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Who & Why
Happiness consists more in small conveniences or
pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of
good fortune that happen but seldom to a man in the
course of his life.
Benjamin Franklin


Shortly after my last column was posted I received an astonishing amount
of feedback about Happiness Is A Choice. The third, and most difficult, path
that seems to ultimately hold the key to lasting happiness, mentioned by
Viktor Frankl in his amazing book
Man’s Search For Meaning, baffles
many people.

Life is more complicated and happiness is more elusive for people than
ever before. Until you understand the power of your mind to absolutely
determine the quality of your life, happiness will remain elusive. But as I
learned long ago in the School of Hard Knocks:
Happiness is an inside job. Period.

I think it is helpful to first define what I mean by happiness in order to figure
out how to attain it. Happiness is not a La La Land state of intense, giddy
joy that keeps you spinning on some kind of kinetic high as you bounce
around with a goofy grin, hugging your fellow man. True happiness is more
of a calm feeling, a general state of well-being. When you are a truly happy
person, you find satisfaction in the way you live, despite life’s ups and
downs. You experience joy, sadness, upset, grief, anger – the full spectrum
of human emotion. It is entirely normal for a happy person to feel all of
those feelings because happiness is a general state of being, not a single
emotion. As you may have noticed with emotions, they can change many
times in a day.
It is the underlying state of being that matters
most.
If your foundation is stable and strong, you can weather just about
anything that rocks your boat.

How do you get there? I believe that the answer is both simple and complex.
First,
decide that you are going to be happy. Every single day.
Life is full of obstacles, and suffering seems to be an unavoidable aspect of
the human experience. Because of this, we all need to develop survival
strategies but, more than that, we need a sense of enjoyment and
contentment in our lives. After all, barring some disaster, we are here for
the long-haul.

So here are a few ideas that have helped me along the way. You may have
a few of your own; whatever works is what matters.

1.        
Acknowledge a power greater than yourself.  This
concept works whether the religion you follow is traditional, alternative,
agnosticism, or atheism (because it is a belief system, in sociological terms,
atheism is also a religion). It is probably the most important thing that you
can do. In 12-Step programs, which are designed to help all people, no
matter what they believe, there is an emphasis on understanding that this
can be anything more powerful than you. For many people, this means
God. Some refer to a Higher Power. For others, it can be something in
nature, such as earthquakes, tidal waves, the ocean, etc. I grew up in
Oklahoma, where tornadoes rule, appearing suddenly with enough force to
tear up buildings, carry cows and cars for miles, tear roofs off of houses or
demolish them entirely. That is certainly much more powerful than I am, or
anyone else that I know. Understanding that there are things more powerful
than we are, and surrendering to that idea, relieves us of the burden of
feeling we must control everything around us. That need to control
undermines and prevents happiness. Give it up.

2.        
Practice the “attitude of gratitude.” In other words, count
your blessings and do it often. As I reviewed my own path, I attempted to
write down some of the experiences that led me to where I am today. I never
finished.
It just does not matter anymore. Why? Because it is in the
past; my life today, with all of its ups and downs, is very rich and satisfying.
A sense of perspective is helpful here. Consider this:
 Every day that
you are free of those things that once hurt you is a
wonderful day.
Every single one of them, regardless of how many years
pass. I am certain that Viktor Frankl would agree, as the time he spent in
concentration camps receded further and further into the past. Consider
this analogy: We all appreciate water when we are thirsty. But if we have
been deprived of water for long periods of time, with no end in sight, our
appreciation of water is beyond description; when we finally get it, nothing
has ever tasted sweeter. It’s all about perspective. Develop an
attitude
of gratitude
for the good things in your life and keep those thoughts in
the foreground. It is absolutely your choice. Appreciating and counting your
blessings, in lieu of feeling sorry for yourself, generates warm, contented
feelings.

3.        
Find meaning in your life. Here we return to Viktor Frankl in
Man’s Search for Meaning, for his strategies enabled his survival in a
situation where, as he put it, “the odds of surviving…were no more than
one in twenty-eight, as can be easily verified by exact statistics (Frankl,
1985, p. 137).”  Frankl posits three different ways to find meaning in life
(see Happiness Is A Choice, January 2007).  The third way, through
unavoidable suffering, is not listed because suffering is essential to
creating meaning in life. It is always preferable to avoid suffering, if you can.
But if you can’t, then to find meaning in life,
you must somehow
alchemize that suffering so that it is transformed into
something positive; you must change your attitude toward
it, and find what good can come of it.
Frankl, stuck as he was
inside a concentration camp, saw that, in itself, living to escape the camp
did not give meaning to survival. He realized that the time had come to live
his ideas, especially since he could no longer write about them. It was
through this decision that Frankl found meaning; he lived to uplift those
around him in any way he could. He gave up scraps of food to those who
were weaker. On several occasions, he gave up his place on work details,
which promised a better life for workers, to someone whose need was
greater, even though he himself longed for a better life. Over and over,
Frankl made helping others his focus; he noticed that, as bleak as life was
in the concentration camps, he experienced a sense of fulfillment in doing
this. He was needed, and his will to survive was bolstered. Later on, as he
analyzed his experiences in the camps, he noted that those who lived for
something greater than themselves and their own needs were the ones who
most often survived. Their goals gave their lives meaning; it was paramount
that they survive in order to accomplish that very important thing they felt
needed to be done for someone else’s good.

Learning how to be a happier person is only one tiny piece in an overall
self-improvement program. However, it is probably the most important place
to begin, as a happy person has so much more to contribute to life, and to
others, than an unhappy person.

Decide upon awakening to be happy, each and every day; acknowledge
that Higher Power in your life, whatever that may be; practice an attitude of
gratitude, and find ways to bring meaning into your life. Above all, seek to
transform your suffering into something meaningful that brings good to
others. All of this will, of course, keep you very busy. But somewhere, in
there, a little happiness will start sneaking in.

Be ready!



Coming next month........  
The Second Path to Happiness; The Meaning of Love.

Click to explore other articles by Holly Whitman

Please feel free to email questions or comments to Holly Whitman at
HollyWhitman@housewifemafia.com

Or share your thoughts in our guest book!
Happiness Is A
Choice, Continued:
The Third Path
COPYRIGHT February 2007 Holly Whitman
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