The Path to Happiness Is Straightforward
Happiness is not a happenstance, not a coincidence. It is a state of being, our natural state, which is released when we shed our negative thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and behavior. But how do we shed these impediments? The answer is by becoming the person we want to be. We can guide ourselves to becoming that person by asking ourselves three questions throughout the day.
1. What do I feel like doing now?
The answer may be: going back to bed, watching TV, partying with my friends, eating an ice cream sundae, going shopping, or angrily confronting someone.
2. What could I be doing now that would bring me closer to becoming the person I want to be?
The answer may be: exercising, eliminating junk food from my diet, studying for an exam, preparing for a report or presentation I have to give, volunteering, or taking a course to better myself.
3. What do I choose to do?
This last question is the critical one because I can choose immediate, short-term pleasure or happiness. You see, I will be happy every time I choose to move closer to becoming the person I want to be. Simple, isn’t it? Simple, but not necessarily easy. After all, it does require self-discipline. But anything worthwhile involves some effort, and it is always worth it.
To elaborate on the path to HAPPINESS, I will use each letter of the word to suggest actions that will lead us there.
Because of the length of this article, you may not want to read it through at one sitting. It will be far easier to go through one letter (“H”, “A”, etc.) each day. Besides, by spreading it out over nine days, you will remain focused on the subject, absorb more of the material, and have better retention.
The “H” of HAPPINESS Stands for HOPE
One of our greatest gifts is HOPE, for with it, all things are possible. Without it, nothing. The survival of Nelson Mandela is a dramatic example of the power of hope. Despite his ordeals, he nurtured hope in his heart, and in return hope sustained him.
Hope is a decision or choice we make. We decide to trust life. Because of the inspiring deeds of men and women throughout history, we realize that we have the inner resources to cope with whatever comes our way. Armed with this knowledge, we are filled with hope. Here’s how Lin Yutang (1895~1976) expresses this idea, “Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.” Also, although our personal lives are brief the opportunities offered by life are boundless. This, too, makes us hopeful.
Why should we choose to be hopeful? Here are some reasons:
1. The difference between living with hope and living in fear is like the difference between the life of a hero and the life of a coward. Those who live in fear, refuse to take risks, and wind up settling for a life of mediocrity. But those who live with hope boldly go where their dreams take them, and experience a life of adventure. Is there any question which is the superior choice?
2. Life is synonymous with change. So, any pain or fear that I am experiencing will end, which is a cause to be hopeful. President John F. Kennedy put it this way, “Every area of trouble gives out a ray of hope, and the one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is certain or unchangeable.” Jean Kerr shares the same thought in simpler terms, “Hope is the feeling you have that the feeling you have isn’t permanent.”
3. To live with hope is to be awake or, in the words of Aristotle, “Hope is the dream of a waking man.” On the other hand, “To live without hope is to cease to live.” (Fyodor Dostoevsky) And, according to the Old Testament, “Anyone who is among the living has hope — even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!” (Ecclesiastes 9:4)
One cannot, in my opinion, be awake or aware and not be hopeful and joyful, for as Osho said, “…ignorance means the capacity to ignore. You must be ignoring the birds, the trees, the flowers, the people. Otherwise, life is tremendously beautiful, so absurdly beautiful, that if you can see it as it is you will never stop laughing. You will go on giggling — at least inside. Life is not boring, but mind is boring. And we create such a mind, such a strong mind, like a China Wall around ourselves, that it does not allow life to enter into us. It disconnects us from life. We become isolated, encapsulated, windowless … Put aside your knowledge! And then look with empty eyes … And life is a constant surprise. And I am not talking about some divine life — the ordinary life is so extraordinary. In small incidents you will find the presence of God … Miss the present and you live in boredom. Be in the present and you will be surprised that there is boredom at all.” (*Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, 1931~1990, took the name of Osho in 1989.)
4. Hope sustains us. It provides us with the strength to look for solutions and do whatever is possible or to accept what cannot be changed. It helps us to weather the storm in a sea of uncertainty, and its optimism acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy, washing away problems.
5. “Hope is the best possession. None are completely wretched but those who are without hope.” (William Hazlitt) Once we live with hope, we will be in a position to give it away to others. There’s hardly anything better that we can do for others.
6. Hope is the fuel for action. When we are filled with hope we have a reason to act. But “No hope, no action.” (Peter Levi)
7. Hope is the star that points the way to the path to growth, for we grow not by darting from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope.
