As I was thinking about this blog today, I realized that we need to go ahead and get something out of the way. It’s a big idea. It’s also an idea that you absolutely must understand if you want to be happy for any extended period of time. The idea is: happiness is not a destination, it’s a state of mind, and only you control your own happiness. Let me elaborate a little bit.
Happiness is not a destination. Too many people think about happiness like it’s something you get and then never lose. Or like it’s some static state of being. This is, of course, not true. Just like any other human emotion, happiness ebbs and flows. People who are habitually happy have just found a way to have a lot more ups than downs. “How?” you may ask.
It’s a state of mind. Happiness has everything to do with how you frame your thinking. People who are happy most of the time are just like everyone else, except that they have figured out how to hack their psyche. They don’t like being sad, pissed off, or apathetic (who does?), and have decided to change how they think. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you are driving to work down the interstate and you get a flat tire. You pull over, change the tire, get dirt on your pants, and arrive 15 minutes late to work. There are two basic mindsets here.
Option one goes something like this. “Man, I can’t believe I got a flat tire. This type of stuff always happens to me. I’m probably going to be late to work. I hope my boss doesn’t notice. Great, now I’ve got dirt on my clothes. Uggghhhhh.” This response is totally reasonable, but it is also filled with negative thought patterns. This person views themselves as a constant victim of their surroundings. They worry about things that they have no control over. And they are stressing out about details that have very little importance in the grand scheme of things.
Option two goes more like this. “Man, I can’t believe I got a flat tire. Good thing it didn’t make me wreck on the interstate, that could’ve been really bad. Glad the spare and jack were in the trunk so I can fix this myself. Oh well, everyone has had a flat, my boss will understand. Great, now I’ve got dirt on my clothes. At least I’ll have a good story to go with it.” This response shows a lot more positive thinking. They focus on the fact that they avoided the worst. They’re thankful the situation can be handled quickly. They expect their boss to be reasonable (more on expectation in an upcoming post). And they aren’t being a drama queen about their clothes.
Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Sure, option two sounds great, but it’s completely unrealistic. No one thinks that way.” And you would be right. Almost everyone would respond with thinking similar to the first option. However, happy people would gradually shift their thinking about the incident over the next 5-20 minutes until it was much closer to option two, while less happy people would just focus on all the negative things about the situation. This distinction makes a huge difference in the rest of your day.
We all know people who would let a flat tire ruin their day, and we all know people who would just handle the situation and then move on. If you want to be happy, you need to make an effort to put yourself in the latter camp. Happy people are not happy on accident and they aren’t just lucky. Bad stuff happens to everyone. The difference is in how you respond to adversity.
Only you control your own happiness. Since no one but you gets to peek inside your brain, only you know how you are framing your thoughts. Believe me, I know it’s easy to fall into the “Poor me. Everything bad happens to me. I have terrible luck. Waaahhh,” state of mind. It’s a lot easier to think that you have no control over your happiness and that good or bad things just happen, and they determine how happy you are. But that is total bullshit. There are tons of stories out there about people who have lost everything, but remain positive and hopeful. People who became disabled, lost loved ones, lost homes, and yet they are still upbeat.
The point I’m trying to make here is that if you want to be happy, but aren’t, you are the only one holding you back. Realizing that you are the only person in charge of your own happiness is the first step to becoming a happier person. And, man, is it an empowering one!
It’s how we think and our expectations that make us happy. I know it’s not always easy to look on the bright side. I also know that Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you want to be happier, you need to start trying to look for silver linings. Look for the best in bad situations. If nothing else, just try focusing less on the negative things in your life. Everyone thinks negative thoughts. Happy people have just found a way to spend less time dwelling on them. So try taking baby steps. The next time you get sad or angry about something, ask yourself, “How could this have been worse?” And be glad it wasn’t.
Have you ever been in a bad situation that you were able to spin in a positive direction? Do you have any tips or tricks for changing bad thought patterns?