I can hear a resounding chorus of voices saying, “I wish it were that simple”; followed by, “That’s easy for you to say, but you don’t know what my life is like. I don’t have much to be happy about”, which is another way of saying, “I’ve got a lot to be unhappy about.”
Admittedly, life is full of difficult challenges, whether they are of our own doing, or are brought on by others. But I’d like to suggest that, of all the New Year’s resolutions you or I can make, the most important would be to determine that you can and will choose to be happy each day.
If you think about it, our desire for happiness is at the root of every other resolution.
“I want to quit smoking, lose weight, exercise more, get a better job (or in today’s economy just get a job), learn to be a better listener, control my temper, do more to help others, start a new hobby (or resume an old one), work less, travel more, …” Yes, at the root of these resolutions, and any other we may come up with, is a desire for life to be happier during the coming year than it has been during the past year. Let me suggest, if we can get our arms around this happiness resolution, the rest of our resolutions, whatever they may be, will be a whole lot easier to achieve; and we might even decide that some of them are not worth the effort or even necessary to achieve.
But where to begin? How can I achieve happiness? Is it enough to simply say, “Today, I will be happy” and then have it be so? Isn’t this like saying, “I’ll lose 20 pounds”, and suddenly have it be so? Well, no, not exactly. The difference is this. We know what 20 pounds feels and looks like. We can hold it our hands (that roll on our bellies) and see it on the scales. We can define it. But it is a lot harder to define happiness, and unless and until we can do so it will keep eluding us. This explains why some individuals can spend a lifetime in a relentless pursuit of happiness but never seem to find it. They may possess happiness for fleeting moments, but it never becomes their abiding friend.
Happiness has been defined in many ways. The dictionary uses words like joy, glad, and cheerful to define happiness. These words suggest a feeling or an emotion. Based on this definition, we’re not happy unless we are joyful. If we feel good were happy, and if we don’t, we’re not.
So why is it that some people appear to be happy almost all of the time, even in the midst of adverse life circumstances? The answer is this. While happiness may at times be viewed as a feeling, true happiness is not a feeling but a state of mind. True happiness is a conscious choice we make to be content, to think positively, even in the midst of life’s most difficult circumstances.
Choosing happiness takes effort. It requires overriding the hurt, sad, or negative, feelings of the moment and choosing to look forward instead of backward. People who choose to be happy are making a deliberate choice to not look back and continually mull over the misfortunes, brought on by their own choices or by the actions of others, that have created the adverse circumstances confronting them. Instead, they choose to look forward, to begin figuring out how to make the most of the difficult situation they are in. I’m not suggesting that doing this is easy. Nor am I suggesting that we should ignore, gloss over, or suppress deep hurts or losses in order to move forward. In these circumstances choosing happiness means choosing to work through our grief on the road to acceptance. If we fail to do so, we will remain stuck in our grief, which, if left unchecked, will lead us beyond unhappiness down a road of hopelessness and despair.
The story is told of an elderly woman who lost her husband. With no children and in frail health she found it necessary to move to a nursing home. As the admissions director began describing her room, the elderly woman quietly interrupted and said, “I love it, I know I’ll be happy here.” The admissions director said, “But you haven’t seen your room yet.” To which the elderly women replied, “That’s okay. Whether or not I like my room doesn’t depend on how large it is, or how the furniture is arranged. What matters is how I’ve arranged my mind. Before I arrived here today I decided I would love my room. Every morning when I wake up I have two choices. I can either spend the day recounting the losses I’ve experienced and the difficulties that have brought me to this time and place in my life, or I can cherish happy memories, and decide that I’ll make new friends here. Yes, my room will be just fine.”
As we enter a new year, there is one thing you and I can count on; life surely will bring more than enough things our way to be unhappy about. I encourage you to resolve that each day you will choose happiness. If you do, I guarantee you will enjoy life more, and so will those around you!