Brazilian athlete Daniel Souza shares a laugh with yoga instructor Denise Waling at Original Muscle Beach on July 22, 2015, in Santa Monica, Calif. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
It’s 2018, and January tends to bring a time of goals, reflection and resolution.
I heard a resolution from a friend recently I liked but irked me a bit: “This year I’ve decided to be happier.”
At first, I wasn’t sure why I was so bothered by the phrase, but after doing some thinking, it hit me: How? What’s your plan? I haven’t asked her yet, but I’m not convinced she’s come up with one — and that, in turn, convinces me that she’s doomed to fail.
I hear a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln (it probably wasn’t actually said by him, but that’s a rant for another day) frequently: “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
The thing is, this quote is super incomplete. If I were more inclined to sports and baseball were my thing, I could “decide” to hit nothing but home runs from today forward, but without the proper training, trial and error, practice and desire, that decision would be absolutely meaningless. Why should we think happiness any different?
We tend to view happiness as the absence of problems. While I wish I could count on an absence of problems in my day-to-day life, I’m willing to admit that in the nearly 26 years I’ve been alive, I can’t recall a week going by with no problems at all. That said, I can’t say that I’ve been unhappy every single week of my life. I don’t think we can correctly equate ease of being with happiness.
We should start to consider happiness and success as skill sets. A skill can be learned. It can be taught. We can improve our skills, make goals of them and measure their improvement.
Now, I want to throw up a giant disclaimer here: there are those reading this who suffer from clinical depression and have a hard time even getting out of bed in the morning. My words are not meant to discredit your feelings of misery or apathy. If you find yourself suffering from such, please know that there is help available and you aren’t alone. Go see a professional and get some advice. This might be your first step to learning how to consistently hit those home runs.
My life has been largely defined by my lack of mental health. I’ve been marked by my peers as a lazy and unproductive student, disorganized and anti-social, among other things. I never achieved much academically, and I found my relationships were defined by how little I felt understood by my friends and family. This went on for years, and I found myself generally feeling like I’d ingested raw sewage.
The problem finally got so bad I quite literally broke down and was more or less forced to seek professional help, which in my life, has taken the form of therapy, medication and support groups. All of these things helped me see that even someone in the throes of depression, anxiety, addiction and anguish could take a more active role in becoming a happier, more successful person.
We can seize control of our happiness by shifting our perspective a bit. The way I see it, in every person’s mind there are basically two worlds: we’ll call them The World That Is and The World That Should Be. The secret that most people miss is a really simple one: we have to live in the first and build the second and, frequently, we find ourselves doing neither of these.
I say that most people miss this because when we’re feeling down, unmotivated, hurt, stressed or set upon by any of the manifold afflictions that exist in our lives we tend to practice escapism. Whether through vice, denial or another coping mechanism, we retreat to The World That Should Be and try to live there for a time even though it doesn’t really exist yet.
The problem here lies in the fact this world will never exist. The point of The World That Should Be is to give us a vision of what we want so we can lay a road map down of how to get there. Once that world is built, it becomes The World That Is and is immediately replaced by our next vision of what we want. If we try to live in a world that isn’t there, it means that we aren’t living in the one that is and that can only lead to inaction, the atrophy of our happiness muscles and despair.
I lived in a place that didn’t exist for a long time and found the reality that surrounded me was neglected, ignored and hated instead of being taken care of and nourished so it could become something worthwhile to me. I can’t stress enough how much this ruined my life for a time. Rebuilding has been a long road I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
So, instead of “deciding to be happy,” decide to go after what you want. Decide to live in The World That Is and build the life you’d rather have with your feet firmly planted on the ground. Seek like-minded individuals to help you accomplish this. Seek out professionals who can help you — be those therapists, career advisers or someone who can help mentor you to your next level of greatness.
Don’t settle for merely dreaming and don’t let yourself be just a reflection of the problems you’re facing. When sorrow and sadness come knocking, let yourself feel them but recognize that they don’t have any hold over your happiness.
I invite you to start today to build a better world for yourself. You deserve it.