The first breakthrough (recognizing the I’ll-be-happy-when cycle) wasn’t really a complete breakthrough. All I really figured out was that happiness would come from enjoying the entire journey, all of the ups and all of the downs, all the baggage, all the hardships, and all its rewards.
I needed more breakthroughs though, so I called the kool-aid man. After busting through my wall, he told me I was addicted to sadness. He said that I was choosing to focus on things in a way that made me sad, instead of choosing a happier perspective.
I was too young to fully understand the kool-aid man, plus there were bricks, drywall and kool-aid everywhere, so it was difficult to focus and take advice about gratitude. “How am I supposed to be happy about a big hole in my wall, kool-aid man!? The couch is ruined! You want to have a serious conversation about life and happiness, and there’s nowhere to sit?” But unfortunately, he was right. He made it very clear that sadness was a choice, and I chose it often. I chose to focus on lack of friends, lack of girlfriend, lack of car, lack of money.
I was like a fish who never left the water, and didn’t even know I was in water. Surrounded by one of the greatest resources on Earth, water or love, and I couldn’t even see it. Finally I was pulled out of the water, and I could see where I had been swimming. Sometimes the love needs to disappear for you to realize it was there in the first place.
Ultimately this was my question, the question I needed to answer to really make happiness click in my life. In the worst of circumstances, whether I’d lost someone or something, lost everyone or everything, or whether I felt like I’d never even had that someone or something to lose, how am I supposed to be happy?
If I could solve that, and turn the worst of sadnesses into happiness, I would solve happiness. While the solution is essentially my third and most major breakthrough, it’s really been years in the making, and I’m definitely still learning.
During a phase of self-help books, there’s really only one that stands out as a game changer for me. It was the piece of the puzzle I needed. This book was all about beliefs. The basis was that our perception defines our reality, and that our beliefs define our perception. To fully absorb this concept and this book in one sentence, I would tell you that you need to understand how it’s possible for God to exist to you, and to not exist to someone else, and you’re both right.
The takeaway for me was that I needed to choose beliefs that served me better. It doesn’t matter whether or not I believe in God, it matters how that belief serves me, how it drives me. If I’m out murdering people, it doesn’t matter if I believe in God, if I’m male or female, or if I’m any kind of different, I’m murdering people!
But what if you’re murdering yourself? I mean internally, what if your beliefs about yourself, about what you can and can’t do, who you can and can’t be, what if they’re sabotaging you? On the bright side, nobody died from your beliefs, but they might still be worth a look.
Essentially, I think of happiness as a skill. To me, it’s like bowling a great shot. If I succeed, it’s still only one great shot. If I want continuous happiness, I’m going to need to do it again and again.
The skill to takeaway from this is like any other: simple to learn, but hard to master. I challenge you to take a shitty situation in your life right now, and name 2 good changes that it’s bringing to your life. The more you get good at this, the better you are at happiness.
If you’re more systematic, here’s a 2-step system, and the good news is step 1 is super easy.
Step 1. Shit happens, you feel some kind of bad about it.
Step 2. You figure out how to see things in a way that serves you better.
Concept in perspective: I’m driving home from work, and some guy cuts me off. I make some sarcastic comment like “nice signal” and I’m a little angry now. But now I want to be angry, so I’m watching like a hawk for the next bad driver I see, and I’m going to be twice as sarcastic on my next comment! “Oh look at me, I’m a driving magician! I don’t need signals! If I just move over slowly enough, I don’t need to look because people magically move out of my way! Abracafuckingdabra!” So now, by the length of my conversation with myself, and the elevation of the tone of the conversation, you can tell I’m pretty aggravated. My breathing is shallower, muscles are tighter, and I realize I just let some asshole or idiot, or idiot asshole, make me upset. Somehow, I’ve given him the power to upset me, to ruin my day. Then I’m mad at myself for letting someone steal my sunshine. I should be happy, I’m on my way home!
Concept in a much more serious perspective: I lost my mother and naturally I was sad. Step 1 complete. But step 2 meant finding good ways to look at her death. Obviously, challenging. Looking back, I see this as a defining moment in my ability to change my beliefs. Your problems will always be unique to you, so you will always have to find your own solution, but if it helps, here was my solution to my greatest challenge.
I decided that I didn’t want to think of my mother and be sad, I wanted to think of her and be happy. I knew that when she was alive, she was suffering, and so I chose to focus on the fact that her suffering had come to an end. I promised myself that every time I thought of her, I would focus on our love for each other, and how grateful I am for it. Not only does this serve me better, I also feel that it’s the best way to honour her.
Occasionally I have caught myself missing her really bad, bad enough to break into tears about it. But sadness is something on which I’ve also changed my perspective, I actually really appreciate my sadness. I am quite lucky to have been able to experience such a great loss.
Every scenario is different. I am certain that happiness is a skill or habit. I’m still working on mine, but for me it’s all about catching myself in a bad feeling, then choosing to focus on things differently. It may be easier said than done, but I’ve done it many times, so now I’m saying it. In the words of the kool-aid man: “Oh yeah!”