I have been thinking a lot about happiness of late, partially because so many people seem unhappy. I think that was my first epiphany upon entering the world of Social Media; people are unhappy and there are a lot of them. Now don’t get me wrong, we all know some people who wouldn’t be happy, were they not unhappy but I am not talking about them. We will just let them be. I am also not thinking theologically here (i.e. juxtaposing happiness and joy), today I am going to err on the practical and pragmatic side of things. With that being said, let’s get going.
I think most people want to be happy; they are just not quite sure how to get there from their present location. Many people honestly believe that happiness is a lucky bounce; a sunny disposition or favorable circumstances but I disagree. Happiness is a choice. I believe the best route to happiness is found by following the footsteps of those who have already arrived.
Here are my observations on the topic that have been formed by watching happy people for decades.
- Focus on what you have and not on what you don’t Unhappy people are unthankful people. The practice of counting your blessings is a great start. Get out a legal pad and write down all the good things in your life. Often unhappiness sneaks in when we lose sight of all the good things in our life and become focused on one or two difficult things.
- Question the sources of your expectations Most unhappy people want things they don’t have…and they want them bad. Are these expectations realistic? Who is selling them to you? I hope not the media. Having a miserable existence because you are not living into a pipe dream, is really tragic.
- Be Generous Study after study has come to the same conclusion. Selfish people are miserable. Happy people give of their time and resources to a cause greater than themselves.
- Remember happiness is not a destination The happiest people I know are those least conscious of their own happiness. Happiness is learning to enjoy the ride, not reaching your destination.
- If you don’t like your life, change it Take control of your own life. Do want to learn to play the piano? Take lessons! Do you regret not getting a college degree? Get one. Do you want to improve your spiritual life? Start going to church. There is really no one holding you back but you.
- Slow down You just can’t smell the roses at a full sprint! If you, like me, are a workaholic type, build time into your Outlook to do nothing. Get a hobby. Enjoy your friends and family. Happy people have learned how to occasionally chill.
- Realize there are no shortcuts If you were honestly disappointed you didn’t win the billion dollar Power Ball, you are not getting it. Getting your education, working hard, putting in the hours, pursuing your dreams, saving and giving are always in style.
- Stop feeling entitled No one owes you anything. Just assume you are not going to get any help, that you will receive no inheritance and that no one is going to give you a break. Now go make your life happen! If anything else comes (and it probably will), it is all bonus!
- Think significance Significance is achieved by leaving the world better than you found it. People who feel their lives really matter are the happiest people of all!
- Forgive Forgiving those who have hurt you, breaks their power over you. Forgiving yourself for your failures, frees you for future success. Ask God to forgive you. Ask those you have hurt to forgive you. Make restitution where you can. Move on.
- A great attitude is a choice, not a disposition We can control our feelings or we can be controlled by them. Happy people CHOOSE to have great attitudes.
- Speak life When you speak, choose words that uplift, encourage and bring positive energy into every situation. My mom was right, “If you don’t have something nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all.” People who speak life are like human air fresheners.
As you begin a new week, you have an opportunity to invest in your own happiness or to make yourself miserable. If you choose the former, you will make others happy as well. If you choose the latter…well, you know.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop is the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois