Choosing to be Happy

Dr. Nicholas Jenner PsyD, MA

There are many things that determine our lives for better or worse. Parents play a huge role of course, our environment, influences, relationships and peers also play a part . Out of this melting pot comes a mixture that either leaves us happy, depressed, seeking constant perfectionism or leading an unfulfilled life doing things that we would rather not. Nothing is perfect and we all have to accept things in a sense of give and take and if we are generally happy most of the time, that is usually enough for most people. A difficult question for many people is how do you know when you have reached a point of contentment where life is as good as it can be?

In our constant search for “something new and better”, do we run the risk of overlooking what we already have and creating thought patterns and beliefs that stop us…

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“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”

“Happiness”. We speak its name as if it’s a wedding vow (acknowledgement to Bob Dylan).

I’m worried that it’s become another compulsory mantra, like diet, “success” (in Western terms – making money).

Please don’t let happiness become compulsory. For then the lack of it will be perceived and felt as failure.

We can create the conditions for happiness – good diet, exercise, mental calm; but if happiness comes it is because of the “Gods”, not something we can “create”, like a slender figure, or money.

Happiness is fleeting but intense and we all want it. It’s a sort of spiritual orgasm. To strive for, but best of all, to be simply remembered, in reflective mode.

I am UNhappy at the current move in our culture to “sell” happiness, or the path to happiness. Such purveyors are charlatans. It is a big ask, but each of us must learn, from living, how to create the conditions for our own happiness. If it comes, it does, if it doesn’t we are not so much poorer. We can be content in our own integrity and the joy and solace we can give to others.

It is in doing those “mundane” things that we have the greatest chance of experiencing happiness. Not, in the Western way, of buying the path to it from a stranger.

What now?

I’ve travelled to many countries in the world.

“Travel broadens the mind” so we are told.

I don’t agree.  Neither Shakespeare, or Jane Austen, or Thomas Hardy travelled outside England, but if you read and understand their works fully, your mind will be broadened.

The main thing I’ve got from my travels is taste of other cultures, both literal and metaphorical, but most of all a realisation that we are all striving for the same things.  Happiness, shelter, food, clothing, and to protect our families and friends.

Sadly, we humans just don’t seem to get it.  We are suspicious of others, and often just downright nasty.  Think wars, torture, holocaust, and general unpleasantness which seems innate.

It seems to me that the first battle we have to fight is with ourselves, not others.  I, like many, have slighted a friend or a stranger.  Sometimes I was just “passing on” a slight I’d received.  Sometimes I was being downright vindictive.  Sometimes I was just thoughtless.  It pains me that those “bad” moments might have had a lasting impression on the recipient.  Perhaps they even changed their behaviour for good.  What a burden to bear.

So please try to remember, as I do now, that your words and actions can hurt not just the other person but many around them.  Like ripples from a pebble thrown into a pond.  And also bear in mind that we are all trying in our clumsy way to achieve a goal that really is very simple.  Namely happiness and fulfilment for us and others, not at the expense of others (there’s still plenty to go round if we are not greedy).

 

What to do when things go wrong.

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Ever had a “bad day”?  Of course you have, we all have.

So how do you cope?  Throw a “sicky”?  Have some drinks? Dive for the duvet?  All coping mechanisms, but they don’t really help do they?

Bad days are dangerous for me as a depressive with suicidal tendencies.

Strangely, it’s not the major incidents which throw me down.  When each of my parents took their lives my reaction (rightly or wrongly) was to disassociate, my mind had a sort of reflex action to protect itself and me.

I’m talking about the relatively minor disappointments and irritations which, for me at any rate, can lead me, like a hypnotist, into a negative, depressive state.  Once I’m there I am a danger to myself.

So I began to figure out what was going on – and how to stop it.  Because it wasn’t nice to be there, and I didn’t want my family to have to go through the pain I’d suffered as a child having parents and grandparents who had taken their own lives.

I developed techniques to deal with the things which got me down.  You know: the little things. A paper cut. Trouble opening a can or a package.  Meeting work deadlines.  Drivers who seem to think you are invisible and pull straight out in front of you. A kettle that fails just as you are making a cup of tea or coffee for a friend.  That self-stick envelope that just won’t, so you have to find the roll of sellotape and even then you can’t find the bit to pull, so you get a knife to cut the damned thing – only you cut your finger.

I have found that an accumulation of these “little” things can really drag me down.  I call it the “kindle effect”.  You know, light one little bit and then add another, and before you know it you’ve got a fire that could burn down a warehouse.

If you have read this far chances are that you know what I mean.  So as a reward (!) here are my techniques for dealing with the bad days.  They work for me, I hope they work for you.

Don’t take it personally.  The kettle/toaster/car/whatever do not have minds and therefore have no capacity for malice. (Unlike humans).  If they fail, that is simply a fact.  It is no reflection on you.  Don’t fall into the trap of letting inanimate objects judge you and control you.  A car that fails to start is just that. Kicking it won’t make it start ( well, not often.)  What we tend to do in these situations is to project our frustrations onto things.  We instinctively think that doing that will make us feel better.  It never does.  Recognise the inanimate and accept that nothing lasts forever and that includes inanimate objects.

Tell your friends and family.  Sharing with other humans is a great solace.  We’ve all been there, had similar experiences and are treading the same path.  You’ll get it off your chest and might also get some good advice, e.g. have you tried  “x” or “I know a great mechanic/engineer” or whatever.  You are never alone and sharing irritations is a wonderful opportunity to discover how true that is.

It will pass.  Irritation, anger, negative and even positive moods always do.  This is a really powerful bit of awareness.  Wait, and even if the solution doesn’t come to you, the bad feelings will drop away.  Try it.

Let’s go back to the “kindle effect”.  So, shit has happened, and seems to keep on happening.  But hey!  You are in control of your own destiny so you can turn that around.  Light some positive sticks.  Ok, the car is bust and you can’t get to work, or wherever.  What  a fantastic opportunity to indulge yourself!  Try simple things to begin with.  Listen to music, read a book watch TV, do some gardening – whatever requires little effort but produces great rewards.  After even 15 minutes I guarantee that you’ll be thinking:  “How fantastic that things didn’t work today, I am really loving re-connecting with myself”

Pretty quickly your mood will shift from negative to positive and you will then see everything in perspective.  Congratulate yourself. You have just learned that nothing in life is certain or perfect but it doesn’t matter, because you can cope with it all and learn from life’s little vicissitudes  – which is part of living  a positive, full, and richly rewarding, life. 

Well done you!

 

 

 

“Box on!”

 

A phrase that I heard when I was a child and which has, not only stayed in my memory, but defined my life.

 

The story is, that a boy at a school took part in boxing lessons and practice.  Why, we don’t know.  In any case it’s irrelevant.  It seems that the boy was not very good at the art of boxing, but he was very determined.  Every time he took a punch, or was winded, and once or twice ko’d he’d hear his coach say:”Box On!”.  And he did.

 

That’s it.  A short anecdote, but a powerful one.  I don’t know what happened to that boy, but I assume that he never became a champion – not as a boxer anyway.  But determination and the ability to keep on going are skills that can be used in all areas of life.

 

Never give up.  Strive for what you believe is right.  Have faith in yourself.  In short:

“Box on!”