8. “He who does not hope to win has already lost.” (Jose Joaquin Olmedo) Those who live with hope win because “The hopeful man sees success where others see failure, sunshine where others see shadows and storm.” (Orison Swett Marden)
9. Patience is a key to success and only the hopeful are patient.
Here are some ways to nurture hope:
1. We need to act in spite of our fears. After all, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” (Ambrose Redmoon)
2. Launch your hope with dreams for the future. “To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.” (Anatole France) And “Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” (George Washington Carver).
3. Do you find yourself less than happy because you are hoping for more possessions? If so, it’s time to reflect on the hopes and dreams of millions of less fortunate people around the globe. They are hoping to eat tomorrow, dreaming of a pair of shoes to help them navigate their rocky terrain, praying for clothing to protect them from the cold, wishing for shelter from the torrential rain or oppressive heat, and pleading for their lives in countries at war. If they find it difficult to be hopeful, they can be excused, but if you’re having a problem remaining hopeful, you need to count your blessings.
4. Don’t hope your problems grow smaller; hope you grow bigger. Don’t hope to receive much more than you already have, but hope to be much more grateful for what you now have.
5. A sure way to sustain hope is by taking care of today. Just follow the directions in this Sanskrit Poem by Kālidāsa: “For yesterday is but a memory and tomorrow is only a vision; but today well lived makes every yesterday a memory of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope.” Carrie Ten Bloom also writes about the importance of today, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of sorrow — it empties today of strength.”
6. St. Francis of Assisi offers this advice for developing hope: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
7. Also, to fan the flames of H.O.P.E., just remember it stands for: Heroism, Optimism, Patience, Enthusiasm.
The “A” of HAPPINESS Stands for ACTION
According to Michael Landon, “Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.” Little did he realize when he said this that he would die so young. He was only 54 when he died of pancreatic cancer on July 1, 1991. Yet, he had already become an accomplished actor, writer, director, and executive producer. He instinctively realized that procrastination is a malignant tumor that prevents us from reaching our full potential. That’s why he was a person of action.
Will we realize, as Michael Landon did, that our progress is blocked, not by what we want to do and can’t, but by what we ought to do and don’t? Those who choose action, choose life, for life expresses itself through action. We can always choose between action and inaction. We can also choose between right and wrong action, between doing good and feeling good. Experience teaches us the less we do, the less we can do, and the more we do, the more we can do. The longer we remain inactive, the harder it becomes to crawl out of the quicksand of inertia. While right action will move us forward, wrong action will take us backward. In other words, inaction leads to paralysis, right action to progress, and wrong action to setbacks.
Helen Keller refused to use her deafness and blindness as excuses for inaction. On the contrary, she said, “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” She understood that if we want to get ahead, we have to get started. Or as Robert Schuller said, “You will never win if you never begin.”
Do you ever get any good ideas? Sure you do! We all do. There’s no shortage of good ideas. But there is a shortage of follow-through. Many of us have brilliant ideas, but fail to act on them. Ideas are impotent unless we breathe life into them. It is our nature to be creative. Unlike the rest of the animal kingdom that copes with what is, only humans create what is not. Airplanes, telephones, TV, computers, and books all came into being through the creative power of humanity. And that power is released by ACTION.
We also create ourselves. We become courageous by acting courageously; compassionate, by acting compassionately, and understanding by acting with understanding. If we are overcome by misfortune, what remedy do we have but to take action? When we are mired in problems, action is the crane that will pull us out. Is our fate sealed by the circumstances we face or by the actions we take under those circumstances?
How can we experience the joy of accomplishment or the exhilaration of victory unless we ACT? Action is our teacher, for we learn by doing. It is through action that we gain control over our destiny by shaping our future and creating our reason for being. Action changes us from a consumer of life to a contributor. Each act we take is another brushstroke on the canvas of our life. How else can we know ourselves but through our own actions? The power to act is the power to create; it is life’s greatest gift to humanity. The universe is life’s unfinished symphony and our acts are the notes that are completing it.
How, then, shall we act? Henri L.Bergson explains, “Think like a man of action, and act like a man of thought.” Because of the weight of our actions upon the world and its inhabitants, we need to think before we act. We need to act with responsibility. And when shall we act? How about some time between yesterday and tomorrow? Don’t wait for the perfect moment to act because the moment is never perfect until your action makes it so.
