Happiness is a choice.
I didn’t always believe that. I was a moody teenager who lived a “fish out of water” existence. I was so different from my family that I was convinced I was adopted until I turned sixteen and my mother had to get a copy of my birth certificate for driver training. Consequently, I was rarely happy because I felt I didn’t belong. I didn’t look, act or even think like anyone else in my world.
When I was in my early twenties, I was exposed to a variety of philosophies via my kung fu school. I read the words, but I didn’t believe them. I just didn’t see how I could choose to be happy when I was poor, barely able to afford to eat, drove a rattletrap POS car and had no future, no college education (nor intention of getting one) and was generally morose and moody.
But then I began to study more of what the philosophers were saying. We create our universe with the choices we make every day. In time, I began to realize I didn’t have to work minimum wage jobs because I had an amazing skill set as a writer (unpublished at that time) and artist. All I had to do was get my foot in the door at the right place, and I could prove myself… and so I did. I started out in the mail room and ended up doing all the graphic artwork for my company. They dropped their advertising agency because I sold them on my skills, and for fifteen years, I created every piece of literature, packaging, illustrations, ads, give-aways, trade show setups, product catalogs as well as construction and maintenance of the company website. I literally started my career in graphic design with nothing but know-how and confidence. I never got that degree, never went to college, and yet worked as a graphic designer for close to forty years.
The first step to being happy is: Believe in yourself. Know your skills. Be confident in what you can do, and be prepared to prove it. I kept samples of all my best pieces in a portfolio that I took with me on job interviews for just that reason. It is much harder to get a job in this industry with no college degree, but it isn’t impossible. I’m living proof of that.
The second step is: Work for what you want. Set goals for where you want to be in a year, five years, ten years. Make a plan, and be ready to adapt. If one avenue doesn’t pan out, try another. Never stop working toward your goals, and your life will change for the better. The things you want out of life are not going to be handed to you. You have to work for them. You can’t win the lotto if you don’t buy a ticket.
The third step is: Appreciate what you have. Maybe you have a POS car, like I did (and still do). I’ve never owned a new car, but as long as we have a dependable ride to get us where we need to go and home again, that’s what matters. Or maybe you live in a place that’s not as nice as you’d like. Make your home as nice as you can at the moment. Keep it clean and neat. Love it, because it’s way better than living in your POS car or a cardboard box in an alley. The art of appreciation is a focus on the positive aspects of what you have now. For what the future holds, see Step #2.
And the final step in learning to be happy is: Choose happiness. I know, it sounds lame. How can you do that, especially when things are bleak and sad? The answer is: you work at it. Happiness is a habit, a positive state of mind, a hopeful way of looking at things with the belief that whatever is bad now will not always be so in the future.
My father had been ill for a long time with a debilitating, incurable disease that took away his ability to work. He had expected to have a long career, and eventually to retire to have his own little machine shop. He loved working with his hands, prying into the parts of small engines, puttering about with tools in the garage. When he got sick, that dream vanished abruptly. He spent a while with doctors looking for treatments that would return him to some kind of active life, but when he began to accept his lot, he started to look for other things he could do. He took up pyrography (wood burning). He tended his beloved garden. He traveled more with my mom. Instead of moaning about all the things he couldn’t do, he looked for things he could do. He had every reason in the world to be miserable, but he chose to be happy instead.
The most important component of this equation, however, is have a positive attitude. (See my post on that – Attitude and Acceptance.) Look for the silver lining, the bright side of every incident. This is the single most valuable tool you have in learning to be happy. It takes work and practice to develop, because our first instinct is to seek out the negative (part of our survival mechanism). Force yourself to look for positive outcomes to negative situations. This helps to train your brain to be optimistic.
One of my favorite stories to illustrate this point is on Coach T Site, called “Good Luck? Bad Luck? Who Knows?” Follow the link to read the ancient Chinese parable, because it perfectly illustrates how to find the positive in the negative.
That is the secret to happiness. You have a situation that creates emotions. The negative ones will be readily apparent, but if you look at it this way, turn it around and come at it from a different direction, think hard and work to find something good about it, you’ll find that you feel better. Make a habit of looking for the blessing in the curse, have a positive attitude about everything, work for what you want and believe in yourself, and you will be a happy person. I guarantee it.
Be happy, y’all, and life will be beautiful.