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.

two men holding red heart balloons

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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.

Essentialism

“When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people–our bosses, our colleagues, or clients and even our families–will choose for us and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important.” Greg McKeown, Essentialism

My life is sometimes not my own. It’s my own fault. I have several apartments that I look after. There is always something that needs to checked on or repaired. Tenants have reasons why the rent is late. The short term stay apartment has to be ready at a moment’s notice. There’s always the pool to vacuum, plants to water, decks to wash. It’s never ending. I can go from one task to the next and not stop. The big maintenance projects, well, they’ll just have to wait for another day. If I don’t watch it, my whole day is consumed with solving little things and not getting to or being too tired to start the things that I really need to do as well as things I want to do.

Life is like that. We go from one thing to the next and one task to the next without really thinking about it: I have to do it. And gradually the day is done and I haven’t accomplished but half of what I wanted to do.  Greg McKeown in his book Essentialism suggests that if we are going to get to do what we really want then we must begin by deciding what is important to us. What is it that I value? What am I trying to accomplish here? What are my goals and where do I want them to take me?

Few people take the time to sit down and make this evaluation. As it often goes, we spend 80% of our time doing things that are not important to us, not essential,  and 20% of our time, if that, doing what is. Everyone will ask us for our time and our talents. There are always going to be little fires to put out here and there. It would probably be a better solution to discover the source of those little fires in the first place.

Essentialism often means saying, ‘No!’ I can’t be everything to everyone. Yes I want to be the nice guy and help out but if it’s not important to me and if it’s not my responsibility, I have to ask myself, just why I am doing this? If it is taking my focus away from my priorities then I can say no to joining yet another committee, or going organizing another office function. And yes, the first time I give a firm no! I may ruffle a few feathers, especially if I have always been the one to say yes. But sticking to the essentials will allow me to use more of my time to on my priorities.

I would rather do one thing well than divide my attention and try to do several things just okay. Perhaps that’s the reason why I am running around trying to solve a whole lot of little problems. Rather than let work, friends, and even family decide where I want to focus my energy, I purposefully and deliberately choose where I will focus my energy.

Essentialism won’t solve all the challenges in life. There will always be things that broadside us when we least expect them. But if we have the majority of our lives organized then the chances of it knocking us of our balance are much less. In the end it will help me to accomplish much more.

What’s important to you?

Commit to Your Journey

Happy New Year!

I was going to write a rather lengthy article about time for today, but I decided against it: For many of us, we were up late last night celebrating. Even if we don’t imbibe, the lack of sleep from one night affects our concentration. So I would like to offer some thoughts on commitment.

I am grateful for many things I have learned in recovery. One of the greatest is that I can start again. If I fall, I can get back up. If I fail, I can pick up where I left off. If I am having a lousy day, I can do a reset. I never have to accept that I am down for the count, because I’m not. Even on my worst day in life I can sit down, take in a few deep breaths and recommit myself. When I open my eyes, I am starting anew. I don’t have to wait for tomorrow to start again, nor the start of the new week, month or even year. Right now! I can recommit myself to my priorities at this moment.

I hear people say that we have to start over again from scratch. We made errors in how we predicted things might turn out. We allowed ourselves to become entrenched in our ego. We let the tribe mentality influence our actions. Do we really start from scratch? No. We carry what we learn with us through to the next lesson in life. This time, because of what we have learned, we can make the changes, or avoid the pitfalls.

There was a popular game when I was in university (yes, long before video games) where you had to move a marble through a maze on platform full of holes by tilting the platform one way or the other to roll the marble along. With each attempt, you learned the moves to make to avoid the holes and make it to the end of the maze. The lesson from the times before taught you which way to tilt the platform to achieve your goal. You were starting over, but never from ‘scratch’.

But how do I keep going if I seem to keep falling into the same ‘hole’ in life? By renewing my commitment. I commit to my recovery on a daily basis. I don’t necessarily know what is around the corner of the labyrinth of life but I know that if I commit daily to my recovery I can learn to avoid the pits that threaten to swallow me up. If I do fall through the pit, I now have experience on what not to do. Once I have learned to avoid one hole, the next time I have to go past it will be that much easier. So while I may be back at the start, I am not strictly speaking, a beginner. I can apply the lessons I have learned.

All I have is this moment right now. There is no yesterday, no tomorrow, only now. I commit to this moment. I place my focus on this moment and live it fully. Not by a long shot am I always successful at this. I continue to fall, to crawl along the ground for a bit and gradually find the courage to stand again and keep on walking on my journey.

Stick with your priorities. Commit to your journey daily. Start again whenever you need to knowing that your destination will always wait for you to arrive.

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