Each breath we take counts. Each breath sustains life. Action is the breath of our soul. Let each one count. Don’t confuse frivolous activity, or simple motion, with action. Purposeless activity destroys time while action creates it. Robert Louis Stevenson adds the following advice, “Judge each day not by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.”
If you agree that it’s time to act, but find it difficult to get started, consider what Robert J. Mckain has to say: “The common conception is that motivation leads to action, but the reverse is true — action precedes motivation. You have to ‘prime the pump’ and get the juice flowing, which motivates you to work on your goals. Getting momentum going is the most difficult part of the job, and often taking the first step is enough to prompt you to make the best of your day.”
The “P” of HAPPINESS Stands for PLANNING and PREPARATION
Do you believe in destiny or planning and preparation? Do you believe we are puppets controlled by the hands of fate? Is what happens to us preordained? Are we helpless victims hurled about by arbitrary and chaotic circumstances?
Do I believe in preordination? Sure, I do! If I thrust my arm into a boiling kettle of oil, it is “preordained” that I will get badly burned. On the other hand, if I don’t stick my hand in fire, it’s “preordained” I won’t get burned. So, it’s clear that my actions help shape my destiny. Those who choose to ignore the laws of nature, such as the dangers of fire, will suffer the consequences.
But what about disasters such as flash floods, invading armies, job loss because of downsizing, or outbreaks of disease? Aren’t these proof that we have no control over our lives, that we are merely pawns in the hands of fate? Not at all. Destiny is not an isolated event, such as a flash flood, but a direction of movement. Life is a path that leads to our destination. The nature of our destination (success or failure, happiness or misery) depends on which forks in the road we choose to follow.
Destiny, then, is a river, and our plans are the paddle. We can choose the direction in which we move by paddling, even if it means paddling upstream. Because of free will, we can also refuse to paddle. But if we do so, we will be swept away by the tide of events. For this reason, Gilbert K. Chesterton wrote, “I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act.” You see, our actions and plans are seeds that germinate into our destiny.
Our destiny is not determined by the hardships we meet, but by our reactions or responses to them. I may react to a flash flood by growing despondent because of my losses, or I may respond to the flood by starting a basement cleaning business in which I clean up in more ways than one!
There’s no point in bemoaning our fate when disaster strikes. If it’s unavoidable, we have to accept it, for we won’t be ready to move on until we acquiesce. But, as Deng Ming-Dao points out, “Acceptance does not mean fatalism. It does not mean capitulation to some slaughtering predestination. [It means] acting within the framework of circumstance.”
Getting back to my original question, do you believe you are in charge of your own life or are you a victim of circumstances? The question is purely rhetorical because I already know the answer. Of course, you believe you are in charge of your own fate. How do I know? Because we all take pride in and accept credit for our accomplishments. Whenever we are recognized, we do not reject the certificate, award, plaque, or trophy and say, “Oh, no, I cannot accept this because I’m unworthy.” On the contrary, we graciously accept it and thank those who have recognized us. This is proof that we recognize we have control over our lives.
Yet, when we screw up and make a serious mistake, what do we do? Do we say, “Sorry, I wasn’t as careful as I should have been?” No, we are struck by amnesia and conveniently forget our power. Instead of accepting responsibility, we search for scapegoats to blame. “Sorry, boss, I’m late because… (my alarm clock didn’t ring, the bus was late, the snowstorm or traffic accident delayed me — you can fill in the blanks). If we choose to cast blame, we are taking a detour on a path that can lead to a glorious destination. Far better to accept responsibility, learn from our mistakes, and move on. Like William Jennings Bryan, we need to recognize that, “Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice: It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”
The 2nd “P” Stands for PERSERVERANCE and PERSISTANCE
Imagine an extraterrestrial commissioned to visit earth, find intelligent life, and bring one sample back for study. Suppose the alien encountered a baby hippopotamus and a baby human in isolation. What would the alien see? Within five minutes of birth the baby hippo can walk, swim, feed itself, and flee from danger. Compare this with the human baby that cannot crawl, walk, feed itself, or escape from danger. Upon seeing this, which would the alien conclude to be the superior being? Which would he bring back for research?
