Everywhere nowadays I see people who want to be happy but aren’t. Careers are shifted, trust is broken, families are torn apart, money and time are squandered, and still, so many people are not happy. Why? Why is being happy so elusive?Let me start by saying this is only my opinion. It is based on years of observation, bolstered by research and professional opinions of others, but still just my own opinion. With that disclaimer in place, why are we so unhappy. I would start answering that question by first looking at the vernacular that most people use to describe their lack of happiness. You hear phrases like “nothing makes me happy,” “I haven’t found happiness,” or “I am not happy with that.” What can we learn from this? People are waiting for happiness to happen to them, to find it sitting in a person, place, or thing that magically bestows happiness upon them. Even the architects of the US constitution named “the pursuit of happiness” directly as though it is something you must search for and find to have. Now, I have a lot to say regarding “the pursuit of happiness,”and we may circle back to that eventually, but for now, let’s just look that the phrasing in these last few statements. The thing I see most often, in declarations of displeasure or unhappiness, is this sense that happiness is some amorphous fog of feeling that shifts and drifts. That it is some object, some exact possession to find and hold, or some goal to be achieved.
Simply stated in the dictionary, the definition of happiness is as follows:
noun: happiness; plural noun: happinesses
the state of being happy.
“she struggled to find happiness in her life.”
synonyms: pleasure, contentment, satisfaction, cheerfulness, merriment, gaiety, joy, joyfulness, joviality, jollity, glee, delight, good spirits, lightheartedness, well-being, enjoyment; exuberance, exhilaration, elation, ecstasy, jubilation, rapture, bliss, blissfulness, euphoria, transports of delight; Hollywood ending
“trying to rediscover the happiness we once knew.”
Let me restate that again, per Webster’s “The State of Being Happy.”
What I find the most telling and proving of my points here is the use of the word that even the dictionary uses in its example. “…find happiness..” However, if you look just one line above that example, in the dictionary itself, you see that happiness is a state. I would submit that that state of happiness is a state of mind, but that step is not even needed to prove the point that I will make here. Happiness is a state. Period. It is, by definition, the state of being happy.
Why is this distinction important? Simply, the dictionary doesn’t say “Happiness found” or “Happiness achieved” because true happiness is not searched for or achieved. It is just a state of being. The way to be happy is just to BE happy. I know this is not what all the people in the wide world who are looking for something to MAKE them happy what to hear. You see, happiness is a choice. So are the rest of our emotions. Everyone in the world around us has been trained to take short cuts, jump to conclusions, find the easy way, to demand specific results, and to blame others when we don’t get them. However, in the case of any of our emotions, nothing makes them. We allow them. Every emotion we have is a choice. Every feeling we experience is a result of a stimulus that we allow our brain to process, then we choose how that process will be responded to. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not implying that we have no feelings, I am saying that our feelings, the sensory input affected by our environment is just that, feeling, sensation, data. It is not emotion. Emotion is the response we allow ourselves to exhibit to that sensory input. Plenty of research has been done regarding emotions and their effects on our life and our body. You are likely familiar with phrases like “The power of positive thinking” or “Visualize success to achieve it.” What is positive thinking or visualization if not choosing which feelings to allow ourselves to be affected by. We choose positivity and then experience it. We choose to allow others to anger us, then we feel the stress of anger. Any time you are driving your car and choose to flip off the driver who cut you off, you could just as easily choose to smile instead. Studies show that when you do choose that alternate response, you have less stress at that moment and after, it even changes your heart rate and blood pressure. You see “positive thinking” is just choosing to be positive instead of negative in a situation that would otherwise lend to a negative environment. It is just choosing to be happy in the space where sadness or anger would be easier.
