My friend David in Atlanta has been going through an absolutely horrible divorce for the last couple of years. I have watched him deal with issues I would not wish on any one (like not seeing his 5 kids in over a year).
He wrote this to me after his (almost) final court date – and I thought so much of it I asked permission to reprint here for you…
What he doesn’t say in this article is that he learned this from me! But that aside – congratulations Dave!
A number of people have recently been surprised at by response when they ask how I’m doing. I am wonderful; great; fantastic; fabulous… but they all expect me to say “hanging in there” as if only basically coping.
The forensic psychologist at my divorce case asked me how I was… and when I said “wonderful” he asked “why” in the most confused manner. My response, “you can try to fight a roller coaster or just ride and enjoy it… either way the coaster is doing what it wants to; they only difference is what you take away from the experience” floored him… “great way of looking at it” with a big smile.
So here is my observation:
When something really bad has occurred in ones life, many people seem to think they can only count themselves happy if they experience a greater-magnitude event in the positive… if you had been in a concentration camp, then winning the lottery might offset the bad with overall good… and you could say you were sum total, happy. These people seem to keep a running tally of happiness; basically counting the number-of-good versus number-of-bad of some reverse-yet-equal-magnitude happenings… a streak of awful events can be overcome by a greater number of similar-offset pleasant events… finding a dollar offsets losing one; having a girlfriend offsets having lost one; praise from your current employer offsets having been fired at your previous one; on and on.
Here’s an alternate way of looking at happiness “scoring”… the balance sheet. In business, one common form of performance evaluation is a snapshot of here-and-now, called a balance sheet… simplified, it means “what are the checking account balance and the credit card debt right now”. Nothing is said of “how you got in this state”, only that you are in the state right now… and you are sum total positive if your banks balance exceeds your debt level. Obviously, the past plays a role in what your current state is, but the events themselves don’t matter, only the lasting effect to that moment… so if you had a million dollar debt a year ago and fought yourself back to a mere thousand dollar debt today, all that shows is the thousand, not the million or where it went; if you had a million dollar balance and spent all but a thousand, all that shows is the thousand, not the million or where it went.
Well, you can do this with your life too… “how good do you feel today versus how bad do you feel today?” Note that your past plays into this “somehow”, but the parts that you have forgotten, and the parts you have learned to cope with, and the parts that you put aside… they no longer make you feel bad today… so as long as you feel better than that smaller, remaining amount (today), you can call yourself “happy”. It is like there’s a half-life to the radioactivity that is your past… and the only part you need to overcome on any day is the part that remains to that day. Note how different this is… you are happy once the “half-life decayed, partial bad that remains” is overcome with good… you do not have to experience a “big good” that equals and offsets a “big bad”, nor do you need a number of these events to bring your score to zero or better… you only need to do something “happy enough” to offset the “lingering pain” in your life; a much easier obstacle to overcome. And the better you get at putting “things that were” and “things that you cannot control” aside, the smaller the amount of “residual bad feeling” is that you need to out-do with “good” to be happy… the overall magnitude and/or number-of-occurrences of the bad events no longer dictate “what must occur for you to call it a good day”.
Just something to think about.
One of my readers asked me when I was going to find happiness myself!
What a surprise question that was! But I realized that I am not writing clearly enough. So let me make this more clear.
I am happy. Can I be more happy? Yes. Can I be less happy? Sure!
Overall I am happy. Much of this comes from gratitude. I am very, very grateful for what I have which includes a wonderful wife/partner and two boys, a beautiful place to live (a horse farm in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains), income sufficient to meet all obligations and then some, and so much more that I could continue to list.
The purpose of my blog is not to make me happy – it is to do my best to help others understand (if needed) how they can find happiness as well.
Don’t I look happy here?
Finding happiness is simply a matter of thinking differently. notice I did not say it was easy – just simple!
John Carlton is a very good copywriter – and has posted a great column linked here:
This is an excerpt I particularly liked.
You can set an example, by tending your own garden and living life as well as you can. (And I’ve always believed that is part of the job of the entrepreneur… to engage life with gusto, for the sake of every feudal slave in history and every oppressed schlub today who has dreamed of the freedom to think, act and love without censorship and an authoritarian boot on his neck. You OWE it to him to make the best of your good fortune.)
Take a look at the whole post if you like this…
On a scale on 1-10 (10 being deliriously happy) just how much do you feel happiness on a daily level?
We all understand happiness ebbs and flows, but some people are definitely more happy on average than others. This is fascinating and worth a look.
Another interesting question to ask is: What is the happiness level you would want to be averaging?
Once you have decided what is your optimum number, congratulations! You have now set a goal. How do you go about achieving it?
The most simple method is to look what one thing you could change that would make the most difference in your attitude. Work on that one thing. If you believe you are unhappy because of a relationship, a job, where you live, your lifestyle… then pick one area that you feel could change you most and begin to do the things you know you have to do to change it!
I know you know what to do – because if there is something in your life that affects your happiness that much most likely you have spent a lot of time thinking about it. True or true?
If you have spent so much time thinking about it – why have you not begun to change it? The reason probably is that most of us dislike change, and it always seems to be easier to maintain current condition than face the unknown world of change.
That in itself can add to your frustration – and being less happy!
A couple of things to remember about happiness:
1. Happiness is feeling ‘good’ opposite feeling ‘bad’. One way to increase happiness is to follow the ‘good’ feelings and avoid the ‘bad feelings’. This is not rocket science but many overlook this simple technique. We tend to do things based on incorrect motivations. Instead of doing what you think others want you to do – do what you feel is good or right. Learn to smile when you are angry. Learn to laugh when you are sad.
2. Happiness is a choice. Unfortunately, there are no happiness stores no matter what the advertising leads you to believe. A new car will not make you happy for very long! Learn to choose to be happy.
3. Happiness is tied very closely to gratitude. Being grateful for everything we have opens the door to joy and happiness. Funny enough it also opens the door to plenty!
4. Let it go. We all tend to hold frustrations, anger, sadness, and other anti-happiness emotions for way too long. Realize the choice to hold these emotions are destructive to your happiness and learn to let them go.
So now, on a scale of 1-10 (10 being deliriously happy) – just how happy are you?
I am happy for you!