Like the alien in the story, we often grossly misjudge events. What we deem to be a ‘disaster’ later proves to be a blessing. To avoid making poor decisions, we need to be patient and gather all the facts. We have to stop being rash and start being thoughtful. And once we have decided on the right course of action, we need to persist until we meet success.
Perseverance, also known as persistence, steadfastness, patience, or tenacity, is the ability to hold on to our dream like a pit bull, refusing to let go, regardless of the obstacles. It is one of the secrets of success. After all, if you keep moving toward your goal, never quitting, you will eventually reach it. It’s a simple, but crucial, idea. Arthur Pine expressed it well when he said, “Your biggest break can come from never quitting. Being at the right place at the right time can only happen when you keep moving toward the next opportunity.” No one believed in this principle more than Sir Winston Churchill, who delivered this nine-word commencement address: “Never give up! Never give up! Never give up!”
Perseverance is necessary because anything worthwhile is difficult to do. So, we have to expect roadblocks. When you come to one, smash through it; go around it; burrow under it; jump over it; take a detour; do anything as long as you continue toward your goal. Pretend you’re the Energizer Bunny and just keep going!
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must — but don’t you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up, though the pace seems slow –
You might succeed with another blow.
Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor’s cup.
And he learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.
Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tints of the clouds of doubt—
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—
It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.
The “I” of HAPPINESS Stands for INDUSTRIOUSNESS
Industriousness is about stretching our wings and seeking to surpass ourselves. Without it, life is a bird without wings. We have an innate desire to soar. Like Horace, we wish to say, “I shall strike the stars with my uplifted head.” A willingness to work hard provides the motivation and energy to pursue goals. Without it, nothing will be accomplished.
But working hard is not about competition (other than competing with our past best performance). Rather, it is about self-growth, self-development, self-expression, and self-improvement. It is about shining, not about outshining. We all desire a better life, but it is far greater to desire a better world.
When measured against our vast powers, it would be tragic to go through life with little or no hard work. Yet, some seemingly do. Why is that? It is not because of moral decay, but because of ignorance or ineptitude. It is not because of a lack of ambition as much as it is a lack of self-confidence or a lack of direction. Other factors include the fear of failure or the false belief that the sacrifice required to achieve our dream is greater than we can bear. The good news is all of these weaknesses can be overcome. The disgust we have for failing to live up to our potential can inspire us to change.
1. Lock in on your dream as a missile locks in on a target. Remain focused on it. Always keep it in mind. Take Abe Lincoln, for instance. While still unknown, his friends would hear him frequently say, “Someday I shall be President.” Despite the enormous obstacles he faced and numerous failures he experienced, he remained steadfast. When you can see, taste, feel, smell, and hear your dream in your mind, you will inevitably bring it to pass.
2. Mark Twain offers sage advice, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” In their vain attempt to be great, those who belittle you grow small, so ignore what they have to say.
3. Don’t depend on others. Stand on your own two feet. Don’t be like those who complain, “No one is showing me the way. No one is guiding me. No one is helping me.” Life is not about waiting for answers, but about discovering them on your own. Your true nature is that of an adventurer, so live like one.
4. Good negotiators always ask for more than they wish to receive. This way they can negotiate ‘down’ to what they really want. Take a similar stance when you set your goals. That is, try to achieve far more than you hope for. So, if you fail to obtain it, you will at least achieve your original goal.
5. Acknowledge that sacrifices and effort are necessary to reach your goal, and be willing to do whatever it takes. Or, as Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda said, “When you go in search of honey you must expect to be stung by bees.” True, the path to success is not without pain, but it is without suffering; it is not without effort, but it is with the joy of accomplishment. So, face your fears and don’t be afraid of taking risks.
6. Have a dream, but don’t be a daydreamer. Be a visionary, but don’t dwell in fantasy. Don’t ignore many possible small successes while dreaming of an impossible achievement. Stretch yourself, but not to the extent that your limbs fall off and are made useless.
7. If you’re out of work and can’t find a job you’re qualified for, what do you do? Some people refuse to take low paying jobs and prefer to wait for ‘better’ opportunities. This type of thinking is not a sign of industriousness but of a lack of understanding that opportunity is found everywhere. After all, success is not to be found in a job, but in you. It is an attitude. It is a willingness to make the best of what you have. A friend of mine is an example. He fled his war torn country with his wife and children. Arriving with just a few suitcases and enough money to survive for a short period of time, he took the only job he could find, a low paying one. Today, several years later, he is still earning far less than he would in his native country. Yet, he now lives in his own condo, has a new car and computer, and both children graduated the university and have good jobs. My friend is successful, not in the sense that he has a ‘good’ job, but in the sense that he has accomplished a great deal and is happy. Instinctively he had followed the simple philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson who wrote, “Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing.”
