“A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.” – Hugh Downs
HOW OFTEN do you hear somebody say, “I’ll be happy when I have lost weight/won the lottery/moved house/found a new job/partner” or whatever?
We all have friends who have a bad situation in their life – maybe they are in a job they hate or they never have any money. How often does that happen to them? Have they moved jobs four or five times, only to find themselves in the same situation, or something very similar, each time? Each time this happens, they think, “that’s it – I can’t cope with this job any more; I have to get out”, but each time once they make that new start, they end up right back where they were before and start looking for something new once again.
When we are looking for something new in our lives, it is not necessarily the thing or the goal itself that we want – we want it for a particular purpose; how it will make us feel. People often employ the following somewhat unuseful strategy in an attempt to find happiness: being unhappy in the moment; going after something which they believe will make them happy, and being unhappy in the process of not having it. If they do actually achieve it then they are happy for a short while before repeating the strategy over again.
Happiness is actually a state of mind, rather than a goal in itself. Believe it or not, we do actually have a conscious control over our own state of mind; you can choose to be happy right now, in this moment – that is your decision. No person or event actually has the power to “make” you feel any particular way – we react to situations because of the way we perceive them – and in that moment, there is always a choice of how we react; it is our choices that show who we truly are.
There is a lovely story which a friend sent me on e-mail recently which illustrates this perfectly. (I’m afraid I don’t know the original source, so I have changed some of the detail – if anybody does know then I’d be delighted to hear from them so I can accredit it correctly!)
Stephen is the principal of a dental practice in the north of England. He’s from Australia, and he’s always in a good mood. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would always reply: “If I were any better, I would be twins!”
Many of the staff at his previous practice left their jobs when he bought his own practice, so that they could come to work for him, because Stephen was a natural motivator. If one of his staff was having a bad day, Stephen was always there, telling them how to look on the positive side of the situation.
When asked about his attitude to life and how he managed to maintain his positivity, Stephen replied, “Every morning I wake up and say to myself, I have two choices today. I can choose to be in a good mood or I can choose to be in a bad mood; I always choose to be in a good mood. If something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or I can choose to learn from it. I always choose to learn from it. Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or I can point out the positive side of the situation. I always choose to see the positive side of life.”
Because life is all about choices. Basically, every situation is a choice; you choose how you react to everything. You choose how people will affect your mood. You choose to be in a good mood or a bad mood; it’s your choice how you live your life.
A few years later, Stephen was in a bad car accident; he’d swerved to avoid a deer on a wet road, lost control of his car and hit a telegraph pole. Luckily, he was found quickly and rushed to the hospital by Air Ambulance. After weeks of intensive care, Stephen was released from the hospital and eventually made it back to work.
Stephen was at a conference about six months after his accident and when asked how he was, he replied, “If I were any better, I’d be twins.” He was then asked what had gone through his mind when he had the accident and Stephen replied, “As they were cutting me out of the car, I remembered that I had two choices: I could choose to live or I could choose to die. I chose to live.” Stephen continued, “The paramedics were great; they kept telling me I was going to be fine. But when they wheeled me into A&E and I saw the expression on the faces of the doctors and nurses, that’s when I got scared. In their eyes, I read, ‘He’s a dead man’. I knew I needed to take action. There was a big nurse shouting questions at me,” said Stephen. “She asked if I was allergic to anything. ‘Yes, to telegraph poles,’ I replied. Over their laughter, I told them, ‘I am choosing to live. Please operate on me as if I am alive, not dead.’”
Stephen lived thanks to the skill of his doctors, and also because of his amazing attitude. We can learn from his story that every day we have the choice to either enjoy life or to hate it.
The only thing that is truly ours – that no one can control or take from us – is our attitude and our state of mind. Once we can learn to control that for ourselves then just imagine what might become possible…
Most of the time the things we are choosing to feel unhappy about are either events from our past or worries and anxieties about our future. If we stop and consider where we are right now, in this moment, then this is the only time it is actually possible to feel happiness (or indeed any emotion!). Now truly is all we have; the past is gone and the future will never arrive.
When we think about the past we are putting our own particular spin on it – seeing it through our own personal set of filters in the shape of our memories, beliefs and values. We delete, distort and generalise the “facts” so that our memory of a particular event may actually bear very little resemblance to another person’s memory of exactly the same event.
The future is merely our own projection of possible events, and we are doing that in the moment. When you remind yourself that it is only possible to be in the now, you release yourself from much of the anxiety and worry.
We can only ever take action in the now; now is the only place where we have the power to act and the only place where we can find fulfilment and joy.
Joanna Taylor is an Accredited Clinical Hypnotherapist, Neurolinguistic Psychotherapist and Certified Trainer of NLP. She provides courses and in-house training in wellbeing, communication skills, stress management and hypnosis for the dental team in addition to psychotherapeutic coaching and therapy.
Contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org