Your Happiness, and Your Responsibility
If it's going to be, it's up to me.
Posted Oct 10, 2018
Way back in February of 2013, when I first started this blog, I shared five power principles that people would be wise to adopt if they wanted to experience happiness in life. Perhaps the most important of these is: “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.”
Why do I say this? Well, for two reasons. One, as I asserted back then, nobody – absolutely nobody! – is put on this earth to make you happy. For sure, your parents had the job early on, but once you reached adulthood, it became yours and no one else's.
The second reason is that you have to make the effort to find happiness. Happiness doesn’t just float through the air searching you out so that, once you are spotted, it descends upon and inhabits you. It’s an inner experience that you would be wise to nurture through your own effort and actions.
So, to be happy, as with any result you might want in your life, you must do what’s necessary to make that happen. Only doing what’s necessary will produce the result of happiness – not wishing, hoping, or even praying.
I do a demonstration in my happiness seminars to illustrate this point. Holding a pencil in the palm of my hand, I give an audience volunteer the instructions to “try to take the pencil from my hand.” It never fails that he quickly snatches the pencil as if I were going to pull it away at the last second, leaving him grasping air.
Inevitably the audience chuckles, whereupon I ask: “Did he follow my instructions?”
Most people nod “yes,” but typically some discerning participant will say, “No, you told him to try to take the pencil, not take it.”
“That’s right,” I say. Turning back to the volunteer, I more explicitly instruct him to “try with all his might to take the pencil, but this time don’t take it.”
The volunteer commences to grimace, strain, and grunt, but does not take the pencil. Then I ask the whole group: “What happens with the pencil as a result of trying?”
“Nothing!” they thunder.
“Yes,” I say, and with that, I tell the volunteer to take the pencil from my hand. Once he does, I deliver the bottom line: “The only thing that produces a result is doing what’s necessary to produce that result; you have to absolutely do whatever it takes to produce any results you want.”
To experience happiness in your life, you must absolutely do what’s necessary to make that happen. Here, then, are ten tips that can get you started on the road to happiness. The first five are cognitive or attitudinal, the next five are behavioral.
- Get Real. No one can experience happiness all the time. Every day will bring hassles and frustrations that will elbow out happiness. Don’t be perfectionistic. Allow yourself to feel unhappy at times as a normal part of everybody’s life.
- Have Hope. You may be unhappy, but you are not a special case in the universe such that you cannot find happiness. If you work at it, you too can and will succeed. If you’re unable to experience it on your own because of intruding emotional problems, consult with a mental health professional who can help you eliminate whatever it is that blocks your ability to be happy and adopt strategies that can help you build happiness into your life.
- Focus on Pleasure. Picture happiness as being the middle third of an Egyptian pyramid. The bottom third of the pyramid, the most voluminous part, represents pleasure, and the top third, the part with the least volume, represents joy. Rather than focusing on occupying the middle third, happiness, or the upper third, joy, put your effort to bring about daily enjoyment at the lower third, pleasure. The more pleasure you bring to every day of your life, the more likely you are to label yourself as being happy overall; the more days you find yourself happy, the more likely you are to find periods of joy.
- One Day At a Time. One day at a time is one of the most valuable concepts in addiction recovery. After all, facing decades of sobriety can be daunting and overwhelming to anyone, but abstaining just today can be manageable. The same is true of happiness. Set your goal to find fun, pleasure, and happiness just today. Then worry about tomorrow when it comes. That seems more workable, doesn’t it?
- Take Personal Responsibility. Personal responsibility means that you unequivocally hold that you are 100 percent responsible for producing your desired results, no matter how hard it may be. Remember: You always have a choice to do or not to do, and you are always the chooser of the choice you choose. This is a hard pill to swallow as many difficult circumstances can arise that make it difficult to choose what’s in your best interest. But, once you accept responsibility for your choices, you empower yourself to make the choices you need, despite the fact that it may be difficult in the short run.
- Never Criticize Your Self. What I mean by this is that you, your self, are not equal to what you do. While you may indeed act badly and would be wise to acknowledge that bad action, never generalize about and criticize the whole of you, your whole self, for acting that way. You, your self, are not all bad for acting badly, worthless for acting worthlessly, a failure for failing at something. To say it in spiritual terms, you may damn your sins, but never your whole self for committing these sins.
- Acknowledge Your Good Deeds. It’s so easy to expect yourself to do the right thing, thereby making your missteps stand out. This is a mistake. While it is good to acknowledge your errors, as they provide a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow, take special pains to pat yourself on the back for your good deeds. I go so far as to suggest that you take a few minutes before bedtime to note at least three positive things you did that day.
- Build In Daily Pleasure. Today is the only day that you know for sure that you’ll ever have. How silly it is for you to keep your nose bent to the grindstone all day, or, even worse, mope all day. Take care to schedule at least one pleasurable activity into each day. The more, the merrier. If you want to be bold, also make sure to have something special to look forward to in the future – a dinner out with a loved one, a concert to attend, a weekend at the beach or in the mountains.
- Practice Gratitude. What we focus on plays a large role in our mood. Unhappy people often focus on what goes wrong in their lives, the failings and fallibilities of other people, what they do wrong. No wonder their mood is so sour. Without ignoring what goes wrong, make it a practice to start each day noting what is good in your life: What do I have in my life that I can be thankful for? What opportunities do I have today to experience fun and pleasure? Who do I love that also loves me? With whom can I make a positive contribution today? What can I learn today that might be of interest or of value? By asking these questions and more importantly answering them, you can focus on the positive, thereby bringing about a rewarding mood.
- Be Generous. Ebenezer Scrooge is the poster child for the happiness benefit of generosity. After an intervention by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, he transformed the next day from a wretched, miserable miser into a joyous font of givingness. He thereby enriched his life beyond measure. So too can you. Every day provides multiple opportunities to practice generosity. It starts with the people you live with, then goes to friends and colleagues with whom you regularly relate to, and finally extends to those you encounter on an accidental basis. Make it a habit to give as many smiles, thank you’s, compliments, pats on the back, even hugs each day. Notice the reactions of the recipients. Soon you will reap the pleasures and even happiness.
So there you have it. If you’re going to experience happiness in life, you’re going to have to purposely put in the time and effort. In this blog, I’ve offered five cognitive/attitudinal perspectives that set the stage, then five behaviors that can move you forward. Please adopt each of them as your own.
One last word of advice. If you unfortunately experience serious emotional unhappiness or depression, anxiety, anger, or any number of substance or behavioral disorders, please see a competent mental health professional. This person can help you relieve these sufferings so that you can then go about the building of your own happiness.
Until my next post, live healthy, happy, and with passion.
Russell Grieger, Ph.D. is the author of Unrelenting Drive; Marriage On Purpose; and The Serious Business of Being Happy (in preparation). Contact him at grieger[at]cstone.net