The “N” of HAPPINESS Stands for NOW
The secret of life is to do our best NOW. When we live by this rule, we guarantee a happy past and a successful future. But the trick is to remain in the present. Instead of DREAMING about the past and future, CREATE them by doing your best now!
If you haven’t been living by this rule, don’t worry about it because the past is behind you and you are now living in a new moment of time. You are living in the moment of power. It is only in the present that we have the power to change. And when I change my actions today, I am changing tomorrow’s past. As I continue to do my best each day, I build a new history of past successes, which then combine with the present to bloom into a bright future. If I continue on this path, I will reach the point where I repeat the words of Oprah Winfrey: “When I look into the future, it’s so bright it burns my eyes.”
A reason people live in the past or dream of the future is to avoid present discomfort. Rather than face challenges, difficulties, or pain, they seek refuge in a dream world. So, we need to develop the courage to face all challenges with a smile. It becomes easier to do so when we live one day at a time. These words of Robert Louis Stevenson are worth remembering: “Anyone can carry his burden, however hard, until nightfall. Anyone can do his work, however hard, for one day. Anyone can live sweetly, patiently, lovingly, purely, until the sun goes down. And this is all that life really means.” Marie Osmond also has some sound advice: “If you’re going to be able to look back on something and laugh about it, you might as well laugh about it now.”
Making the most of the past
Instead of wallowing in the past, learn from it. What did you do wrong? Correct your behavior! What did you do right? Keep doing it! Learn from the past with open eyes. Be brutally honest. Learn from what has happened, not from what you imagined has happened. Learn and move on. Use the past as a guidepost, not as a hitching post. Or, as Ivern Ball wrote, “The past should be a springboard, not a hammock.”
Learn to let go of the past. Until you release it, you won’t be free to work on the present. And don’t be afraid of the past. It can’t reach out into the present and bite you. Let the dead rest in peace and focus on the only moment you are alive, which is NOW.
Pondering what might have been wastes as much time as dreaming what might be. The twilight world of speculation is like a dense fog that obscures reality. Leave the past and reengage with life, for that’s where all the excitement is. When you do so, like Emily Dickinson, you will discover “To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.”
Making the most of the future
The future is a magical kingdom. It is pregnant with possibility, promise, and potential. It is the home of hope. The beauty of a flower lies not in its seed, but in its blossoming, not in its past, but in its future. So it is with us. Our most glorious days lie not behind us, but before us, for life is about endless growth.
Also, consider this: no matter how dire your present circumstances, no matter how desperate you may feel, no matter how severe your losses, there is always tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow is a fresh beginning. Tomorrow brings new opportunities. But the promise of tomorrow will never come, unless you persist today. So, the lesson is clear. Weather the storm; survive the gale, and struggle through the tempest. In a word, persevere! Never give up!
Refuse to worry about tomorrow, for to do so is to be unhappy today. Rather than worry about it, prepare for it. Besides, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday, and it didn’t turn out all that bad, did it? Another point: don’t complain about the uncertainty of the future. After all, if you now knew of future successes, you may grow complacent and careless, or if you knew of future difficulties without knowing of future strength, you may grow unnecessarily despondent. It’s perfectly natural to be interested in the future since that’s where you’ll spend the rest of your life. But prepare for it by doing your best today and every day that follows.
The “E” of HAPPINESS Stands for ENTHUSIASM and EXUBERANCE
Enthusiasm, like the gasoline in the tank of our car, will take us where we wish to go. But when we turbocharge it, enthusiasm transforms into exuberance. An all-consuming exuberance provides the drive and commitment to succeed.
A person without enthusiasm or exuberance has no more value than a candle without a flame or fire without light. By exuberance I mean zeal, fiery enthusiasm, or fervor. It is the force that relentlessly drives one forward. It is a burning desire that creates commitment to a person, project, or to life itself. A world without exuberance is a world without Mother Teresa, Mozart, or Michelangelo. Every great endeavor has been fueled by it.
