’t it be nice to expect all of this, yet not feel bitterness, self-pity, or blame? Wouldn’t it be nice to take these human missteps in stride? These type reactions add up to emotional contamination that pollutes your ability to experience happiness and to think and act in a constructive way.
I wish that I could offer a magic formula that would prevent people from acting out in ways that cause you hardships and hassles. Alas, I can’t. What I can do is emphasize that if you gracefully learn to accept the fallibility of others, you can choose to stay focused on creating happiness no matter what they do.
3. We operate with a human mind. Yup. As wonderful as are the gifts our human mind gives us – the capacity for abstract thinking, the ability to communicate, the experience of love, our sense of humor, and for the appreciation of any number of pleasurable pursuits – we are not innately gifted with the ability to use our mind consistently well. We find it easy to choose fiction over fact, distort reality, select only certain memories, exaggerate degrees of badness, or conclude that a certain outcome is absolutely necessary when in fact it is not.
These irrationalities and distortions are all tricks of our mind. We are prone to fall into their clutches at some point. But, they present quite a challenge in our search for happiness. But remember: if you are alert to them and work hard to think correctly, you can minimize these anomalies, maximize realistic, rational thought, and keep on keeping on to bring yourself happiness.
All three of these conditions – the fact that we live in a difficult world; that we live amidst people, not angels; that we operate with a fallible, human mind – are part of the human condition and pose obstacles to our happiness. But, don’t be discouraged. Millions of people have overcome them. With the right attitude, a commitment to do what it takes to be happy, and a winning game plan, so can you.
Next month, February 2013, I will start you on the path to a lifetime of happiness. I will present five mental principles that, if consciously and energetically adopted, will empower you to create the happiness you want and deserve, despite these challenges. As a sneak preview, they are:
• This is it.
• If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.
• Decide to be happy.
• Attitude is everything.
• Work, work, work.
I very much look forward to our on-going conversation. Although I don’t know you personally, I want to reassure you that I am totally committed to your happiness. Know that I will do my best to teach you what I know to meet that lofty goal.
Is it possible for you to achieve and sustain happiness? Absolutely. Can you do it? Will you do what’s necessary to make happiness your reality? That I don’t know. It’s up to you.
See you in early February. In the meantime, live with passion.
Russell Grieger, Ph.D. is the author of several self-help books, all designed to empower people to create a life to live. These include: Unrelenting Drive; Marriage On Purpose; and The Happiness Handbook (in preparation). More information is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.