In my first blog, dated January 22, 2013, I discussed three forces that make it a challenge to be happy. These are: (1) you live in a world filled with hardships and hassles, ones that regularly devil you, often at the most inopportune of times; (2) you habituate this planet among fallible human beings who will, to say the least, not always act angelic or saintly; and (3) you operate with a human mind that often misperceives reality, thinks in irrational ways, and prompts you to act both shortsightedly and self-defeatingly.
In facing these challenges, you have two choices. One is to drift along and hope that the circumstances of your life – both those within you, as well as those in your environment – will align themselves in such a way as to provide you happiness. Or, determine to do whatever it takes to make yourself happy despite these challenges.
Not surprisingly, I advocate the latter. I strongly urge you to heed the wisdom of St. Francis of Loyola: “Pray as if it all depends on God, for it does; but work as if it all depends on us, for it does.”
To start you on your happiness path, I share with you five power principles that lay the foundation for all the future happiness practices to come. Think of yourself as a fruit tree; just as a tree cannot produce a bounty of luscious fruit without a strong, healthy root system, so too will you be unable to utilize your happiness practices to produce your happiness (your fruit) without being solidly grounded in powerful, compelling life principles (your roots).
Please study these five Happiness Power Principles. Reflect upon them, absorb them, and adopt them as the root source of your quest to create the happy life you love to live.
Principle 1: This Is It
Yes, this is it. Today is all we have. Tomorrow might be no different or better. Besides, none of us know for certain that there will even be a tomorrow.
The bottom line: your time on earth is limited. Remind yourself of that as often as possible. That perspective will help you consciously and intentionally seek happiness at every possible turn. To begin to live the principle “This is it,” try to:
• become increasingly aware of what does and does not bring you happiness;
• focus on the opportunities that exist daily to experience happiness;
• build into your life – step by step – those things that give you happiness;
• rid your life – little by little – of those things that bring you frustration, displeasure, and suffering;
• be grateful for and savor those moments of happiness, thereby prolonging the original experience itself.
Before reading on, take a few minutes to ponder the following two questions. Your answer will go a long way in determining whether or not you adopt Principle 1.
(1) What implications does “This Is It” suggest to you with regard to fervently seeking happiness?
(2) What are three things – small or large – that you could immediately build into your life to increase your happiness?
Principle 2: If It’s Going To Be, It’s Up To Me
Nobody is put on this earth to make sure you are happy. Maybe your parents had the job early on – after all, they brought you here without asking – but their job ended long ago. Your happiness doesn’t rest on the shoulders of your significant other, your family, your children, your friends, or your colleagues. It’s totally up to you.
So, the second source of happiness is: it is your responsibility – 100%, no holds barred – to create your own happiness. It is entirely your job. If the universe cooperates, you get a bonus.
This can be a hard principle to swallow. Observe Alexis, who devoted decades toward being bitter because her husband of 15 years walked out on her. Or, John, who, still in his 50’s railed against his parents because they never showed him enough warmth or love. Of course, there’s Beth, who refused to stop dwelling on the inequities she faced as she tried to climb the corporate ladder.
Each of these people deluded themselves with the conviction that life, not them, was responsible for their happiness; that people and conditions should be different; that it was damned awful to have to live in a world filled with such hardships. That’s self-defeatism at its finest.
But, given the challenges to happiness we all face, does it really make sense to rely on the will, whim, or ability of others to do the job for you? If you decide to follow Principle 2 and accept the responsibility for your own happiness, then:
• determine to take charge of filling as many moments as possible in your life with happiness;
• gracefully accept that you are not a special case and expect that life will too throw you curves along your journey;
• be resolute in working to overcome those adversities that challenge your quest for happiness;
• refuse to fall into the victim mentality, never giving in to whining, self-pity, or blaming;
• adopt the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the wisdom to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Now, reflect on these two questions.
(1) Where, when, and under what circumstances do you fall into the trap of expecting others to look out for your happiness? What can you do to wrestle yourself from these traps?
(2) What negative consequences do you suffer when you fall prey to this type thinking? And what specifically will you do to step up to the plate?
Source 3: Decide To Be Happy
Think of the major decisions you’ve made that have affected the rest of your life: where you chose to do to college; who you chose to marry; whether or not to have kids; your career choice. Trace the impact of these decisions on your life. I’d bet that the ripples of these decisions are still visible today.
