Happy New Year? You Decide!

Recently, browsing at Barnes and Noble bookstore, I noticed a number of books about happiness on display. Apparently, hearing “have a happy new year” hundreds of times in the first few weeks of January is not sufficient to bring it about.

As I see it, there are two fundamental truths to being happy.

Truth 1: We are responsible for our own happiness. I know, that one is always hard to swallow: Why should I have to take responsibility for my own happiness? Why can’t it just happen? Like, right now, and more often!

(On the other hand, would you rather rely on the vagaries of fate to determine when and how much you can be happy?) Accepting this truth is the first, and perhaps most difficult, step.

Truth 2: Happiness is a skill. As Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, dubbed “the happiest man in the world” based on MRI imaging of his brain while meditating, writes in “Happiness: A Guide To Developing Life’s Most Important Skill:” happiness is something to be learned, like playing tennis or reading. That’s empowering, don’t you think? Because it means that, rather than something that just “happens,” happiness is something I can practice (like my backhand!) – and on the days when I just can’t seem to get there, it’s more akin to my tennis game being off than it is about not being able to “find” happiness.

Still, I often forget these truths when I get caught up in the hectic day-to-day and find myself reverting to the good ol’ familiar myths many of us have been conditioned to believe.

Myth 1: Once I get what I want, I’ll be happy. The new sports car, six-figure job and window office, or dream relationship may bring an undeniable excitement and satisfaction into your life but it won’t be long before a new desire takes its place. That’s all right, it’s the human condition to be in a constant state of wanting. The trick is to savor the feeling of desire and the process of moving toward its satisfaction — not to equate it with unhappiness. (Not convinced? You only need pick up the latest tabloid to see celebrities demonstrating how limitless money, adoration and excitement do not guarantee happiness.)

Myth 2: If life weren’t so hard, I’d be happy. Somewhere along the way (probably from watching quick-fix TV sitcoms), we developed the expectation that the default setting of life is “easy”, and we are taken aback when it isn’t. Break-ups, layoffs, injuries – these are all bizarre aberrations that aren’t supposed to happen! During those times when life is hard, we tend to think, “Okay, as soon as [this difficult thing] passes, then I will be happy.” But in case you hadn’t noticed there’s always something preventing life from being smooth and idyllic.

The good news: we don’t have to put off happiness. The not-so-good news: it takes practice.

It’s up to us. Just like the tennis fanatic playing in freezing temperatures without a net, we can make a decision to be happy regardless of circumstances – to commit to a state of well-being, fully engaged in and living life — whatever it brings.

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