Think for a moment about the people you most admire in your life. To whom are you drawn? Usually it’s the joyful ones who smile, laugh, compliment others and radiate happiness.
I CREATE MY OWN HAPPINESS
Happiness is all about focus. Whatever you focus on pulls you in that direction, either negative or positive. So the secret to happiness is to choose to focus on the positive in life, no matter what. Abraham Lincoln said, “Folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” I’d say President Lincoln was an expert at creating his own happiness, wouldn’t you? Time and time again, that amazing man refused to let failure keep him from success.
Clinton, age 35, from Balga, Western Australia, is another extraordinary man. Although stricken with severe cerebral palsy, Clinton shares his joyful heart freely. When asked how he keeps going through the tough times he answered, “I always thought positive thoughts, I always have a happy outlook on life, and I always pray to God.”
How can we focus on the positive? Exactly what do we think that helps us create happiness? Here are several ideas.
Instead of looking at what you don’t have, pay attention to what you do have and to the good things about your life.
For example, when you begin to think thoughts like: Man, I wish I had a car like that! Just catch yourself and think, Hey, no matter how fast his car can go, the speed limit is 65 for all of us! My car is great, and I’m OK.
Another one: She is so gorgeous! I’ll never look like her because I was born with a shape like a pear! Again, stop and think, I’m so glad I’m healthy. I like my life and every day I’m making it better and better!
Dale Carnegie once remarked, “Happiness doesn’t depend on outward conditions. It depends on inner conditions. It isn’t what we have or who we are, or what we are doing that makes us happy or unhappy. It’s what we think about it. For example, two people may be in the same place, doing the same thing, at the same time, and yet one is miserable and the other happy. Why? Because of a different mental attitude.” And that attitude is gratitude.
Mr. Carnegie would enjoy the results of an experiment completed in Washington D.C. by J. Brebner, in 1995: “Happy people and unhappy people explain the world differently. When an unhappy person must interpret the world, 8 in 10 times he or she will see the negative in an event. When a happy person must interpret the world, 8 in 10 times he or she will see the positive.”
That experiment was validated by Teresa, age 39, when she said, “I tried to remove thoughts of being a ’victim’ of my circumstances to that of being a ’student.’ Every time I felt like a victim, I felt sorry for myself and disempowered. When I was able to shift my perspective to being grateful for the lessons I was learning, I was able to shift my mind into feeling positive and hopeful. I believe that pain in life is inevitable, but misery is optional.”
I’d like to share a personal experience that significantly affected my level of gratitude. In May, 2001, I attended the annual conference of the World Movement of Mothers, held that year at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. This marvelous group of women, organized in 1949, has the distinction of being the first non-government organization to influence the policy-making at the United Nations. Their hearts are good and their mission is to honor motherhood and strengthen families worldwide.
At that conference my heart was touched as I listened to stories of women who literally help change the world. The representative from France spoke about character-strengthening classes in their schools. She explained that all French school children learn ethics from their earliest years. Commendable! And the Swedish representative spoke about stay-at-home moms in her country who receive social security when their children are raised. Admirable!
But the woman who changed my perspective forever lives in Mali, West Africa. She courageously stood and described the difficult living conditions in her country. She explained that open sewage runs through her village. And in her village there are dirt floors in the huts, lean-to structures, and caves where they live. What does she do to strengthen families in her country? She buries the dead aids victims and then raises their children. Currently, in her cave, she tenderly nurtures many children.
As I listened, my heart filled with love and empathy for this extraordinary woman, and her story prompted an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for my countless blessings. However, at the same time, I felt ashamed of the many things I take for granted each day of my life. Oh, what a valuable perspective we acquire when we develop an attitude of gratitude!
Offer Loving Kindness
We have all seen the magical effects of love and kindness in our lives and the lives of others. It seems as though the giver is always more blessed than the receiver; for as we love, we are loved and it becomes easier to love.
Mother Teresa said, “Spread love wherever you go. Give love to your husband, your wife, your children, to your next door neighbor. Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness. Kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.”
In the book Heart of Goodness, JoAnne Larsen tells the story of a young nursing school student who buzzed through a test until she came to the last question, which completely stymied her. The question: “What was the first name of the school’s head custodian?” Well, the student didn’t know, nor did anyone else. When asked by a classmate whether the last question would count toward their grade, the professor said, “Absolutely!” teaching the class that, as nurses, they would cross paths with people from every walk of life; all of whom had ultimate value. And, thus, all people were worthy of the nurses’ utmost care and consideration, even if their efforts consisted of a gesture so small as a smile and a greeting. Describing her experience as a lesson never forgotten, the student relates that she still remembers the custodian’s name, which she later learned.
I remember Etienne de Grellet’s words:
I shall pass through this life but once.
Any good, therefore, that I can do
Or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature,
Let me do it now.
Let me not deter or neglect it,
For I shall not pass this way again.
A final thought on creating joy and confidence, from John Wesley:
“Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the souls you can, in every place you can, at all the times you can, and with all the zeal you can, as long as ever you can.”
(Heart of Goodness, 2000, foreword).
~ Dr. Paula