During childhood, we tend to be preoccupied with happiness, seeking it in all we do, in all that we surround ourselves with. How often do you see a child who is determined to find something he can wholeheartedly resign himself to? Never! Children do not like misery and discomfort.
For them, it is not enough to go with the flow, to make the best of things. Children look forward to each day; they eagerly anticipate change! And so should you!
What happens as we get older? For one thing, we begin to lose that perpetual state of expectancy. Over a period of time, we gradually resign ourselves to the notion that things rarely turn out the way we would like. While this is not actually, true, we manage to convince ourselves of it by focusing on everything that goes wrong instead of everything that goes right.
Let me ask you this: As you read this book, what is the state of your health? How much money do you have? Are you sitting in jail or lying in a hospital with your leg in a cast? Has a doctor recently told you that you are terminally ill? If you are reasonably healthy, reasonably solvent, and not physically confined in any way, how can you possibly believe that nothing good ever happens to you? Good things are happening all the time! In the lives of most people, the good things so greatly outnumber the bad that they should be dancing in the streets! And yet, they do not see life that way. If you ask them, they will insist that nothing ever goes right.
This is a chapter about happiness – what it is, where you can find it, and how you can cultivate it each day.
If you find it difficult to believe we are meant to be happy, I will ask you to accept this fact on faith – for now. Happiness is the natural order of things! Everything else – every other state of mind or human condition– is UN-natural!
If you attempt to test the validity of this statement on most of your friends or family members, you can expect to hear some very negative responses:
“Happiness? The natural order of things? Come on now. Get real!” “If you believe that, you’re in for a rude awakening.”
“If you want to know what life is REALLY like, just follow ME around for a while.”
The really amazing thing about all of these depressed people and depressing remarks is the manner in which they are usually stated – as if the person talking actually took great pride in leading such unhappy life. In many instances, it will seem as if people are literally vying with one another to talk about their own bad luck and bad feelings. It is almost as if they are in competition with one another to determine who among them is really the most miserable. But you were not placed upon this earth to be miserable. You were meant to be happy and prosperous.
Contentment is something you can feel even as you strive for bigger and better things. Wanting to achieve more does not necessarily mean you are dissatisfied with what you have. It simply means that you recognize new challenges, that you see new goals to achieve, and that you are ready to try your wings. Even as you do this, you can be contented – and basically happy.
In order for us to be happy, in order to know if we are, we must first attempt to identify this somewhat elusive term. You may be sure that there are many definitions for happiness. For some people, happiness is something they suddenly experience, something caused by an unexpected or surprising event. Many others experience happiness as a result of achieving or acquiring something. Moments of happiness can also occur when you have a creative idea, when you finally complete an unpleasant task, or when you discover that you are able to pay off some long-standing debt. Although happiness is usually associated with feeling good, it is always a matter of personal interpretation.
In order to pursue happiness effectively, it is necessary to come to some affirmative conclusions about your RIGHT to be happy. As a child, you gradually formulated some ideas, which eventually led to some major decisions about whether or not you were entitled to love and happiness.
In many cases, these determinations were made on an unconscious level. If somehow you came to believe that you were unimportant, unlovable, or incapable of any outstanding achievements, you will need to reassess and change these feelings.
I urge you to accept the fact that you are important simply because you exist. You are here – a unique creation – unlike any other person that has ever walked this earth. If you focus on the positive aspects of your life, you will see that you have much to achieve and much to feel happy about!
Since there are so many individual interpretations of happiness, let us select one that will most suitably include all the others. HAPPINESS – the freedom and capacity to enjoy. Whatever you prefer to enjoy in life is a personal matter, but since enjoyment is always involved in happiness, this seems like the best overall definition.
Experiencing happiness provides an inner unity and enables us to move in harmony with the universe. You have undoubtedly known days when you felt at odds with everything, when you felt somehow “out of sync.”