So happiness is a choice, a state of mind, and an active conscious decision, not a vague, amorphous conceptual, emotional state that they have chase or be lucky enough to have fallen on them. IF this is the case, then why do we all work so hard to “Find” it? Well, in my simple view, if it is something we can find, something someone else can cause, something that shifts and ebbs, then all the impetus for our happiness is off our shoulders and squarely resting with the forces of nature, the powers that be, the world around us. Frankly, if our happiness is the direct result of other input, it is not our responsibility and wherever it becomes someone else’s problem. How many marriages end because happiness is not there? How many people give up on a career, at a task, a friend, a lover, a family, or a relationship simply because they don’t FIND happiness in it. Man, that is so much easier to take than facing the hard truth that happiness is found in ourselves and therefore if we are not happy, it is OUR responsibility, OUR failure, and OUR problem. No one wants to own their own issues, no one wants to admit failure. Everyone today is looking for the easy way out. We live in a society where “Feel Good” is more important than “Do Good” or “Be Good.” We are accustomed to instant gratification, instant food, instant enjoyment, and instant results. However, like most things, instant is not better, just sooner. We eat instant food instead of wholesome food because an instant is quicker, we didn’t plan our meals ahead, and we want to eat NOW. We get instant relations like Tinder because we want gratification now, we don’t want responsibility or commitment, and we didn’t plan ahead. All these things are OK sometimes or in some instances, but as a lifestyle are unhealthy long-term, so why do we keep doing them? Simply put, its easier than doing the honest hard work.
And there it is, the moral of the story, the point to all this. People do not want to have to do the hard work. Being happy is hard. It is simple but not easy, and most people conflate those things. Anyone at any time can simply decide to be happy. They need nothing but attitude, they hold nothing, find nothing, stumble upon NOTHING. They simply decide to be happy, its that simple. It is not easy. Nothing worth having ever is easy. As soon as you decide to be happy, everything in the world and beyond will start to plot against your happiness. Do not let it win. The way I explain this to my kids it this, all the input in the world is like the weather. It is a stimulus, but it is not IN you. I cannot make you mad any more than I can make you happy, what I can change is the weather. I can affect your environment to make you more susceptible to certain feelings, but I can not MAKE you feel them. Just like a rainy day may “ruin” your plans to go to the park, and you may decide to feel bad about that. You can just as simply change your plan to say in and binge-watch a favorite show. Now, instead of your day being “ruined” by the rain, it is simply an excuse to do that other thing you wanted to. Again, this is not EASY, but it is very simple. (I recommend you familiarize yourself with the difference between simple and easy, it will make much of your life more bearable. Running a marathon is simple, just put one foot repeatedly in front of the other, not much is more simple than that. It is also difficult beyond imagination, possibly one of the most difficult things you could choose to do.) but I digress, in the same way, the weather can promote certain feelings but doesn’t make them, no one can MAKE you mad. They can change your environment to be more conducive of anger, but the actually getting angry is a choice you make, and you can choose otherwise.
This active choice to do the hard work and not let the environment around you affect your mood or your feelings is something I refer to as “Trained Resilience.” It is something that doesn’t come naturally, but when used often enough can become your new normal. In the same way that a boxer can train their had to be tougher by hitting it on things, each time you choose to control your own mood, or your feelings instead of giving that power to the world and people around you, you begin to build that callous, you train that resilience. It is my opinion that in this new modern world where feelings are king and words can assault, that resilience is never learned, never promoted, and never trained or passed on. As parents, we have become so invested in making our kids lives better by making them easier, we have failed to toughen them against the hard knocks of real life. Again, I have many opinions about this, but they don’t belong here right now. I may circle back to them in some future work, but for now, it is important to point out that critical point I just made. As parents, it is our job to do the hard work of toughening our kids to be resilient against the hard knocks of real life, and we are failing to do it. Think right now how many of the last 20 news stories you remember would not be newsworthy if people were magically in charge of their own feelings and emotions. Think about how much of the drama of our daily new cycle would GO AWAY if people could withstand the simple things in life like rain or mean words. So much of it would end if people could simply learn to take a joke, or even worse, an actual criticism. Again, this is my own opinion, based on years of observation, bolstered by research and professional opinions of others, but still just my own opinion. Imagine how the world would be if we trained our kids to choose to be happy even when the world was mean and dark. Ponder for a moment how it may be when being a simple choice, and some trained resilience, our kids only have to worry about sticks and stones again.
This is something I teach my own kids every day, and I feel more parents should too. People cannot make you feel anything, they can only change your environment, it is your choice to allow it control of your feelings. At the end of the day, your thoughts and feelings are truly the only things that are all yours. Allowing others the power to affect those is a choice, a hard choice, but a simple one. Instead, choose to be happy. Choosing to live better is more fulfilling and better for you in the long term. Choose to eat right, choose to live right, choose kindness, choose love, and choose to be happy!