Here’s another decision to add to that inventory: should I decide to be happy? I’ll bet you’ve never sat down and consciously made that decision. The third principle, then, is to affirmatively make the decision to be happy. To do so spurs you to take action to make this decision a reality. Set happiness as your goal. Determine to do whatever is necessary to bring yourself daily happiness. Commit to seek happiness throughout your life. When your do, take these steps:
• see every day as an opportunity to be happy;
• earmark each morning those people and activities to be enjoyed that day;
• pay conscious attention to enjoying each and every moment of pleasure;
• set priorities so that the things you find important do not take a backseat to things you find trivial;
• fervently teach the value of happiness to your heirs
Before reading on, ponder these pivotal questions about your quest for happiness:
(1) What benefits will you personally derive by making happiness a central goal in your life? What will be the benefits of your happiness to your loved ones, your friends, and even your community?
(2) Note one small thing that you can build into your life on a weekly basis that will contribute to your happiness, and perhaps also to that of your family, friends, and colleagues.
Principle 4: Attitude Is Everything
You may possess all the trappings of happiness – health, money, physical attractiveness, power, status – but you will cripple your ability to be happy with a negative frame of mind. To the contrary, you may be deprived of all worldly niceties, but still find happiness with a good attitude. Your attitude isn’t key; it’s crucial.
If you think about it, attitude adjustment is a special form of personal responsibility. Why? Because it says that I, not circumstances, determine my mood. Every day in my clinical office, I help people shed happiness-destroying attitudes in favor of attitudes that promote happiness, even in the presence of annoying life circumstances.
You too create both your happiness and your unhappiness with your frame of mind. You can train your mind to focus on holding attitudes that are beneficial. After all, it is not so much the circumstances but the meaning you take from them that counts.
Later on, I will begin addressing attitudes that give you the best chance of creating happiness. To set the stage, you should:
• accept that you largely control your own emotional state by your attitude;
• become a keen observer of your own thinking, so that you can quickly spot those attitudes that undercut your happiness;
• actively convince yourself how irrational and self-defeating are those attitudes that crush your happiness;
• determine exactly what attitudes you need to help you experience frequent and regular happiness (Making a list and posting it in a prominent place is not a bad idea);
• review your happiness-producing attitudes daily to keep them alive and active.
Before going on to Principle 5, reflect on the following questions.
(1) What would be the profound benefits to you of accepting responsibility for your mood, and what would be the profound drawbacks to refusing to accept this responsibility?
(2) List three slogans or mantras that you can adopt to aid and abet your happiness (e.g., “life is good,” or “don’t worry, be happy”).
Principle 5: Work, Work, Work
You already know the forces you must overcome to achieve the happiness you want. But, simply hoping and praying that you will experience happiness without effort is foolhardy. Try getting your lawn mowed by sitting in front of the TV and wishing it gets cut. You need to get up and do it. As with the lawn, being happy it isn’t a one-time job. You must keep at it for the rest of your life.
Sound daunting? Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is.
When I say work, the person I think about is Lisa, a 52-year-old woman so wracked with depression, and anxiety that she had undergone four in-patient hospitalizations and three bouts of electroshock therapy before I first saw her. Because she lived a childhood of physical, and sexual abuse, she learned to hate herself, believing that these atrocities would never have been acted upon her if she were only a better person.
Lisa floundered in her therapy at first. Finally, after much resistance, she agreed to start each day with thirty minutes of hard, persistent attitude adjustment work until more positive beliefs began to take hold in her mind. The breakthrough came when she remarked to her husband the week of Christmas, “I’m afraid to say this, but I think I’m happy.”
So, the bad news: you must work to be happy. The good news: this work will pay off. The effort is worth it. With all this in mind, I strongly urge you to:
• accept the grim reality that happiness will not be presented to you on a silver platter, but that you will need to put in the effort required to make it so;
• take the time to thoughtfully engage in activities that will most likely give you pleasure each day;
• recognize and overcome your tendency to think the required effort is too hard;
• strive each day to integrate the forthcoming happiness attitudes and practices into the fabric of your life;
• continue working to implement your happiness strategies over the long haul, not being discouraged by those days in which you fail to find happiness.
Here are two questions for you to ponder. How you answer these will determine the degree to which you will do what’s necessary to make yourself happy.
(1) What are the two most common roadblocks that impede your willingness to work toward happiness?
(2) What can you do to overcome these roadblocks?
Thus far I have laid the foundation for you to systematically build happiness into your life. Start with these five power principles and see what the impact is. I know they are powerful, for I have seen people transform their lives by embracing them. So can you.
In the next blog, I will begin to present powerful practices – some mental, others behavioral – that can dramatically increase your happiness quotient. I look forward to it.
See you in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, consider adopting these principles. And, live with passion.
Russell Grieger, Ph.D. is the author of several self-help books, all designed to empower people to create a life they love to live. These include: Unrelenting Drive; Marriage On Purpose; and The Happiness Handbook (in preparation). You may contact Dr. Grieger for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.