As I once heard a harried homemaker explain it: “I found myself running from room to room, in a frenzied flurry of activity. Although I worked diligently, nothing I began was ever totally completed. By the end of the afternoon, I could not point to any one thing and say: ‘I did that today.’” I have known such days, and I suspect that you have, too. On such days, any feelings we experience are certainly not happy ones – until we finally force ourselves to relax and imagine a better way.
We all have the capacity to imagine a better way. We are free to visualize our environment as it presently exists, or in terms of how it could BE. Negative visualization will, of course, lead to negative results.
If you think that nothing ever works out right for you because you are clumsy or stupid, or because you have never earned the right to happiness, you are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. People who walk around constantly complaining about life tend to lead lives that justify their complaints. On the other hand, people who feel deserving of the good things in life tend to work at bringing these things about.
The decision to change your life and to accept happiness is not always an easy one to make. Quite often, it will take a crisis to bring about this change, something that literally drives you to the point of desperation!
Once there, you may finally decide that you have had enough of struggling and misery, that you are going to change things once and for all. (NOTE: How you reach that point is less important than actually reaching it.)
Once you are motivated to change, you can expect several things to happen. First, you will acknowledge that there is something missing in your life, and before very long, you will be able to identify what it is.
Once you know what you really want, you will start thinking about how you can get it. In the process, you will identify the sources of your personal power, quite possibly recognizing them for the very first time.
You will also learn how to make commitments to yourself that will greatly enhance your life. And finally, you will be elated with your newfound courage to DO and BE. At this juncture, you will experience New Hope, new successes, and new forms of happiness. You will finally be on your way!
One of the greatest sources of unhappiness is the feeling of being stuck. People will demonstrate this hopeless out-look on life in the various things they say or do. In many cases, the message is unspoken.
Have you ever known anyone who remained in a job he was not happy with simply because he believed that nothing else was available to him? Have you ever been such a person yourself? Are you being that sort of person right now? If so, do you tend to maintain the status quo in other areas of life – never changing, never trying anything new because you do not really believe that any other options exist? Part of being happy is
constantly expanding your options. Yes, you DO have options, and it is time that you began to exercise them.
Most people, regardless of how much they have or how happy they seem, yearn for something better. There is nothing wrong with this, particularly if what they are seeking represents more security, more self- esteem, or, possibly, more freedom in life. If you are always looking for more opportunities, more challenges, you keeping yourself stimulated in a natural and healthy way. (NOTE: We all need a reason to get up in the morning!)
I have known a number of people who inherited enough money to enable them to quit working. For a time, I watched them revel in the “free and easy” life, abandoning everything that once gave their lives any discipline or structure. They believed that the money would allow them to live a spontaneous, free and happy life. Or, so they thought. I once encountered such a person in a local bank, sitting behind a loan officer’s desk. As I stood in line, waiting to transact my business, I periodically glanced back toward this person, and finally, he looked in my direction and smiled. Before leaving the bank, I walked over to his desk and sat down to talk with him. “I’m surprised to see you here,” I said. “Or anywhere. The last I heard, you were determined to give up the daily rat race for a world of fun and sun.”
Recognizing his own words, my friend responded with a sheepish grin. “It’s true,” he admitted. “That was my original plan. But the fact is, I found out one day I simply couldn’t not work. And I was beginning to hate Mondays. On weekends, I always had lots of friends to amuse myself with, but on Mondays, they would all go back to their jobs and careers again – all but me. I found it wasn’t much fun hanging around the sandpit when the other kids were gone. So, now I’m working again, and oddly enough, it feels great!”
From my own point of view, I could not see anything odd in his actions. In fact, I almost could have predicted them. The thought of wandering from one idle pleasure to another, or cluttering up the day with a lot of trivial activities, is as useless and depressing an idea as any I could ever imagine. The fact is, happiness, to a great extent, is to be found in the enjoyment of pursuits. We all like setting goals and pursuing them with confidence and enthusiasm. And certainly, there is as much joy to be found in process or the journey itself as there is in achieving goals.
FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS….
