I overheard a conversation the other day that saddened my heart more than I can say. An attractive, apparently healthy and intelligent young man was lamenting to his friend the elusiveness of “happy”. To illustrate his point he mentioned he worked in a dead-end, entry level job, rented a home that wasn’t his, had no significant other and no prospects. He had no meaning in his life, no particular reason to keep slogging through.
Generally, I am a rather peaceful person, slow to anger. For reasons I will examine later, this particular issue makes my blood boil. I wanted to run over to this guy and shake him, screaming in his face about how lucky he was, and enumerate the many reasons even I – a perfect stranger – could find for him to be happy. Not even just “happy” but JOYFUL. ‘There doesn’t have to be some big meaning to life,’ I wanted to yell at the top of my volume. And then remind him quietly that, perhaps, the point of this existence he finds so sad and mundane, is simply to find the joy in the gift of LIVING.
My deep-seated aversion to conflict and meddling in the lives of others kept me from making good on my surface level desire, but their conversation and my would-have-been response rolled around in my mind for days. It’s the same thing that I’d like to say to the beautiful souls in my life who truly believe that if they just won the lottery, they’d be happy. The same thing I’d like to say to the millionaire who is the saddest and loneliest they’ve ever been. The same thing I’d like to say to the person playing disc-golf and complaining about the rich living on their high horses on the Hill.
You’re heard it before. And you’re going to hate me for saying it. Ready?
Happiness IS a CHOICE. Happiness is a perspective of gratitude. That’s it. The key to happiness summed up in two (well, technically three) words. A perspective of gratitude. The person living in a cardboard box under the bridge would find tremendous happiness in your pb&j sandwich, they would think they had hit the lottery to live in your simple rented house, they would think they had the world by the tail if they could work five days a week in an entry level job and have a car and a warm place to call home and groceries in the fridge.
Now, I’m not saying that we should all settle for the “getting by” versions of our lives. In fact, quite the opposite; I think we should all be working to better ourselves and therefore our situations. I also, however, believe that those little computers we all have humming along up there in our skulls are fully programmable and will “see” and “feel” whatever it is we tell them to.
See garbage and dog poo. Feel shitty. See bright skies and blooming flowers. Feel sunny. In both cases you may be simply walking through the park but making your experience a “happy” one is really as easy as telling your mind where to look.
Personally, I’m exhausted and saddened by the whining and complaining about lives that aren’t that bad! AND, lives we have COMPLETE control over. Seriously. No, of course you can’t control whether or not you win the lottery, but you can control your mind, and that’s really where all of what you perceive as emotion exists. Tell your brain to see the good in your life, and in the world, and it will. Tell it to shut the heck up when it drifts to the bad in your life and in the world, and make it see something good. Instead of long lists of things to complain about, make long, beautiful lists of all the wonderful things you have to be grateful for.
I sat there thinking about what I wanted say to this man, and wondering why I have such a passionate reaction to this kind of thing and then I remembered, and felt silly that I’d really rather forgotten… I was blessed with something many people don’t get, and I needed to have compassion.
I knew the accident had gifted me a lot of things. For whatever reason, though, it hadn’t really occurred to me how profoundly I was impacted until I watched this attractive young man and his friend walk away. There had been a time – not that long ago even – when I had thought life itself was exhausting and wondered what was the point. And then not long after, I was faced with wondering whether or not I would be wheelchair bound for the rest of my life, at 27 years old. Wild, overwhelming ‘happiness’ had come when I stood on my own legs for the first time, even as I was washed over with incredible pain for the effort. Happiness had come when I had finally been able to leave the walker behind and bear enough weight on my legs to climb the stairs to my apartment and move back home. Happiness had come when I had successfully walked to the top of the Boulevard near my apartment for the first time even though I collapsed in pain and exhaustion at the end. Happiness had brought me to tears the first time I rode my bicycle down that same road and smelled lilacs blooming in celebration of Spring.
We all have to live through really hard, terrible things. You already have, and yours is no different than mine. Perhaps what we need is to find gratitude for the very things that seem the hardest in our lives, and celebrate with wild enthusiasm the things we have to be grateful for each day. Perhaps that practice will give us something else to be grateful for – because a life of gratitude is a life of happiness, and that is a beautiful life to live. It’s all there. A beautiful, happy life is waiting for you, random stranger, and all you have to do to get it, is change your mind.