“Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.” Albert Schweitzer
I am happy to report that after much searching I have at long last found the key to happiness. Well at least I’ve unlocked my personal definition of contentment and I’m happy to share it. It wasn’t long ago I believed happiness could be found only after I’d reach certain goals. The problem with that logic was that when a goal was met there were always others to strive for. If I failed to fulfill a certain wish did that mean I was doomed to eternal despair?
Needless to say, the allure of happiness was always behind the next bend further down the road. I developed the notion that only certain “special” people with good luck, good fortune or good genes could be truly happy. It took several decades of living in the negative thinking trap to comprehend and more importantly believe the concept that happiness is simply a choice, regardless of my current circumstances.
As a young girl my mother frequently told me the subconscious mind is “dumb” and as such will believe whatever is suggested to it. At the time I doubted her wisdom because for some reason it always seemed easier and more natural to believe in the bad rather than the good. I continued to feed my subconscious-and for that matter my conscious mind-with truckloads of unhappy thoughts.
“What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” Colette
For many years I was a bona fide jump-to-the-worst-conclusion negative thinker, covered with emotionally malignant worrywarts. Negative thinking was like a cancer; it kept growing and contaminating my mental, emotional and spiritual state. I believe it finally attacked me physically at age 36, when I was diagnosed with a stage one breast cancer. According to the medical odds, I was not a likely candidate for the disease. In large part I attribute my breast cancer to how I coped with the negative events in my life.
I was in the midst of an unwanted divorce at the time my parents died. The unhealthy ways in which I chose to cope with my pain taught me the magnitude of the impact the mind can have on the body. I worried constantly and was full of anger, fear and resentment. I dealt with my unhappiness by drinking excessive amounts of vodka and smoking cigarettes. I was living in negativity and sadly was unaware of it. Even after surviving the breast cancer ordeal, it took me several more years to fully comprehend the serious and potentially deadly consequences of living in the negative.
Today I understand it’s my attitude, not my specific circumstances that will determine how I feel. If I choose to embrace a positive attitude I will eventually feel better. If I am willing to look for the good, I will find some. Trite as it may sound, I believe my happiness can be found simply by adjusting my attitude so I see the glass half full rather than half empty.
The book Happiness is a Choice (copyright 1991, Ballantine Books) offers sound advice for achieving happiness. Author Barry Neil Kaufman suggests the following:
- Make happiness the priority.
- Accept your personal authenticity the freedom to be yourself.
- Let go of judgment’s and embrace people and situations.
- Be present by learning to discard regrets about the past and worries about the future.
- Be grateful by appreciating specific people and events even during hard times.
- Decide to be happy by recognizing your capacity to choose your beliefs and feelings and taking responsibility for your responses to people and situations.
When those worst case scenarios start creeping into my thoughts and want to take over my beliefs, I have trained myself to at least consider the opposite possibility or best case scenario. At first my cynical mind predictably wants to dismiss the positive prospect. But overtime I’ve learned that not everything in my life has to go wrong. I can admit there’s at least a possibility things will turn out well. I’ve also learned that if I want to life my spirits, a sure guarantee is to help someone else.
I guess you could say I’ve turned into sort of a positive skeptic. That’s a vast improvement over my old negative cynic. Holding on to regret and resentment will never bring me joy.
My mother was right again. My subconscious is dumb. My former father-in-law used to moan and say cheer up, things will get worse. Unfortunately his forecast of gloom and doom was probably accurate. Whatever I choose to believe becomes my truth.
Karen Gaskell is a freelance writer.