“If everything would just turn out the way I want it to…then I’d be happy". Or…”I’ll be happy if I could get married…or win the lottery….” The idea of “happiness” always seems to be just out of reach, just over the rainbow, and always dependent on an outside circumstance. How often do we put our happiness in someone else’s back pocket? Entire lifetimes are wasted away in the endless pursuit of the dream of happiness that seems to lurk right around the corner, or with the next raise, the next relationship. It’s something we’re willing to give everything to have, and yet it seems to be elusive enough to nearly drive us mad in the absence of it. Perhaps we have created a faulty understanding of what happiness really is, and what it is not.
Happiness is not something to find. We create it from within. It can’t come from a bottle, a bank account, even on a permanent basis, another person. The definition of “happiness” differs from person to person, but people who do report as being happy, seem to have a common theme, and that is that they have purpose and meaning in their lives…a reason to get up in the morning. They know why they are on this earth and they care for others. They are proactive and take interest in, and the reins of control over their own lives, not being passive and disinterested. They are active learners, curious and interested in life. They have meaningful relationships, look to the future instead of the past. They do something about their regrets, whether it’s go back and apologize, make amends, where possible and realistic.
Happier people have a healthy view of themselves and work for best effort, not tyrannical perfection. They allow themselves, and others, mistakes and forgive, because they understand that to refuse to forgive hurts them. They try to take reasonable care of their bodies, souls, minds. Happy people often have well-loved pets. Happier people have what’s called an “internal locus of control”…which is a fancy way of saying that they realize that what they think, feel, do, value about themselves comes from within, not from without, or from others (which would be an external locus of control).
Happy people have discovered somewhere along life’s journey that their happiness and contentment in life was never around the next bend…it was within them the whole time. They didn’t go find it. They created it. They developed hobbies and pastimes that gave them satisfaction and joy. They discovered that hard work is good for you. They set goals and broke down the steps it would take to reach their goals. When they made mistakes or had setbacks, they dealt with it promptly and pragmatically, and then got back up and kept on moving forward to their goal. They never demanded, or expected, perfection from themselves or from others. Happy people are realistic people. They don’t expect themselves, or others, to be perfect but to be honest and authentic, and they don’t hold others responsible for their own happiness, equilibrium, peace, sense of worth and value.
Happiness is about being comfortable in your own skin, letting go of what you can’t control or change, and discovering ways to change the things you can. It’s about reaching goals, working hard when the work is needed, and not allowing work, money, regrets, anger, or anything else to own you.
They understand that they have a choice to own their lives, or allow their lives to own them. They pursue the goals they can achieve, and let go of pipe dreams or anything that can constrain them or cause harm to self or others. Happy people don’t wreak revenge.
And lastly, happy people are thankful people. They have an attitude of gratitude, and of being flexible when it’s needed, knowing that life isn’t always fair, it will throw the odd curve ball out of left field just to prove it can, and that sometimes bad things happen to good people. They seem able to take a lot of it in stride, knowing that the bad can come with the good sometimes in life. They allow themselves to grieve when in pain or having suffered a loss, knowing that life “never promised us a rose garden”, but that all the experiences of life’s journey make up the mixed bag of who they are – and they’ve learned to be at peace with it, with a slate that’s clean. They designed their happiness right in their own backyard; they didn’t have to hurt anyone else, lie, betray, steal, manipulate, threaten, or take, a slice from anyone else’s pie to have a full pie of their own. They are generous with their hearts, resources, kindness. They’ve learned that being good to others while being good to yourself is its own reward. Happy people have drive and passion, but not to the point that it drives them, only in a healthy manner, where they have a reason for living, and getting up in the morning. They use their retirement for good, not for wasting away in a rocker in front of the TV, whether it’s some kind of volunteerism, sharing with others, building relationships, doing fun things within their abilities and resources.
Not happy? What would it take, within reason, to make you happy? A restored relationship? More time for yourself? A debt being paid? Less loneliness? A purpose in life? Every one of those things are attainable. I’m a believer in the power of the legal pad - -sit down, pray about it if you’re a believer, and focus on where you are, and where you want to be. Write down your goals. Now, write down what it will take to reach each goal, and break it down into very specific steps. Reaching goals takes hard work, self-discipline, and focus. There is a sense of reward in a job well done and in hard work to reach a goal. Give yourself a pat on the back, affirm yourself, when you’ve stretched yourself. Be courageous – courage is not the absence of fear. When I returned to college to pursue a doctoral degree at a time when most people are considering retirement in the near future, it wasn’t without fear, trepidation and a little self-doubt. But I had a goal, I had a passion. If there’s one thing about happy people, it’s that they have a passion for something that makes them get up in the morning. I broke my goal down into practical steps and I crossed each step off the list when I accomplished it. I had the inevitable setbacks as any major goal will, but I kept plodding on. And I realized something important - - that if I could do A successfully, I could take that problem-solving skill, that belief in myself and my goal, and apply it to B. And if it worked for A, it could work for B. And then later for C. Stop telling yourself, “I can’t do this”, and start seriously telling yourself, “Who says I can’t? I did X well in the past, so if I could do that, I can surely do this.” Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if I X?” Weigh the options and possible outcomes. Look over this descriptor of traits of happy people – what would it take you to arrive at that place, too? Who says you can’t?