By the time you read this, no matter what day it is, I will have already laughed at least once. If it’s late in the day, I’ve probably laughed several times.
I am a happy person.
I am also in debt. I am nearing my mid-40’s and I have no life savings and no “retirement plan”. I write novels, which means I have about a .5% chance of ever making a decent income. Wait, I indie publish, so cut that chance in half. My husband and I do not own a house, we regularly uproot, move, and change jobs. There is little stability in our existence. As we both age and our overly-abused, post-stunt career bodies begin to fail, our options to earn an income diminish. We have no children, which means that whatever happens to us, we’re on our own. Our future, really, doesn’t look all that promising. Even so…
I am a happy person.
Why? How does a person “become” happy? What is the secret?
I’m leery of all “self-help” programs, in general, but The Secret is the worst of the bunch. I cannot read statements like these…
“Remember that your thoughts are the primary cause of everything.”
“You will attract everything that you require. If it’s money you need you will attract it. If it’s people you need you’ll attract it.”
“Those who speak most of illness have illness, those who speak most of prosperity have it…”
…without wanting to force the author onto a plane and leave her in Afghanistan with a note that says, “Good luck and happy thinking!” Along with its first-world-centric, victim-blaming rhetoric, what I loathe about The Secret is the complete dismissal of one important and eternal fact:
Life is not fair.
It isn’t. It really isn’t. We do not live in a meritocracy. Good things happen to bad people, bad things happen to good people. There are lazy, witless jerkwads who will spend their lives stumbling from one lucky coincidence to the next, and there are hardworking, ethical, positive people who will face only obstacles and never see their dreams realized. All the laws of attraction in the world can’t undo the law of unfairness, for it is a random, uncontrollable law.
What a downer, right? Nope.
You can still be happy, genuinely happy, without wish-thinking health and wealth into your life. In fact, I say you can be happier if you let go of the idea of control completely. I’m not suggesting you give up on your goals or, more generally, give up trying. I am suggesting that you can still enjoy life even when it goes all Mike Tyson, gets you in a corner, and tries to bite off your ear. Because, every now and then, even when all your thoughts are SUPER POSITIVE AND AFFIRMING, for no logical reason, life tries to bite off your ear.
So here are my own little rules for being happy. Ignore them all or have them printed on a t-shirt, either way, it’s your life.
1. Make Yourself Laugh
If you’re waiting around for something to make you smile, you might be waiting a long time and some days you won’t smile at all. Find things that make you laugh and use them every day. Every. Single. Day. I joke about my penchant for funny cat videos but there’s more to my habit than just a need to cleanse my brain palette every now and then as I work. I know what kind of things make me laugh. Cats doing funny things or cats involved in funny things tops the list.
Cats on treadmills…
Cats diving into boxes…
I watch. I laugh. I feel good. It’s nothing more complicated than that. Where the magical magicness comes in is when you make yourself laugh every day, more than once a day. It becomes a habit. Your body starts to expect it. You actually start laughing more easily and more often. You become addicted to the happy.
2. Do Nice Things
By now, you’re probably thinking Holy crap, this is the silliest list of fluff I’ve ever read and I’m only on item two! Look, as much as we want things for ourselves, the real secret is that doing things for other people can be far more satisfying. You’ve heard of Random Acts of Kindness? I suggest these don’t have to be done on any grand scale – say something nice to the clerk at the grocery store check-out, drop a quarter into someone else’s parking meter, smile and say hello to a passing stranger.
Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own. ~ Robert A. Heinlein
There is a catch. (Isn’t there always a catch?)
You won’t get the full benefit of this rule until you learn to do nice things and expect nothing in return. Generosity for the sake of generosity. Taking a shift for a co-worker who needs a day off and then getting your nose out of joint when they don’t do the same for you won’t cut it. So choose your nice deeds wisely.
3. Be Okay With Being a Human
Being human means being flawed. Physically, emotionally, psychologically, we are all far from perfect. I distrust any advice that suggests otherwise. Sometimes, we need to be sad, or angry, or confused. Despite our best intentions, we make mistakes, let people down, let ourselves down. We fail. We break hearts and have our hearts broken. We lose people we love. This is all part of being human. We need the dark as much as we need the light.
It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace. ~ Chuck Palahniuk Diary
I am a happy person because I’ve been a sad person. I’ve been to that place where everything feels hopeless and grey and it’s all you can do to get out of bed in the morning. Because I’ve been there, I know how good here is, and I have room to empathize for those who suffer. My happiness is magnified by the absence of sadness.
