Some people just seem to be more cheerful and optimistic than others, don’t they? Are some people genetically predisposed to optimism and happiness than others? Is there a ‘happy gene’ or something? It is all our parents’ fault? Philip Larkin might have written ‘man hands on misery to man, it depends like a coastal shelf,’ but does that doom us to a life of negativity and pessimism? I think there are some steps we can take towards greater happiness.
Take control of yourself.
One of the greatest discoveries we can make about ourselves – perhaps the greatest discovery – is that we are in control. We can choose our reaction to what happens around us and we can change habituated reactions we have built up over the years. In Man’s Search for Meaning
Viktor Frankl tells us that this ability to freely respond to our surroundings, even in the most adverse situations, is something that cannot be taken away from us. It is the most basic of human qualities.
Once we have realized this, we can quite literally decide to be happy. It’d a conscious decision and comes from inside. Our happiness does not depend on the outside, unless we allow it. The trouble is that most of us do allow it because this is how we have been conditioned, so we see it as normal. But happiness starts inside and works its way out.
Everything is created twice – first in the mind, and then in the world. Now we all know ‘The Secret,’ but I wonder how many of us really believe it? For many years, writers like Earl Nightingale and Norman Vincent Peale have been telling us that this is basically how the world works – first we conceive of the way things are in our mind, then our conception becomes reality. Most people get it the wrong way round, believing that their thoughts reflect reality.
So you need to pretend – play at being whatever you want to be and you will, with time, become that thing. Try saying a cheery ‘good morning!’ however much you feel like skulking into your office and drinking a cup of coffee on your own. Try smiling more, try saying positive things. Eventually, you won’t be pretending any more.
Don’t take yourself so seriously.
We need to recognize that we are not that important. The world does not turn because of us – it did just fine before we came along and it will continue to do fine after we are gone.
That doesn’t mean that we have no value – far from it – but it does mean that we don’t need to be so serious. Take it easy, laugh at yourself and laugh at life. Ironically, by adopting this attitude you’ll find you achieve more by being able to direct your energy more effectively and you will tend to revert to your natural, happy state.
Don’t wait for the future.
Tomorrow never comes. In a very real sense, now is all we have. Yesterday is gone and will never come back. We can learn form the past, but we need not live there. There is too much living to do. Thought about the future can be exciting, and we should certainly make plans, but not excessive. Someone said ‘life is what happens when you’re making other plans.’ (Was it John Lennon?) Happiness is now.
Understand what really makes you happy.
Happiness is a choice. It does not come from the outside, from money, success, health or anything else, good and necessary though these things are. We must grasp this. I leave you with the powerful words of Abd Er-Rahman III of Spain (960 C.E.)
“I have now reigned about 50 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.”