Choosing Happiness

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-By Jaime Willis

Photo by David Laporte

Over the last two weeks, several people who know me “in real life” who read this blog asked me some version of this question, “Are you always happy and positive?” They read my posts and facebook updates, watch me interact with others in real life and can’t believe that I can keep up the “happy” front all day every day.

And the truth is, I can’t. I get mad when someone cuts me off in traffic. I get irritated with the check-out lady who is scanning my purchases painfully slowly. I pop off with a snarky, undeserved comment when I am tired. I get sad and disappointed when things don’t go my way. I am human.

The difference is that I work *hard* to limit the negativity in my life — from both myself and others. I know that I get more accomplished when I am in a high positive energy state, so I try to stay there as much as possible.

I choose to be happy.

When someone cuts me off in traffic, I get the same flash of anger that you do. Then I try to dismiss that feeling as quickly as possible. Sometimes it’s as easy as thinking of something else. Sometimes it’s reminding myself that the extra two seconds I’ll spend in traffic because I had to brake unnecessarily won’t truly have an impact on my day and schedule. Sometimes it’s commiserating with the other driver who may be late for an appointment and need to get where they are going faster than I do. I choose to be happy.

Last week, I was really disappointed by a comment someone made to me (it wasn’t you, promise!). I couldn’t just pick up and move on. So, I set a time limit on my disappointment — I had an hour to wallow in my negative feelings. At the end of the hour, I let the entire incident go. Any more negativity about the situation wouldn’t help me feel better, so I needed to stop being negative. I chose to be happy.

This past weekend, I visited my Grandfather for what is likely the last time I’ll see him alive — he is on the end of a long road of illness. When I left his house on Sunday, I cried myself all the way home. I woke up Monday feeling so sad — totally normal when someone you love is dying. That evening, I had a coaching client call to take, and I wondered how I would have the energy and enthusiasm to encourage my client.

Before I took the call, I walked around my neighborhood outside in the sunshine and reminded myself how incredibly lucky I was to get to go home and see my Grandpa again. I recalled how amazing it was that Grandpa really woke up on Sunday evening right before I left the house and had a full conversation with us all just like old times — demanding we make him popcorn and commenting on the news playing on television. I went into my coaching call with a attitude of peaceful calm and had a great session. I chose to be happy.

When I was 19 (about three years ago! :), I participated in my university’s Alternative Spring Break. During one of our training sessions, our group leader shared the following parable with us that I have never forgotten:

I walked with my friend, a Quaker, to the news stand the other night, and he bought a paper, thanking the newsie politely. The newsie didn’t even acknowledge him.

“A sullen fellow, isn’t he?,” I asked.

“Oh, he’s that way every night,” shrugged my friend.

“Then why do you continue to be so polite to him?,” I asked.

“Why not?,” inquired my friend. “Why should I let him decide how I’m going to act?”

As I thought about this incident later, it occurred to me that the important word was “act.” My friend acts towards people; most of us *react* towards them.

He has a sense of inner balance which is lacking in most of us – he knows who he is, what he stands for, how he should behave. He refuses to return incivility, because then he would no longer be in command of his own conduct.

Nobody is unhappier than the perpetual reactor. His center of emotional gravity is not rooted within himself, where it belongs, but in the world outside him.

His emotional temperature is always being raised or lowered by the social climate around him and he is a mere creature at the mercy of those elements.

Praises give him a feeling of euphoria, which is false, because it does not last and it does not come from self approval. Criticism depresses him more than it should, because it confirms his own secretly shaky opinion of himself. Snubs hurt him, and the merest suspicion of unpopularity in any quarter rouses him to bitterness.

Serenity cannot be achieved until we become masters of our own action and attitudes. To let another determine whether we shall be rude or gracious, elated or depressed, is to relinquish control over our own personalities, which is ultimately all we possess. The only true possession is self-possession.

How often to you react? How would your own life be improved if you chose to act, if you chose to be happy, regardless of your circumstances?

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