The opposite of enthusiasm is indifference. A society in which no one cares about their job or country is on the verge of collapse. Exuberance is the motor that propels us to our destination and the glue that binds our society together. However, not all enthusiasm is good. That’s why Henri Frederic Amiel wrote, “The fire which enlightens is the same fire which consumes.” Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson were passionate. Passionate, but grossly misguided. Instead of reaching for the stars, they dove into the depths of hell.
To be of value, exuberance must be illuminated by knowledge. Before giving our heart, we must make sure the object of our passion is ennobling, not destructive. Also, passion is not to be confused with obsession. When we are obsessed, we are controlled by cravings. We become slaves to addictions and compulsions. The only progress we make is downward. Once we are in a tailspin, it’s hard to recover by ourselves. So, if we find ourselves in such a predicament, we need to find outside help. Exuberance, on the other hand, is a conscious decision. We choose to devote ourselves to a worthwhile cause, such as our family, career, or charity.
Enthusiasm has magical power. It can bring the nonexistent into existence. For example, Walt Disney’s passion helped him overcome severe setbacks, a nervous breakdown, and the discouragement of staff, peers, and friends. Acting against the advice of all, he transformed his dream of Disneyland into reality. Another magical quality of exuberance is its ability to lighten our load. With the wave of a wand, work becomes fun; tedious effort becomes exciting!
You will also find that doors that are locked for ordinary folks suddenly open for those with exuberance. How can one resist their enthusiasm? Even if the doors remained shut, the fire of their passion would burn them down! The passionate have big dreams and big dreams come with big problems. But who cares? Those with exuberance are focused on their goals, not themselves. They are wrapped up in their dreams, not their worries. They don’t have the time or inclination for self-pity. When things go wrong, they learn from their mistakes and quickly continue on their way.
Consider for a moment, what are the alternatives to a life of exuberance? Would you rather go to work with a frown, instead of a smile? Would you rather lead an empty life or one filled with purpose? Would you rather delight in or dread the beginning of a new day? Would you rather be a survivor or a success? Whenever it is a matter of ability or enthusiasm, enthusiasm is always the victor in the battle for success.
The “S” of HAPPINESS Stands for Self-Discipline (Self-Leadership)
Why do people blame everything but themselves for their unhappiness? Because it is painful to admit that our lack of success is not due to any quirk of fate, but to our own lack of responsiveness to the opportunities that were presented to us. But once we admit the truth, great power is unleashed. For then we will realize that our lives are not controlled by the whims of fate, but by ourselves, by our own actions, and by our own willpower. It is exciting to realize that we can do anything we set our mind to. Yet, after coming close to reaching this point, some then cop out by claiming they don’t have any willpower, as if there was a willpower gene that they are lacking.
If we find ourselves stuck in that space where we believe we lack willpower, what can we do? Begin by understanding the true meaning of willpower. It’s just another way of saying self-discipline. When you tell yourself you lack self-discipline, it is easier to understand that you can do something about it. You can develop it. But wait a minute! Doesn’t it take self-discipline to develop self-discipline? And if I don’t have any, how can I use what I don’t have?
Well, it is incorrect to say you don’t have ANY. You couldn’t have read this far without some discipline, so your challenge is not how to acquire it, but how to get MORE of it. If your doctor told you that you need to lift weights, you would start with light weights, gradually working your way up to the heavy ones, thereby increasing your power. So it is with self-discipline. Anyone can start from where they are and go from there.
Perhaps no other skill is as important to develop as self-disciple or self-control. It is the key to self-mastery and the achievement of your dreams. Now, let’s look at some steps you can take to increase your personal power.
1. Acknowledge your own responsibility. Admit that if you sit around doing nothing, you will achieve nothing.
2. Allow yourself to feel the resistance. For example, if you are a student that needs to be studying, but doesn’t feel like it, say something like the following to yourself. “I don’t feel like studying. I feel like pursuing some pleasure instead. But rather than running away, I allow myself to feel the resistance and I admit I need to study. I also need to develop self-discipline. And doing what we don’t like to do develops self-discipline. So, I welcome this opportunity to kill two birds with one stone (study for my exam and develop self-discipline).”
3. Take a few deep breaths. Relax and let go of any tension. Pause and visualize the action as if it were already completed. Study the image of the completed project in your mind for a few moments. This step prepares both your conscious mind and subconscious for action.
