I always thought happiness would come if… I got the right job or married the right person. There was always something. Maybe I needed a vacation. Or some time off.
I would try and position myself in the right place. And wait. I’m ready to be happy. I’m patient, I’ll wait. And wait. It never came.
Or it would, but for a few days. And I was back to normal. Not sad by any means. normal. Neutral. Going through my days, looking forward to being happy again.
Then one day I thought. There has to be more to this. Why are some people happier than others? Were they born that way? Or taught to be that way?
My happiness was a roller coaster. A slow grind till the top followed by a few sweet moments of happiness then another slow grind. It worked for a while. I always had something to look forward to, and it did make me work harder.
But I envied those that had a more even temperament. The ones that were able to go on daily with a decent level of happiness. For a second, let me think that it’s possible to teach myself to be happy. Most other things in life are able to be learned. Why not happiness?
In the end, we just want to be happy, right? That’s the goal of pretty much everything we do. Be happy and bring happiness to others. I’ve always taught that before you can bring happiness to others that you’d have to be happy yourself. Like putting on oxygen first on an airplane.
The Game Plan
So I came up with a game plan. I prepared for a difficult challenge. As my dad always said, if it was easy then everyone would do it. I knew I wouldn’t become happy overnight.
I decided to talk to some of the happiest people I know. People I know well and who I’ve seen deal with hard times and good. Not the ones that were artificially cheery all the time. The ones that were grounded and always had an air of positivity around them.
How did they look at the world? How was it different from how I saw the world? Fortunately, I had surrounded myself with people like these.
After months and hours of discussions with my friends, I noticed two common threads.
1. How often they expressed gratitude
2. How they looked at life when things didn’t go their way
It starts with gratitude
How often was I thankful per month? A couple of times? How many times a day? Usually none. When I sat down and thought about it, I didn’t express gratitude that often at all.
Well, maybe there wasn’t something to be thankful for every day. I mean I didn’t go on vacation every day. Eat good food every day. Get something new every day.
That could have been the problem. How can I have more happiness, if I can’t enjoy the small things in life? I thought this would be a good first place to start. And so a week went by. Two weeks. I had been thankful a handful more times.
Honestly, I kept forgetting. It didn’t feel natural to be thankful. I wasn’t used to being happy for small things. So I tried to switch things up. I got a notebook and at the end of the day, I would put down three things I was thankful for. Three things from that day. Everyday.
I put the notebook right next to my bed. So I’d see it before I went to bed. Let me tell you it was a struggle. Most days I’d come up with one thing to express gratitude for, maybe two if it was a good day. But I would sit there until I got to three. Everyday.
Over time, it became easier. I’d be able to rattle off things that went well that day. Small things. Finding a parking spot right away. Finishing a blog post. Catching up with a friend.
There was so much to be thankful for every day, I had been ignoring it. The notebook also helped me on days that didn’t’ go my way. Remind me that there has been plenty of good things that have happened recently. After a while, I didn’t even need the notebook, my mind would be looking for all the good that happened that day.
The other side
Showing more gratitude made a tremendous change in my life. My life would have been better had I stopped there. But there was more. Now I had to look at how I saw things when they didn’t go my way. My failures and missteps
I realized that my happy friends looked at failure differently than I did. It was part of the process for them. An intended outcome. Did they go through life expecting that they would fail? Sounds like not that great of a life.
No, they expected to fail many times till they succeeded. A small and important distinction. Studying medicine taught us either to succeed or don’t try. Only take a class if you can guarantee an A. Bailout if things are starting to look poor. That B could forever tarnish your GPA.
Life outside of medicine was different. Failing meant that you were trying something different. No one expects you to be a master pianist right away. You’ll have countless horrible sounding practice sessions along the way before you are ready to play in front of other people.
The same could be said about starting anything new. You’re going to be bad at it. Horrible even. You’ll want to give up. I know I’ve given up a ton of times in my life already. That’s because I’d try something for a little bit. I’d realize I wasn’t a natural and quit.
There are very few things in life that I’m a natural at in life. You may be the same. Instead of looking at the end goal, mastery, I looked at the process. The journey. All the missteps and hiccups were part of the learning process. Another learning opportunity.
I can’t admit that it took all the frustration out of not getting something right the first time. But it stung a little less. Even better, something magical happened. Before when I’d ignore it when things went well. Now I was looking for learning opportunities there as well. Was it luck? Or did I do something especially right? Was it repeatable?
The good and the bad became opportunities for me to improve myself. And I was thankful for both.