Often we hear people speak of their early struggles with pride and humor. Reflecting upon the hardest times, they tend to emphasize their triumphs and whatever combination of circumstances and events that somehow enabled them to go on. They speak of the sacrifices that were made, the risk taking, and their unshakable perseverance and belief in what they were doing.
In one case, a friend spoke of coming to the end of a month and realizing that, through some miracle, he had actually managed to buy another thirty days. Another whole month of working as a free agent in his own business, of not answering to others, of being the captain of his own ship. “In a way, it was wonderful living on the edge like that,” he said. “It gave me such an exaggerated awareness of what each day was really all about. Nowadays, I tend to take things for granted. I know there is enough money and enough potential business to enable me to remain self-employed. I fully expect things to be as they are. And while I know I’ve earned that feeling, that assurance that I no longer need to be anxious about things, I must confess that I no longer appreciate my independence as much as I once did, when I feared that it might be snatched away at any time.”
There is an important lesson to be learned form this, and possibly the only way you can learn it is by going off by yourself so that you can just sit and think and be grateful.
There is a quiet happiness to be found in periodic reflections, in thinking about how we began and how far we’ve advanced through the years. As each new plateau is reached, it is good to sit down and meditate on the good things, the many positive things that have happened. Success is an ongoing journey. You are succeeding for as long as you continue to move ahead. But exactly how do you do this?
We’re all familiar with the New Year’s resolution approach to accomplishment. Whether or not you keep them, your resolutions will teach you a lot about yourself. One thing you will learn and certainly need to learn is whether you are consistently trustworthy and supportive of your own growth. In other words, are you capable of keeping the promises you make to yourself?
If you are like most people, you tend to become extremely impatient with those who make a habit of letting you down. At times, you may even openly complain about them. But has it ever occurred to you to number yourself among those untrustworthy ones who are constantly letting you down? “I am my own worst enemy,” you occasionally hear people say, and all too often, it is true.
It is important to be able to trust another’s integrity, and it is certainly natural for us to attempt to surround ourselves with honest, dependable people. Still, have we any right to demand qualities in others that we are not also prepared to demand in ourselves?
Perhaps your next New Year’s resolution should be to become your own best friend. Imagine having a person in your life whom is always on your side, someone who is always aware of your needs, always considerate of your desires and feelings. Someone who will NEVER LET YOU DOWN- NO MATTER WHAT!
If you have been looking for such a person in someone else, you are looking too far. After all, who knows you better than YOU do? Who is in a better position to provide you with all that you need and want in life?
Doesn’t it stand to reason that you are the best person for the job – the only person who can logically be your best friend?
You can begin to mold yourself into that person today by giving up whatever is actually interfering with your happiness. Make a contract with yourself – a contract, in this case, being an agreement to DO something ABOUT something. Such contacts are part of everyone’s daily life.
The unfortunate thing is that frequently we do not bother to honor their terms and conditions. Successful contracts made with yourself need to be regarded as co-operative ventures. The parties
involved include that side of you that desires some sort of change and the side of you that is determined to bring that change about.
A successfully executed contract always includes a viable plan. First, you must know exactly what you want. Next, it is necessary to determine what available resources you have and what specific steps must be taken. From time to time, you will also need to reevaluate your plan, to see if any changes need to be made.
The reason most people fail to honor the contracts they hold with themselves is that they get caught up in their daily living activities. Pretty soon the weeks, months and years go by and they never get around to doing what they promised themselves they would do. If we could decide upon a course of action and then execute it in a relatively short period of time, we would be more inclined to follow through. As it is, the days stretch into weeks, the weeks into months, and the months into years.
During that time, we have many opportunities to backtrack on or even abandon our dreams and, very often, we do. And, of course, we are always unhappy when we do. The next time you experience a feeling of utter disgust because you cannot seem to honor your contracts with yourself, I would urge you to remember that feeling. Notice the depression and misery it causes. Then think about whether you really can afford to not honor your contracts with yourself.
If you find it difficult to stick with your resolutions then it is time to look at your options. Yes, you DO have options, in all matters great and small.
