The young woman was radiant. She always is. I once asked her pointedly why she was so cheerful. She said with a smile, “I choose to surround myself with happiness.”
What a remarkable, wonderful, mature and wise thing to say. Even more, she is living it.
It has not been easy. We have known one another nearly 20 years, and she has been through some experiences that would turn some people into cynics and misanthropes.
For many of us, the emphasis would be on the word “happiness,” but the really important word in that woman’s response is “choose.”
Much of our attitude and experience is based on choice. Even when we feel that life has dealt us a bad hand, we still have the choice to play what we are dealt or fold.
The old saw is that an optimist sees a glass as half full, whereas the pessimist sees it as half empty. Underneath that quaint expression is the choice to see what we want to see.
We have options. The sun comes up, and we can either curse it for cutting our sleep short or praise it for giving us a new day. Dawn happens, and it is up to us what we are going to make of it.
As a counselor, I would often ask people what their goals were. What is it that they were working toward? What did they want? What would they like to be in five, 10 or 20 years?
The most common response was “happy.” Folks say that in 10 years, they would like to be happy. That kind of vague notion is not good enough.
Nonspecific happiness is elusive and hard to achieve. It is hazy and ambiguous and can mean too many things. Many people simply are not happy because they do not know what would make them so. And not knowing what happiness is means not knowing how to go after it.
To choose to surround yourself with happiness means to populate your life with healthy people and healthy situations. It sometimes means accepting the things that cannot be changed and creating other things that bring contentment. It is always, however, specific.
Some of us are innately pessimistic. For a variety of reasons, we constantly expect the worst. By expecting it, we might actually create it.
When our lives have been filled with events that have stopped us short or people who have betrayed our trust, we have a tendency to wait for the hammer to come crashing down. In the best of times, we somehow have known that it soon would be over. It might come from our childhood experiences. It might be left over from an unromantic romance. It might have come from unrealistic expectations.
Wherever it comes from, it is counterproductive.
While choosing to surround yourself with happiness might not be always successful, choosing to surround yourself with pain works every time. Choosing to avoid seeing happiness is actually very easy for some of us.
No one would suggest that we live life by overlooking the evil, the struggle or the unfortunate. But, it is all too easy to allow these things to become central to our thoughts and world view.
Life can often be painful, and some people just love wallowing in it.
After you know what will make you happy, it takes a conscious act to decide to go for those things. Joy is not just a wish; it is a preference. It is an activity.
What really makes you happy? What would make you happier? How do you get from here to there?
What choices will you have to make? Are you already there? How far do you have to go?
It is a little hard to do, until you push aside the negative feelings. You will struggle until you decide that happiness is a possible and realistic goal. It just needs to be specific.
So, what is it you have decided will really make you happy? Then, how are you going to work to make it happen? Finally, are you prepared to enjoy it once you get it? Can you feel worthy of it? Can you embrace it?
It all starts with a choice — a choice to surround ourselves with happiness.
• Mike McLellan can be contacted by calling and leaving a message at 830-4201 or emailing him at DrMikeM@sbcglobal.net.