"Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be."-Abraham Lincoln
Well put, don’t ya think?
What about you?
How happy are you? Do you think about your happiness? Do you regularly evaluate your life so you can figure out if what you are doing is bringing you closer, or further away from, happiness?
Most people don’t take the time to think about happiness and how what they do in life contributes to it. Instead, they go through life from distraction to distraction without any clear idea or directive of what they are trying to accomplish.
Of course, I’m going to tell you that this is not smart. What I think they should be doing is (audacious, I know), they should be thinking of the most important damn thing in their life: their happiness!
But most don’t because it’s hard and the answers are convoluted, and the target is always moving.
Start asking yourself, “Am I happy?” and “Is what I’m doing making me happy?”
Of course no one ever taught you to do this. Parents, friends and teachers have failed most of us. They tell us to pursue accomplishment, get good grades, follow the rules.
Bullshit. Yes, complete and utter bullshit.
The idea is that if you do these things—the things that others have set as “good for you”—that you will get happiness. Well, guess what? This is a lie.
Happiness is found within. It is a choice. And it is hard to find and figure this out. Hell, it’s hard even when you know what to do, what to look for and what questions to ask.
It’s still freaking hard!
But at least you won’t be spinning your wheels wasting large chunks of your life (and money) trying to appease other people only to find out that you are just as happy or unhappy as you were before.
Like I said, the system is a lie.
We all want to be happy, sure, but humans are notoriously bad at knowing how to go about that. And this is why so many go from external to external with little rhyme or reason. I like to use the analogy of being a pinball in the pinball game of life: people are stuck in an arcade pinball game called "Life" and they bounce from bumper to bumper, with each new bounce whirling them in a completely new direction all while having control or way to stop the game. That’s the reality for most people: a damn pinball stuck in a game.
Listen, I’m not here to preach. I’m just as much a pinball as the next guy (albeit a more aware and trying to get out of the game individual). But this is why I continually invest lot of time and life-experience in trying to be aware of my mental state and my happiness. I’m trying to be objective in pursuing happiness and contentment and purpose. I’m trying to be honest with myself when I’m being an idiot, or when I’m pursuing something that’s probably not going to fulfill me. Am I perfect? Duh, we both know the answer to that question.
The things that have worked most for me in becoming less of a “pinball” is: seeking self-awareness and questioning myself.
First, I try to be as self-aware as possible. Without awareness of myself, questioning myself is mostly a waste of time.You need to have some kind of baseline understanding of your past traumas and how they affect you, as well as your tendencies in the form of biases and beliefs. One way to work on becoming more self-aware is to get in the habit of asking yourself questions as often as possible. The more often you open up the dialogue between your conscious and subconscious self, the more you’ll learn about yourself. Then, you can start doing this with your past.
Awareness and questions have a cumulative, synergistic effect; becoming self-aware begets asking yourself more questions, and asking yourself more questions develops more self-awareness.
A great thing about this is couplet is, both are integral to a happy life.
Ask questions, seek to understand yourself and do everything you can to become self-aware.
What’s Your Philosophy?
As Seneca wrote to his friend Lucilius (source: Seneca: Letters from a Stoic), “It is clear to you, I am sure, Lucilius, that no man can live a happy life, or even a supportable life, without the study of wisdom; you know also that a happy life is reached when our wisdom is brought to completion, but that life is at least endurable even when our wisdom is only begun. This idea, however, clear though it is, must be strengthened and implanted more deeply by daily reflection; it is more important for you to keep the resolutions you have already made than to go on and make noble ones.”
Philosophy has many definitions, many of which are dependent on the person defining the word. For me, philosophy is the study of logic for the purpose of creating the best outcome for the Self. The more you understand logic and the Self, the less you fret over things you cannot control (as Epictetus, and the other Stoics, recommend) because you see how illogical this is. When you can apply logic to what you know about the Self, you have a powerful philosophical operating system for life.
Why would you want a powerful philosophy for life? It’s simple: because you want happiness and fulfillment. Without a philosophy of life, gaining either is impossible.
(And those that do become happy and fulfilled, whether they realize it or not, have developed a philosophy for life.)
While the rest of the world lives under the illusion that they can control things outside of their control—and thus becoming miserable when things don’t go their way—the philosopher knows better. He does not suffer the way others suffer. He does put his tranquility into the hands of things outside of his control, but instead makes it his personal responsibility to accept things as they happen while investing energy only into things that are in his power to control—like emotions, thoughts and right-actions. Because of this, he is free and happy because he chooses to be.
What the Stoics (and other philosophers) have long since realized is this: one is only happy if he or she choose to be, which is based on accepting personal responsibility for that choice. Things outside of your control are hollow and fleeting. If you put your happiness in things outside of your control, like fame, power, money, success, other people, relationships, etc., you are setting yourself up for a lot of misery and pain. Why is this? Because these things are fleeting and not within your control. You cannot control the external world and anything in it.
The external world will do what it will do and there’s nothing you can do about it. One way or another, all external things will eventually escape you. It’s one of the harsh realities of the human existence. The way to win is to be happy regardless of external things—which has the added benefit of granting you more enjoyment of those externals when you do have them while also protecting you from the pain that will come from their inevitable loss. The point is not to not feel, it is to feel logically: to feel with the understanding and appreciation that what you feel for will eventually leave you.
Many think the Stoics were cold and void of emotion, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is, the Stoics were full of life and joy because they used the facts of life—death and loss—to their advantage. When you know something can—will—be taken from you, you will appreciate it more. Instead of being ungrateful and always wanting something “new and shinny,” the Stoics trained themselves to see the beauty in the things they had. They moved from a “scarcity” mindset to an “abundance” mindset—which basically means they choose to be grateful instead of not.
I could go on and on about how all this is the secret to a happy life, but I don’t have time here. Take my word for it: Happiness comes from within!
Now, I’m going to leave you with a simple daily practice that will help you appreciate what you have instead of focusing on what you don’t. It’s called gratitude.
Your daily Gratitude practice:
Every morning and night, write down 5 things you are grateful for. As you do, feel the gratitude inside you. Let it fill you up.
The more you do this practice, the more it will seep into your life. You will start becoming more appreciative and grateful for everything in your life. You will see how pointless and futile it is to fret over things you can’t control. Practice gratitude enough, and after a while, you will be addicted to being happy and grateful. Form there, your life is forever changed.
Gratitude can literally reprogram your brain chemistry. Just do it!
Do not take this daily practice lightly: It can and will change your life. I hope you find gratitude practice as awesome as I have.
Grateful to you for reading this,