Are you happy?
Though many will respond with a resounding yes, there are a number of people who will undoubtedly reply negatively or say, "It depends on the day" or "I am not sure" or "Maybe, but what do you mean by happiness?"
This essay is particularly for those people who are not seeing the brighter side of life.
Living in my seventh decade and serving students and their parents for five of those seven decades, I have collected some thoughts on happiness and how to achieve it.
I think of happiness as a general sense of contentment and satisfaction with life. There will be times of sadness and upset, as well as exaltation and pure joy. These are the spikes of life.
Despite the spikes, which make life interesting and particularly meaningful, we are still looking for the steady line assuring us that the various parts of our life are in balance and that we are in harmony with our environment.
I think you can achieve happiness in the six following ways:
1. Accept that life is fantastic. "Rejoice in wonders daily shown," as one hymnal states.
Life is so multi-faceted and interesting, from the birth of a child to the budding of a flower, that it is important to take a moment from time to time to look at the world with simple joy and be grateful that you are a part of it.
If you believe you are on this earth only once, then your mission should not only be to survive, but to learn about life in all its manifestations as much as you are able.
Exploring and engaging life not only prevents boredom, but also enhances significantly the chances of being happy.
2. Accept that life is a challenge. Death, failure, imperfection, and change are conditions of life. A death of a loved one; a job failure; the fact that you, a partner, or your parents are not perfect, and the inevitability of change are conditions that have to be recognized and accepted.
You have to accept the ebb and flow of life and adjust accordingly. That is life's order, and if that order is recognized and accepted, then you have no need to fight life, get angry, and think that you have been dealt a bad hand.
As life unfolds, try not to take it all so personally. And remember, you grow from struggle and self-examination.
3. Take control of your life. Abraham Lincoln said, "Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." You can control your mind to stop negative thoughts.
It is important to take a positive attitude regarding people and events. It is best to search for the good in people, not what is wrong with them.
You cannot put a positive spin on everything that happens to you, but finding the lessons from experience allows you to move forward.
It is essential to let bygones be bygones. You cannot let a negative experience in your past control you in the present.
You control your past, not vice versa. You control the choices you make, including the people you associate with.
Spend time with people who are optimistic and affirm life and who appreciate you for who you are.
Do not associate with people who belittle you and who see life as a downer.
You control your actions. Smile, and people will smile back. Say something nice, do a good deed, and people will return the favor.
Like being a good musician or athlete, being positive takes practice. And being positive will not come easily for some people; discipline is required.
4. Be yourself and accept who you are. You are unique. You need to be who you are. You have a niche, a place in the world.
Accept that there will be fits and starts in finding that niche and allow others to help you along the way.
But don't let others define you. Be yourself. Being yourself also implies you recognize that no matter what your age, there will always be the child within you, and that sense of playfulness and sense of wonder about the world should never be denied.
"To thine own self be true." Follow your conscience; don't do things that do not feel right to you. Learn how to say "no" graciously. You need to recognize and accept the uniqueness in others. We all have aggravating idiosyncrasies; accepting those in others will allow others to accept yours.
5. Don't worry. There are problems in your life that can be tackled. Worrying is only useful if it leads to a decision for action to solve a problem. Otherwise, worrying is not worth the effort, particularly if you have no control over the situation. If a problem is not resolved with one action, then make another decision. Rather than complaining to someone, it is better to state the problem and ask if they can help you solve it.
Seek help if you are stuck or feel trapped. Two heads are better than one.
Instead of worrying about matters in which you have no control, remember the phrase, "And this too shall pass."
6. Do more of what you like to do. What excites you, gets your juices going? Playing with the kids, seeing friends and catching up, helping another person solve a problem, being involved in your religious community, focusing on a hobby, or providing support for someone in need?
Spend more time on what gives you pleasure and less time on things that don't. And some last thoughts: Love is an essential ingredient to achieve happiness, hopefully obtained through family and friends.
Caring for others is love in action. If one is alone, getting a pet can do wonders.
If you are not happy, it may be due to the fact that certain neurotransmitters like serotonin are not in balance. A doctor can advise you in this regard and recommend treatment that can include dietary change, nutritional supplements, and/or prescribed drugs. Happiness is obtainable, no question.
I humbly believe if you want to be a happier person, following the steps above will help. Happy 2004 and beyond!
Phineas Anderson is head of school at Maumee Valley Country Day School.