The Happiness Factor

Everyone goes through dark times: loss, illness, disappointment, rejection—universal experiences in our journey through life. Happiness, however, is another matter. It is much prized, but what is it? A mind-set, a condition, something reserved for the few and out of reach for most? And how does a person find it, or do it?

We like Abraham Lincoln’s thought on the subject: “People are just as happy as they choose to be.” Perhaps you’ve decided that wherever you are in your life is okay; or, perhaps you’re doing whatever you can to be someplace else. True happiness assumes that you can have dreams while still having a toehold in reality, and further, that you can be content with what you have rather than constantly feeling compelled to compete for more.

But in our consumption-driven society, the thrust of the economic engine is to convince us that we need more, and the prevailing message is that we’ll be happier, sexier, smarter, and hipper if we have more. Unfortunately, that focus is actually the enemy of happiness, because the root of greed is “every man for himself”—which is also the root of disconnection and loneliness. The cost of the fear and anxiety that brings is very high. We’d be better off focusing more on sharing, and helping our children learn to share, and understanding that we’re all connected.

We’d like to make the following suggestions for contributing to your own happiness:

  1. Disengage from fear-mongers and the onslaught of experts and talking heads filling airtime and print-space.
  2. Realize that pessimistic possibilities become probabilities the more often they’re repeated as facts; don’t confuse possibility with probability.
  3. Look at the truth of what’s really under your control in your world; know that the only person you can change is you.
  4. Make an inventory of what you have in your life; nothing is too small to be included.
  5. Practice gratitude for life and what you have.
  6. Treat people as you wish to be treated; it encourages reciprocity.
  7. Make every interaction an example of your humanity.
  8. Resist the temptation to see people as more or less; we’re equal.

Try to imagine at the end of your life’s journey, as the world and its conceits fall away, what will seem important—what will stay with you. It is highly unlikely that you’ll be dwelling on more, bigger/better, if only… Imagine what would be the image, the memory you’d take with you. We’ve witnessed the peace and grace that comes with acceptance at the end of life. The secret of happiness may well be to learn from that wisdom: to practice, during our lifetimes, acceptance and gratitude for what is, while at the same time striving to learn, grow, and change what we can, beginning with ourselves. We can choose to be happy.

Barbara & Oliver

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