Family/CommunicationPeopleReflectionJanuary 23, 20150Present Happiness

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Last week, in the Atlanta air­port, I had enough time for a real meal (vs. some­thing grabbed from the food court).  So I went into a TGIF and was greet­ed by the host­ess.  As she led me to my table, she asked, “How are you today?”

I said, “I’m fan­tas­ti­cal­ly good (which was true).  How about you?”

She turned and smiled at me, com­plete­ly gen­uine, and said, “If I were any hap­pi­er, I’d have to be twins.” Then she ges­tured me to my table and told me that my wait­ress would be right with me, and walked away.

My first thought: What a great line — I’m steal­ing that; so hap­py, one body can bare­ly con­tain it!  My sec­ond thought: How won­der­ful that she feels that way.

My third thought: Yet again, I’m remind­ed that hap­pi­ness and con­tent­ment are inde­pen­dent of cir­cum­stances. And I decid­ed to write some­thing to you about that.

I believe that most peo­ple who are unhap­py or dis­con­tent­ed think that it’s because of their cir­cum­stances.  If I only had a bet­ter job, they say to them­selves, I’d be hap­py. Or maybe it’s if I were only bet­ter look­ing, or younger, or rich­er, or more famous, or married.

In fact, I bet there are a lot of peo­ple work­ing as host­esses at TGIFs around the coun­try think­ing to them­selves, If it weren’t for this crap­py job, I’d be hap­py.  And yet, here is this love­ly woman in Atlanta, hostess­ing at a TGIF, so hap­py she shares her hap­pi­ness with per­fect strangers.

What if hap­pi­ness is not pri­mar­i­ly a func­tion of cre­at­ing some mag­i­cal set of cir­cum­stances (right home, car, job, spouse, weight, shoes, etc…) that “makes you hap­py,” but is rather large­ly inde­pen­dent of cir­cum­stances?  If that’s true, it’s actu­al­ly very lib­er­at­ing.  It means you can be hap­py by virtue of man­ag­ing your inter­nal men­tal and emo­tion­al land­scape — over which you have almost total con­trol.  In the beau­ti­ful­ly sim­ple words of Abra­ham Lincoln:

“Most folks are as hap­py as they make up their minds to be.”

Eas­i­er said than done, you might be think­ing.  If I’m not hap­py, how can I just “make up my mind to be hap­py”?  As it turns out, there are a cou­ple of sim­ple, prac­ti­cal, things you can do to get hap­pi­er. And one of them you can start doing right this minute.

Folks who study the sources of hap­pi­ness have done a great deal of research over the past decade or so that points to the con­clu­sion that peo­ple who are grate­ful are hap­py.  That’s right, grat­i­tude pret­ty much equals hap­pi­ness. So, how do you feel more grateful?

Start by think­ing of some­thing — a per­son, a pos­ses­sion, a capa­bil­i­ty, a sit­u­a­tion — that you feel thank­ful for hav­ing in your life.  Think about why you’re glad you have that thing in your life.  For exam­ple, maybe you’re grate­ful for you best friend because she’s such a good lis­ten­er.  Or maybe you’re glad that your apart­ment is in a qui­et build­ing.  Or you’re thank­ful that your health is good.  Now, one at a time, think of four oth­er things you’re grate­ful for. Reflect on each one for a few moments: think about what it brings to your life. Let your­self feel thank­ful for it.

Feel hap­pi­er?

When peo­ple do this kind of ‘grat­i­tude train­ing,’ researchers often have them fill out ques­tion­naires, before and after the train­ing, designed to mea­sure their over­all lev­els of hap­pi­ness and con­tent­ment.  They don’t tell the sub­jects that the grat­i­tude train­ing is sup­posed to make them more hap­py.  And yet, almost with­out excep­tion, the test sub­jects report that they are hap­pi­er after com­plet­ing the train­ing than before — inde­pen­dent of whether any of the cir­cum­stances in their lives have changed.

I love the idea that we are the mas­ters of our own hap­pi­ness; I’ve expe­ri­enced it large­ly to be true.  And I’ve also seen that being hap­py is the best place to begin, no mat­ter what you’re try­ing to accom­plish in your life.  If you’re hap­py, you’ll be clear­er, more hope­ful, more resilient, more col­lab­o­ra­tive, and more focused.

So, rather than assum­ing you’ll be hap­py if you get that big­ger job, or house, or pay­check — be hap­py now, and you’ll be bet­ter able to accom­plish what­ev­er is tru­ly impor­tant to you. 

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