“When I am happy, I see the happiness in others. When I am depressed, I notice that people’s eyes look sad. When I am weary, I see the world as boring and unattractive.”
– Steve Chandler
Happiness is not a quality easily had by those who fear challenge and difficulty. Happiness, as a matter of fact, can require quite a bit from us if we would develop those traits that produce it at its highest potential.
In other words, happiness is not for the squeamish. It requires us to get our hands dirty in the ditches and mountain sides of life. It requires us to climb and learn and overcome and develop in ways that are not always easy. Here are four reasons happiness is not for wimps:
1. Happiness requires Humility
What it means: Humble people are teachable. They can bend and adapt as they come to see better ways of doing things. They haven’t been made brittle by the calcification of pride.
Why it’s hard: Pride is a stubborn characteristic. It solidifies us around positions and beliefs and ways of doing things. It prevents growth because it claims already to be fully formed, all-knowing and always right. Acquiring humility requires softening pride enough to crack its hard exterior. Such cracks can be humbling events, and often very painful.
How it helps: Humility is to happiness what a gym membership is to health. The gym membership will do nothing for your health if you stay home. But it’s a key to a door that opens you to the equipment and classes that can add greatly to your health and wellness if used regularly.
Humility is that same key to that same door to the personal developmental gym of life. It opens us to self-analysis, allowing us to see and admit to shortcomings and flaws that muck up the gears to happy living. It also opens us to learning from life and from the trials we experience and from other people too – all essential elements to a deep abiding sort of happiness.
2. Happiness requires moving in and out of Comfort Zones
What it means: The old truism holds true for happiness as for everything else: If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got. To increase happiness, changes have to occur, habits have to be formed, unformed and reformed.
Why it’s hard: We can get so used to doing things the way we’ve always done them that the force necessary to course correct can be very difficult to sustain. February is littered with the corpses of broken promises made in January. Sustained change is simply difficult for most people to keep up. Certainly there are ways of making improvements easier, but even acquiring and implementing those techniques and attitudes require effort and will and self-discipline. Steps have to be taken to learn and implement them, after all.
How it helps: Comfort zones are formed around activities repeated over time. They are the result of routine and sameness. The problem is that you can’t grow anything by continuing to do what you’ve always done. Stagnation cannot produce joy. Happiness, on the other hand, is partially the result of personal growth and development, of evolving from where you are to where you can be. There is joy in the process of closing the gap between you and your potential.
3. Happiness requires overcoming Selfishness
What it means: It is front and center at almost every divorce and is locked behind bars with every inmate. It is heart and soul of every act of fraud and theft and tyranny and oppression. It regards the self over others. It wants and grabs and takes. It seeks its own over what’s right. It sacrifices decency and compassion and love at the altar of self-indulgence.
Why it’s hard: Selfishness is the universal character flaw. It permeates the lives of almost all people to varying degrees. It lives in human nature and boils over in a culture that celebrates self-aggrandizement. Children are masters of it and is the natural order of things unless and until we are taught to be otherwise. Selfishness does not need to be taught. But compassion does.
How it helps: One of the great ironies to personal development is that the more we focus on ourselves, the further happiness drifts from us. But by losing ourselves in service to others, the more we find our true inner selves. By hoarding, we lose. By giving, we gain so much more than we give.
4. Happiness requires retraining Thoughts
What it means: Our thoughts create our reality. If we dwell on the ugly and the corrupt, on the negative and salacious, we sink in the thick liquid of anger and disillusionment and frustration, cynicism and despair.
Why it’s hard: Bad habits are hard to break. Good ones are hard to acquire. They require consistency which is hard to sustain. Habitual thoughts are harder still because they are such subtle things, sneaking in when we are not looking. Retraining our thoughts takes constant vigilance and commitment. It requires monitoring our feelings as the barometer of our thoughts and our words as the indicator of what and how we think.
How it helps: As we think, so are we. If I think life is unfair and cold and vindictive, I will feel that reality. But if I think life is an adventurous joy, that the challenges of life are meant for my good, that it is my task to figure out how life is trying to guide and direct my path, then the attitudinal reality will be completely different. And so will the level of happiness available to me.
So Now What?
In order to have a life of growth and happiness, you must be vigilant in recognizing and overcoming the obstacles life and human nature place in the way. As you learn to recognize the trouble spots, take steps to build your ability to transcend them. Develop the characteristics that break down those obstacles.
Set goals. Make them small and incremental. Take small but regular steps toward the needed improvement. Don’t get overwhelmed by the amount of work you may have. Set the smaller goals and focus there. One or two at a time is usually plenty. The big picture will come as you lay the smaller bricks.
Will Smith’s dad once took Will and his brother to his store to rebuild a brick wall he had torn down. Will was 12 and his brother was nine at the time. They complained it was an impossible task for two so young. It took a year and a half to finish, as a matter of fact. But when they were done, their dad looked at them and said, “Now don’t you ever tell me that there’s something that you can’t do.”
They learned the lesson of one-brick-at-a-time. We can build amazing lives of deep and lasting happiness much the same way.
And in the meantime?
Enjoy the journey! Happiness doesn’t need to wait at life’s finish line of life. You can take it with you as you build happiness upon happiness, one character trait, one practice, one habit and one principle one brick at a time.