Let us consider for a moment the dilemma of a young career woman that has become chronically negligent in her household chores. “I can’t afford a maid,” she admits, “but even if I could, there isn’t that much to clean. Once I make up my mind to do it, I can clean the entire place in about four hours. But I find it so difficult to get started. The real problem is that I am basically an immaculate person. I dearly love to have everything in its place. And because of this, it is extremely hard for me to live amid constant clutter and chaos. Yet I continue to do it. I simply hate housework, but I hate not being able to discipline myself even more. Lately, I’ve begun to feel terribly depressed.”
In dealing with this hypothetical situation, my first impulse would be to suggest to this woman that she confront the issue and deal with it in the
same way that she would deal with a problem at work. Assuming her company had recently adopted a major reorganization plan, I might be inclined to ask her how it had been facilitated, over what period of time, and how successful it actually was.
As we all know, reorganization plans can create chaos unless they are gradually phased in as the older, more obsolete plan is being phased out. One way in which a new plan can be effectively adopted is through the concept of “one department at a time.”
Applying this same philosophy to housework, it might be best to suggest to this woman that she makes a point of thoroughly cleaning one room of her home each day. In that way, she will never have the entire house to clean, and it will always look good with a minimum of daily effort.
Options! Yes, you always have options, and once you begin to exercise them, think how good you will feel at having gained control over a situation that once controlled you! With most people, it is the little everyday things that tend to get them down. The major problems and crises are invariably attended to, because there is urgency about them. But other things, the things that tend to cause a nagging discontent, are usually ignored until our self-esteem begins to suffer because we are unwilling to deal with the issues at hand.
How much better it is to live in such a way that you can celebrate life! And so you should! There are many causes for celebration, and you will discover them easily enough, if you only look!
Right now, you have good reason to celebrate your pursuit of happiness and your desire to do what you love and love what you do! If you would
like to make it a real party, send out formal invitations! In addition to the date, time, and place, state the reason for your celebration, the first goal you have reached in your action-based program for happiness, and assure your guests that you are looking forward to their attendance because their presence will enhance your life!
Let others confine themselves to the more customary reasons for celebration – the major holidays that are familiar to us all. If that is all people can think of to celebrate, what are they really telling you? What they are saying is that they must rely on some outside source to get them in the mood to celebrate. Until merchants start advertising their sales, ringing their bells, and piping in the appropriate music, there is nothing for them to feel happy or festive about.
It is not through our acquisition of material things, but rather through our capacity to enjoy who we are and what we have accomplished, that we can know true happiness. If you are gradually losing your capacity to enjoy, you must make every effort to revive it. Think back to your childhood days and how keenly you enjoyed things then. Little things. Simple things. The sound of an ice cream truck coming down the street.
A huge pile of autumn leaves to play in. A day at the park. A Saturday matinee. A bag of freshly roasted peanuts. A good book to read.
The point I am trying to make is that there is much happiness to be found wherever you look. But first, you must look. Look as a child would look, with that simple, childlike wonder.
More than a thousand years ago, the mighty Caliph of Cordova wrote:
I have now reigned above fifty years in victory or peace, beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches
and honors, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness, which have fallen to my lot. They amount to fourteen.
Although success and happiness are frequently equated, as if the attainment of the first automatically guaranteed the second, we know this is not really true. If it were, all wealthy and professionally successful people would be deliriously happy and, of course, they are not. We cannot experience happiness, unless there is first a capacity for enjoyment. And for that, you may need to go back in time to remember life’s simpler pleasures and the manner in which you were once able to appreciate them.
You have not lost your capacity to enjoy; you have only misplaced it. You can find it again by giving yourself a chance to achieve, to create something you truly desire.
You may be sure that your plans, hopes and dreams are all part of the daily food and drink you require to survive. They are essential to your good health and well being. It is not enough to exist – to put in your time on this earth. You are here for a reason! I urge you to begin today – to look to your dreams and become what you have always wanted to be, do and have. And through it all, remember always to be loyal and true to yourself, and also, to be happy!