Ask the first ten people you see on the street what they want most from life, and eight of them would say “I just want to be happy.” They may or may not know exactly how they would define “happiness,” but they could tell you why other people are responsible for keeping them from having it.
Our search for happiness often finds us pointing to external or future events. “I’ll be happy if I lost 20 pounds.” “I’ll be happy when I win the lottery.” “I’ll be happy when my husband finishes the yurt in our backyard so my mother-in-law can get the hell out of my kitchen.”
When I meet people who seem to be chronically angry, I often wonder if they’re ever happy, or if they wake up smiling, but quickly shift gears when someone or something inevitably pisses them off during the day. The people who claim to “just want to be happy” are the same ones that go all road rage in the supermarket, stuck behind an elderly woman unintentionally blocking the aisle while weighing the merits of Aunt Jemima vs. Mrs. Butterworth, or who are cheerful in the morning until they discover that Puddles, the family cat, peed on the couch again, at which point the entire family (including Puddles) has to scramble for cover.
“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be,” Abraham Lincoln. I love this. Happiness is more often a choice than an event. You choose happiness when you:
Think of yourself less. You can’t be the bride at every wedding or the corpse at every funeral. Some days are just not about you. One of my favorite quotes, from Dr. Phil, says “We’d worry less about what other people think about us if we realized how seldom they do.” Boom.
Slow down. We’re all so conditioned to go, go, go, jamming two days of errands into two hours after work. Our “downtime” is packed with projects that we can’t possibly finish unless we forfeit sleep, bathing, and chocolate. We’re frequently cranky and exhausted, and not only are we not happy, if we see anybody who is, we’re taking them down. It’s time to grab a book and head for the lake for the weekend. Say no to driving all over town to search for limited-edition huckleberry Eggos because your kids saw the commercial and thought they looked cool. Sit down and relax. Pour a large glass of iced tea and binge watch The Voice. You’ll achieve Zen much more quickly when you discover that the world won’t end and your family will survive if dinner is a frozen pizza. (Hint: This also works with wine.)
Learn to say “No.” Toddlers learn this word early. Refusing to do what they don’t want to do frees them up to do the things they do want to do. Those tiny tots might be on to something. How can we make time for activities that make us happy when we’re buried under obligations that aren’t “required,” but that we couldn’t refuse? What’s wrong with “No, I’m not available for that”? Take a lesson from a toddler and practice saying “Raincheck?”
When in doubt, assume the best. If a friend makes a comment or sends you a text that could be taken as a compliment or an insult, choose door #1. “I heard you finally quit smoking. Congratulations!” This could mean “Yeah, right. For the 247th time. Forgive me if I don’t pop the cork on the champagne quite yet.” Or it could mean “Great job! I knew you could do it. Let’s celebrate!” Until you have concrete proof that she meant you’re a loser, choose to put your party dress on. Now you’re both happy.
If you can’t imagine what you did to offend someone, you probably didn’t. “I called a friend today and she was totally non-chatty. She must be mad at me for something, but for the life of me, I don’t know what. But I’m not calling her back.” Everybody else’s life is not always about you. Maybe Hubs overdrew the checking account. Again. Maybe Baxter, her beloved Chi-Wienie, impregnated the award-winning toy poodle down the street and its owner is seriously pissed. Maybe her ex ran off to Bora Bora with her sister. If you honestly can’t pinpoint anything you’ve said or done to upset her, choose to believe it wasn’t you. Then take her a bottle of wine and a shoulder.
Find a tribe of happy, supportive people. The people you spend your time with have a huge influence on your attitudes. Their outlook on life, kids, marriage, money, and self-esteem will often become part of yours. Surround yourself with joyful, compassionate people who regularly remind you of the good in your life. Judgmental, whiny idiots who make you question every decision you make or who generally leave you feeling like crap every time you’re together have no place in your bubble. Let them go, and if they’re reluctant, escort them to the door.
Don’t compare yourself to others. We see homeless people or “people from Walmart,” and we secretly think “Thank God, at least that’s not me.” It makes us feel slightly superior or selectively blessed. Great, until we inevitably compare ourselves to others who are “superior” or more blessed than us. 19-year-olds making millions of dollars playing football. Questionably talented Reality TV stars living in multi-million dollar homes. The billionaire’s stunning daughter, who inherited the CEO position of a Fortune 500 company at age 30. So on any given day, God loves us more than a homeless person, but not as much as a baby CEO? STOP. Just…Stop.
Set aside time for fun. All work and no play is no fun. Humans need fun. We need to laugh. We need to try new things and succeed. Or try them and fail gloriously. But, like sex, sometimes fun gets shoved behind bills, kids, work, the marriage, the yard, the dog, and finding out what that moldy smell in the bathroom means. So have fun. Be happy. This one is all about you. And it’s all good.