4. Now act. After doing so, you will feel a sense of relief as you free yourself from the stress that comes from ignoring an important task. Second, you will enjoy the pleasure of accomplishment. Third, you will discover the task was easier to do than you first imagined.
5. Relish the relief and pleasure you experience. Remember it. Savor it. Focus on it. For it will become the source of motivation. At first, the lure of relief and pleasure will be weak and the memory of it dim, but as you repeatedly do what you don’t feel like doing, the motivation to act will grow stronger and stronger, until a firm habit is formed.
6. Those who haven’t yet developed the habit of self-discipline avoid tasks because they focus on the effort that needs to be made. In their minds, effort is synonymous with discomfort. Change what you focus on. When facing a new task, focus on the relief and pleasure you will be experiencing upon its completion. Also focus on the memory of how your imagination tricks you, always blowing things out of proportion. Remember that the task will be easier to do than your now believe.
7. When you launch your personal Self-Discipline Development Program, you will do two things: complete tasks and develop self-discipline. Of the two, developing self-discipline is more important. For once you have mastered that you will be able to do anything. So, it is important to be successful. Therefore, when starting out, don’t decide to work on the most difficult task, but choose the easiest one first and work your way up. Pretend you are working out in a gym for the first time. If you begin by trying to lift 100 lb. weights, you will probably feel overwhelmed and quickly give up. But if you start with 10 lb. weights, your workouts will be easy to do and your successes will motivate you to move on to bigger challenges. Take baby steps and work your way up. Trying to bite off more than you can chew will lead to failure.
8. Be gentle but firm with yourself. Act firmly in that you stop running away. Face your task, accept it, and accomplish it. Finish what you start. Follow through on every project. Focus on one task at a time. Don’t scatter your attention. But be gentle in the sense that you don’t have to do all your tasks immediately as long as you start doing some. Don’t expect to go from zero to a hundred in one second. Work up to it. Start slowly, but gradually pick up the pace as you develop your skills.
9. Expect to be tempted to avoid your tasks. Your mind will come up with rationalizations and excuses for putting off till ‘tomorrow’ what can be done today. Remain aware of your feelings and learn to think before you act. Use your reason (rational mind), not your emotions, to guide your actions. Do what is good FOR you instead of what FEELS good.
10. Once you learn how to quickly act on all the tasks, responsibilities, and challenges facing you, you will want to remain fit, always ready to act. Keep in shape by deliberately going out of your way to do things you don’t want to do, even if they are unimportant. The truth is, nothing is unimportant, for if doing something trivial helps maintain your self-discipline, it is no longer trivial. Remember that it is just like working out in a gym. After all, the workout I choose to do is unimportant; it is only the result (physical fitness) that is important. The same is true for your mental fitness. Look for opportunities during the day to ‘work out.’
11. Once you can keep your level of self-discipline, you will be ready to move on to the next level by stretching yourself. Now you deliberately seek out difficult and complex challenges that you only dared to dream about in the past. Now that you have mastered self-control, you are ready to make those dreams come true. At this point, you are no longer paralyzed by task-avoidance. Each task you do frees up more time to work on the next project. You have now started on the path of endless growth.
Life is not something that happens to you, but you are something that happens to life. Decide today to give up the blame game and take responsibility for your own life by mastering the art of self-discipline.
The 2nd “S” of HAPPINESS Stands for SERVICE
Sometimes the people we have to work with give us a hard time instead of their full cooperation. Our tasks become more difficult when the people we’re counting on give us a headache instead of a hand. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if everyone we dealt with not only gave us a smile, but gave us a gift? Of course, we cannot control the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others, so the only gifts that we can be sure of are those that we give to others. Since the joy is in the giving, why not become a bearer of gifts? Let’s think about some gifts we can offer to others, gifts that won’t cost us anything, yet are worth more than gold.
The first gift is Compassion. It is more than mere caring or concern. It is love in action. For example, someone at work is stymied by a problem and you have a spare moment, so you immediately jump in, without being asked, and offer a helping hand. Other examples include offering our seat in the train or bus to another, holding the door open for a young mother with a baby carriage trying to enter a building, and guiding an elderly or disabled person safely across a large street. Imagine the surprise and delight of others as we offer them these much needed gifts.
