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.

What Do You Want?

“The indispensable first step to getting the things you want in life is this: decide what you want.” Ben Stein

When I first began my journey in recovery, I had a pretty good idea of what I didn’t want in life. I had enough of the guilt and shame. I was over feeling foggy in the mornings and  depressed most of my day. Self-pity was my constant companion in my isolation. I was, as they say, sick and tired of being sick and tired.

My first decision upon arriving at recovery, was to get off this merry-go-round and stay off of it.  This journey into recovery has lead me to many other decisions. These decisions have created a new life, one that does bring me a great deal of happiness, joy and freedom.

architecture black and white challenge chance

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But I had to decide. I couldn’t stop my disease and continue to indulge it. I couldn’t continue consuming and be in recovery at the same time. Making a decision is choosing a door. It’s like you’re in a room with many doors and you’re weighing the pros and cons of each possible door. Staying in the room is not an option: not making a decision is also a decision. If I stay in my indecision of addiction, I am deciding for addiction. Not making a decision is deciding to maintain the status quo. I can’t move forward and stay in the same place. In order to change, I had to decide to change.

Making a decision is walking through a door, closing it behind you and moving forward. It eliminates all of the other possibilities that were available. At first I was frightened. What if I made the wrong decision? What if things don’t turn out the way I think they should? This could all turn out to be a disaster! Or so I thought.

At the moment of my decision, any door would have been an improvement over where I was: stewing in my own filth. I am learning that there are no wrong doors to choose. Each possibility comes with it’s own set of promises and challenges. Each provides an opportunity to learn and grow in life. My decision to open the door to recovery has allowed me to get to know myself, my strengths and weaknesses, my character defects and my attributes. I am no longer stuck; I am moving and growing.

My recovery program allows me to know who I am and where I want to go in life. Every day I am presented with options. I now weigh these options as to whether or not they are moving me toward fulfilling my goals and decide for or against these options. Yes, sometimes my choice could have been wiser. Sometimes I am lead off course. Sometimes I find pain and other times I discovery pleasure. But knowing where I want to go in life allows me to steer toward that goal. Regardless of what happens,  I am learning.

And it all started with a decision.

Pruning and Rejuvenation

When I was in school, yes many moons ago, young Grasshopper, I learned that the cells of our body could regenerate.  That was why when I got a cut it would heal over. I learned that all cells could do this, except neurons. We were born with a certain number and there wouldn’t be any more coming to us. We even joked about it; when we had a night where we had gotten particularly blitzed, we´d say we had burned out a few more brain cells. However, it’s not true. Neurologists tell us now that we do generate new brain cells and continue to do so for all of lives. So, you can teach an old dog a new trick after all.

Neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to reorganize and regenerate itself allows me to make changes to my life. It means that I am not condemned to the same thinking pathways, the same personality or the same Tim as I was when I was born. Change my neurons and I can change my thinking. I don’t have to be the same person I used to be. However, when the new comes in, the old has to move out to make room for it. There’s the rub!

If I have a Higher Power and I have put my will and my life into its care, then I have to allow it to make those changes to me. I have to give up the old Tim and welcome in the new Tim.  Of course, letting go of the old me is easier said than done.

I can see how I have changed since I came into recovery. I am not the same guy that first walked into my first meeting. By working and living the Twelve Steps, I have made major changes in my life and done my best to clean up the damage of my past. I feel I am a better person than before. However, I also feel that my Higher Power isn’t done with me yet. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life just maintaining the status quo. I want to continue to grow. So I have to let go.

I do that, or more honestly, I am trying to do that regularly. In the third step I ask that my Ego be lessened and that I be open to the plethora of possibilities before me. I ask for guidance which I receive via my sponsor and sponsees, through meditation, and by being aware of those serendipitous things which happen around me. I believe that it is important for me to continue to change and grow.

Image result for shrub pruningI am reminded of a particularly pretty flowering shrub I had on a property once. Over the years it had grown fairly wild. It wasn’t very thick, there was a lot of dead wood and it produced few flowers. After a bit of research on it, I follow the advice for a radical pruning and fertilizing schedule. It took a few years but the scrub grew new branches, thickened up and gave an incredible spring show of flowers. Still the same plant, but a completely different result.

So, I ask my Higher Power, in its care of my will and life to do the necessary pruning and fertilization in order to allow me to grow and change. I want new neurons and pathways to grow and create a new and evolving Tim. And it will happen as long as I have open-mindedness and willingness.Image result for rhododendron shrub