Happiness is My Choice

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” John Lennon

I just finished reading a book called “Happiness is a Choice You Make,” by John Leland. He’s a journalist who followed six elders for a year. Through interviews he gained a great deal of insight into what keeps these people alive in spite of the many challenges of aging. Leland shares what he learned as a result: that happiness is a choice.

When I look outside myself for happiness I will probably never find it. Happiness that is linked to something outside of myself doesn’t last. If I tell myself that I’ll be happy when I get a new car. If only I get to go on that vacation I can be happy. Or when I finally publish that book I will be happy. What happens when the car gets old, the vacation is over or the book stops selling? Sorry to say, you probably won’t find happiness.

What our elders can teach us is that we find happiness when we choose it. In spite of the pain, the losses, the changes and the uncertainty of the future, the wisdom of old age demonstrates that it is up to us. Despite our problems, we can be happy. They don’t have to prevent us from being content right now, in this moment. Happiness is the choice of those who accept what is happening around them and move along through life with a positive attitude. Add a good dose of ‘selective forgetfulness’ and you’ll find a way of life that is pleasant regardless of storms raging around us.

The lesson was to find happiness not in the absence of pain and loss, but in their acceptance.” John Leland

The mind will always be able to find reasons not to be happy. Is dissatisfaction our ‘go-to’ way of thinking? Perhaps that’s how we were raised. No one will deny that inventions and changes have been the result of this dissatisfaction with the way things are. But perhaps I can be accepting of the way things are and still work to change the things I can.

There will always be things that I can focus upon that will bring me down: politics, violence, poverty, weather. However, I can also acknowledge their existence without letting it send me into a depression. So, in spite of these things, I choose to be happy. I choose to focus on the present, the gift of today. Yesterday may not have been so good, but that doesn’t mean that today can’t bring many gifts.

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The key to life, as John Lennon said, is happiness. And while the aged many have fewer moments in their future that I do, tomorrow isn’t guaranteed for anyone. It is up to me to use happiness as the key to open the door to a life which is full of happiness, joy and freedom. It’s my choice to make. I choose happiness.

Terminally Unique

I, like many others who arrive at the doors of recovery rooms, was suffering from a belief that went far beyond my addiction and was at the root of what was killing me. It was a belief that went deep and in many ways was the source of all of the problems that I was encountering in life. I arrived with the disease of ‘Terminal Uniqueness’.

I thought that I was unique. I believed that I was different. I knew that no one else had the challenges that I faced. I was convinced that if anyone else had been bombarded by the set of circumstances that I found myself in, they too would have found a way to escape this prison by over indulging in some sort of ‘medication’ to treat this disease.

Of course I ended up in recovery. I was sure I was the only white, gay, ex-catholic, male, farm boy from Southern Ontario that had ever been born. I had some lower back pain issues. I had a partner who didn’t understand me. I was depressed. I felt I was powerless over my situation and so, of course, I deserved some compensation for all of these difficulties. Getting loaded was my way of dealing with all of those things. I needed some relief from all of the things that were constantly prodding at my mind.

It took going through the Twelve Steps of recovery to allow me to see that I wasn’t ‘unique’ or ‘different’. I came to see that my ‘terminal uniqueness’ was another deadly form of Ego disease. I realized that I hadn’t accepted the package that made me who I was. Thinking I was different was my ego telling me to run away from all that I was instead of embracing it. My problems weren’t connected to my sexuality, my religion, or my environment. My problem was me and my solution was acceptance.

Recovery has helped me to face myself honestly, without judgement and without expectation. I have a garden variety addiction. My story is very similar to the stories of the other folks around the meeting tables. Some dove deeper into their addiction than I did but the result was the same and here we all sit. I learned to dig below the surface to see my past for what it was.  I learned to accept my story, my past. I learned to embrace the person I was discovering, perhaps for the first time.

Today I focus on gratitude. I am learning to be grateful that I have all of those qualities that I had been running away from. I have come to understand that I can’t change my past or those qualities, nor to I want to. They are part of my make-up and they are something to celebrate rather than escape from. My ego is a bit tamer these days. Oh, I still fall into the trap of thinking that I can’t make it through whatever I am going through. But, I have survived every challenge that has ever come my way. How do I know? I am still here.

I have learned that accepting what happens as ‘life’, makes it neither positive or negative. I live my life on life’s terms, not mine and that allows me to remember that I can and will make it through.

And for that I am eternally grateful.

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Tough Times; Times of Growth

I brought a friend home from the hospital yesterday. She had the fourth operation on her back to replace a spinal disc with one made of titanium. It’s part of a series of replaced discs that will allow her to continue to live independently and pain free–once it heals. Until then she will have to go through a lot of pain and three months of recuperation. However, had she not had the operation, she would go through many more months of pain and suffering with no guarantee that the spinal column might be completely severed by the shifting vertebrae. Kind of a hard spot to be in, especially having gone through it three times previously.

A few things come to mind. First, sometimes we have to endure a great deal in order to make it through the present challenge. It may be physical, mental or spiritual pain that we are enduring. And like any change, it brings discomfort and few of us relish being uncomfortable. But we must keep our eyes on the end result to help us keep our sanity. If all goes well, in three months, or however long this challenge should last, life will establish a new normal. We’ll find a new comfort zone and hopefully the pain we experienced will be a memory and we can be grateful to have lived through the experience.

Second, I am struck by the difficulty in accepting help when we are so used to being independent. I was thinking this morning that we all know that infants and elderly need our assistance. But I think that we must remember that all of us are dependent on everyone else. I can’t do it all, and I never could. I rely on the ‘kindness of strangers,’ as well as that of my family and friends. I needed people when I was going through difficult times in my life and I need them to share the wonderful times as well. When we share our interdependence, we help to balance out the good times with the challenging ones. I willingly assist you and later you assist me.

Third, no one likes to give up control. Placing ourselves into the power of another is very difficult for many people. I want to control what is happening to me. Yet, there are times, such as going under the scalpel of a surgeon, or getting strapped into the seat of a jet that we do give up complete control of our lives. But we usually don’t do this on a whim. The people upon whom we rely are trained professionals. There still are risks, but they are minimized by their experience.

All of these three: passing through an ordeal, relying on others and giving up control all are part of trust: trusting others, trusting the process and trusting life. And they have to do with taming our egos as well. ‘I can’t do it all and I never could,’ is a good lesson to practice once in a while. It is also a lesson that we survive everything that comes our way. It may not be the manner in the which we had envisioned or in the time frame that we were hoping for, but we get through it. I am reminded of the character in the movie ‘The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel’ in which the young entrepreneur says “It will all work out in the end. If it’s not working out, it’s not the end.” Whatever it is, you will make it through.

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