A moment’s reflection will reveal many other ways we can express our compassion. For instance, when someone else is trying to speak, we can offer the gifts of silence and a listening ear. Or when others are trying to express a dissenting opinion, we can agree with their right to have such a view, and use it to expand our own understanding, rather than try to convert them to our way of thinking.
A second gift is that of Honesty. If it were a commodity exchanged in the Stock Market, its price would be on the rise because of its scarcity in the business world. We can make a big difference by helping to restore it. If we’re in sales, instead of trying to sell a bill of goods, we can sell service, support, and knowledge. That is, we can be a help, rather than a hindrance. If we’re asked about something we don’t know, we can be honest and admit our ignorance. And if it’s within our capacity to find the answer, we can make the effort to do so.
In our personal relationships, honesty means keeping our word, avoiding gossip, not exaggerating our accomplishments and recognizing the achievements of others. It also means being true to ourselves or practicing integrity. In other words, we align our actions with our values. For instance, don’t you think it’s strange that we sometimes hurt those we love? To do so is dishonest, for it is not how we feel in our heart. Don’t you agree that honesty is healing and dishonesty is hurtful?
A third gift is that of Recognition. People are criticized more often than they are recognized. As a result, they are starving for recognition. Because sincere praise is as rare as diamonds, it has great value. Thomas Fuller wrote in 1732, “He injures a fair lady that beholds her not.” That is, he that doesn’t admire a beautiful woman insults her! After all, if she took the time and effort to look good, shouldn’t we acknowledge that?
When we offer praise, congratulations, and admiration, we are offering the gift of recognition. We are effectively saying, “The world is better off because you are here. You have value. I am honored to know you. You make my life more enjoyable.” How often do we express these sentiments to our family, friends, and coworkers? Isn’t true that if we are silent, we are both dishonest and unloving?
A fourth gift is that of Interest. What do you imagine is the worst thing you can do to someone? It is not to hate them, for hate is sparked by jealousy or fear. Although highly negative, such feelings at least recognize them. No, the worst thing you can do to others is to ignore them, to deny their existence, to have no interest in them.
While the gift of Recognition honors others for what they have DONE, the gift of Interest honors others for what they ARE. And what are they? They are fellow travelers on the journey of life. They have as much right to be here, as much value to the world, and as interesting a story to relate as anyone else. All we have to do is give them an opportunity to tell their story. Each person is but one facet in the gem we call life. When we express interest in them, we give them the opportunity to sparkle. Be especially aware of those diamonds in the rough that you have at home and call your children.
A fifth gift is that of Sincerity. When we act compassionately, we grow joyful. When we are honest, we are at peace with ourselves. When we shower others with recognition, they recognize us for our kindness. When we express interest in others by asking them to tell us about themselves, we discover the wonder and beauty of the world. So, each gift we offer has its own reward. But one of the greatest gifts of all is that of Sincerity, for it is a beacon. When we act out of sincerity we act without desiring a reward. We offer each of the above gifts with no motive other than it is the right thing to do. Sincere people do not try to improve others, they just try to better themselves, but in doing so, they improve the world. Rather than trying to grab from life as much as they can, they try to add whatever they can.
A sixth gift is that of Time. It is a priceless gift, for it is the only one that is a nonrenewable resource. In each of our lives, there is a limited allotment of time. Once used, it is gone forever, never to be replaced. Since time is the stuff our lives are made of, when we spend time with others, we are giving the greatest gift of all, ourselves. When we encourage others and cheer them on, we infuse their life with meaning; we make their life worthwhile. What greater gift can we offer?
By the way, the six gifts I have mentioned are easy to remember, for when we take the first letter of the gifts of Compassion, Honesty, Recognition, Interest, Sincerity, and Time, they spell out C.H.R.I.S.T.
Well, then, happiness is not a happenstance, but the direct result of our mental, emotional, and physical state. If we fill our heart with HOPE; use it to motivate us to take ACTION; ensure that action will succeed through careful PLANNING and PREPARATION; overcome obstacles by PERSEVERING and PERSISTING; remain INDUSTRIOUS while living in the NOW; live ENTHUSIASTICALLY; maintain SELF-DISCIPLINE for self-empowerment, and make a difference by leading a life of SERVICE, we will come to know unprecedented H.A.P.P.I.N.E.S.S.
- Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth By Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener
- Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier by Robert Emmons
- Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
- Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence By Rick Hanson
- The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky
- Links to TED Talks on Happiness