Don’t beat yourself up if you’re in a bad place. Hunker down, do what you have to do. We’ll be here for you when you come back.
5. Move Your Booty
Let’s not say the “E” word, because I know how much some people hate it. I’m going to call it movement, and it can be walking, dancing, yoga-ing, skipping, competitive Twister, you name it. Whatever kind of movement you can do, that you like to do, do it. Our bodies feel good when we move, and when our bodies feel good, our brains feel good.
Moving can happen anywhere, no gym membership required. Ask my husband about my silly dancing. Yep, I dance. I dance alone, I dance while I’m making dinner, I dance when Prez is sorting fishing tackle. It’s a few minutes out of my day, it doesn’t cost me anything, and I’m usually grinning like an idiot when I’m done.
Crank this one up and see if you don’t feel like doing your own happy dance…
6. Add Don’t Subtract
A lot of people think that making a positive change in their lives means they have to stop doing negative things.
- I need to stop drinking coffee.
- I need to stop sleeping in so late.
- I need to stop eating fattening food.
- I need to stop smoking.
Okay, you really should stop smoking. But I digress…
Start thinking in terms of adding good things to your life. If you like drinking coffee, then quitting is going to feel like punishment, even if you believe it’s a bad habit.
My trick? I try to always add positive things to my life. What happens from there is weird. Reading more books broadens my mind and makes me less inclined to waste my time with TV. Going for a run naturally makes my body crave good fuel, so I eat less crap. Planning something I love to do in the morning makes me WANT to get up early.
Add these positive things slowly, start small. Big change usually happens because of thousands of small changes, not because you wake up one day and, (thanks to your SUPER POSITIVE WISH-THINKING), decide you are going to be a completely different person.
7. Get New Glasses
What is the lens through which you view the world? This is the hardest step and some of you reading this aren’t ready for it because it involves being unflinchingly honest about who you are, and facing your biases and prejudices.
As I said at the beginning, there is one immutable fact: Life is not fair.
In your life, you are going to see and experience things that are unfair. Some, such as gender equality or environmental issues, you can actively work to change. Others, such as fatal illnesses or natural disasters, you can only accept and deal with as best you can. In the case of the Things We Can’t Change, our happiness depends on internal factors, and that boils down to how we look at the world.
Is the world out to get us? Or does the world, with its random acts of tragedy, simply exist and we occasionally get caught in the wrong place at the worst time?
Do you think, “Why is this happening to me?” or “This is happening and it happens to be happening to me.”
To be a happy person, I suggest it must be the latter. Sure, we all have moments of frustration, but in the big picture you need to have a sense that we’re all just tiny pieces of a very large puzzle.
I heard a wonderful, true story not long ago… but long ago enough that I’ve forgotten who told it and most of the details. The Premise of the story, however, is that two people visited a Buddhist temple in ______(?), in the middle of monsoon season. Crossing an open area during a deluge, the first person found a man with an umbrella. Huddling underneath, he complained, “Ugh, this weather is terrible!” The man with the umbrella looked up, and saw the second person leaping from stone to stone, to avoid the massive puddles, with a huge grin on her face. “Isn’t this delightful!” she exclaimed, as she made it to the umbrella.
The moral is pretty obvious: Two people in the same situation but with two ways of seeing it. No one’s thoughts caused the rain. Is the rainstorm terrible or delightful for you? What I’m getting at is simply that you will never be able to control all of the external world. If your happiness is dependent on things you can control, then you’re going to be at the mercy of fate, no matter what thoughts you send out to the universe.
Try on some new glasses. See if you can make the rainstorm delightful, if only for a few moments.
Once you feel you are going in the right direction, it doesn’t matter if the road is long or short. ~ Mattieu Ricard
I’m not going to patronize you. My “rules” are just things I do that seem to work for me. YMMV and all that. But happiness can be cultivated, and it’s worth the effort. There is no “secret” there is only a desire to smile and laugh more, no matter what the world throws at you.
Here are some other links to happiness:
Or, you could always start by popping over to the Warpworld Comms and reading about our Women of Character. Today, featuring a Dam Good Woman, mechanical engineer, Amy Marcoux.
(Rule #8, don’t be afraid to shamelessly promote other happy people!)
Until next time, I hope this finds you HAPPY, healthy and lovin’ life!