Happiness is a state of mind. You can have everything and still be miserable, or you can have relatively little and feel great joy. If you focus on what you have, you will be happy. If you focus on what you don’t have, you will be miserable.
Your mood affects other people. No one wants someone harping on the negative. When you are unhappy and continue to talk about how unhappy you are, you will bring other people down with your unhappiness. They will talk about their unhappy events too because it is part of the conversation and they want to join in with their problems.
I once heard a story about a 35-year-old religious bachelor who wanted to get married. He would go on lots of dates, but he always said after his dates that he hadn’t met the right woman. His friends, trying to be helpful, asked him to describe the “right woman.” He remarked that he wanted: “A playboy playmate, extremely attractive, brilliant and so religious that she studied Torah.” While perhaps in jest, after every date, the most important trait in a woman that he was looking for that night was missing. She was not attractive enough, not smart enough, not religious enough. What was lacking was different for every date. You can find a flaw in almost anyone.
On the other hand, if you are cheerful, smiling and friendly, you will like people and people will like you. Even if you are alone, you can write down all the blessings you have in your life. If you want to start the next day in a happy mood, then before going to bed make a plan to be happy and productive tomorrow. It just might work out exactly as you planned.
It is possible to be a happy person most of the time. Happiness is a skill that can be learned. You begin by recognizing that facts are neutral. You have a job, your child is sick, your car needs to be repaired, and hundreds of other facts. How you react to facts is your decision. Thoughts come into your head. Much of the time, a thought just pops up without having control over it. Sometimes, your thoughts can change from one thing to another in a split second. As I am writing, for example, my thoughts jump from what to write, to the weather outside, to what I heard on TV a short while ago, to how I feel. If you want to improve your happiness, then you have to control your thoughts and organize them. You create what you think. You are your thoughts, not where you are physically.
Regardless of the facts out there in the world, you can see most of these facts as positive. You can follow my mother’s advice that: “Things are okay. It will be all right.” You have to ask yourself: How can I change my negative thoughts to positive thoughts? Think of the people who are worse off than you. So long as you have health and the power of sight, you are not poor. You are rich with the vitality of life. If it’s raining, it’s not a lousy day, it is good for the flowers and the garden. If you had a car accident, at least no one is permanently injured. If you are angry about a situation, maybe it’s helpful to suggest that there is a better way of acting in the future.
Avoid letting your happiness depend on events beyond your control. You cannot do anything about them. These events are facts. You interpret what these facts mean to you. At first, it might seem fake to do that when your nature is to be more critical. You don’t want to lie to yourself, but you should recognize that you are in charge of how you think, and you can change how you see the world. You can change and it won’t be fake. It’s just that you see the world differently, more positively.
The bottom line: The secret to being happy is to accept the facts as they are. Controlling your thoughts to see the positive side of a situation takes practice. That may not seem easy at first, but it is the right way to be happy.
Allen Lipis is a regular columnist for the Atlanta Jewish Times who often writes about character development.