For as long as I can remember I have always encountered a new year with optimism and hope. Even when Y2K or the Mayan 2012 (remember them?) were on the horizon and then passed, I believed that any obstacle we faced in a new year could be overcome by either going over, around, or through the problems in front of us. Now here in 2017, we are faced with new and interesting challenges. But again, it is not my nature, nor the reality that I live in, to believe that optimism and hope are suddenly impossible. As I, and others far wiser than me have said, “Pain may be inevitable, but suffering is always optional.” With that in mind, I’ve spent the first few days of the year coming up with what I believe are ten ways to embrace more happiness and hope in the next 365 days.
Of course, I don’t deny or diminish the fact that others in the world face far more difficult challenges than I. But how would my sliding into despair or worry help those in need? If I’m huddled in my bed under the covers, how can I ever be of service to the planet? Likewise, if I ignore the world and medicate myself with mindless television, drugs, booze, shopping or magical thinking, how can one consider that really living? I drew inspiration this morning from author Elizabeth Gilbert. In her most recent book, Big Magic she quotes a poet by the name of Jack Gilbert who inspired her as she explored what makes for hopeful and creative living beyond fear.
Jack Gilbert was no Pollyanna. Not only did he live through his own personal tragedy and pain, his poetry continually reflects the emotions of a fully engaged life. He also seemed to recognize that anything important takes time, discipline and effort—the combination of which can certainly be difficult. He openly acknowledged that it takes great courage, determination and maturity not to falter and fall in the world. To Jack Gilbert, giving into despair, discouragement or fear was to sacrifice the gift of living full out. A portion of his poem, A Brief For The Defense states it clearly.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
With an intention to risk delight and hold the space of stubborn happiness, here are ten actions I intend to adopt in the coming days.
- Believe you deserve to be happy in spite of circumstances. Unless you acknowledge that you deserve happiness, then its unlikely you will give yourself permission to do what it takes to find and hang on to it. This is not to normalize, deny or resist the problems we face but rather to transform them into whatever is most healing for ourselves and others. And to, as Jack Gilbert admonishes us, “admit there will be music despite everything.”
- Refuse to give up your happiness because others aren’t happy. Author and guide Abraham-Hicks constantly remind us to beware of anyone who tells us that our personal happiness is an act of selfishness. That’s likely because that person or organization is trying to manipulate or control us into behaving in ways that make them happy.
- Realize you are most effective in the world and able to create positive change when you come from a place of happiness and wellbeing. As the Buddha said, “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”
- Make feeling happy and at peaceful your number one goal. When making New Year’s Resolutions or other intentions for the coming year, few people list “happiness.” Why? Why not put happiness, wellbeing or gladness at the top and then let everything else flow from there? When you allow the emotion of happiness to be a base-point your life, you set yourself up to bring joy to every action.
- Decide to get yourself in a happy mood or at least a feeling of wellbeing before making any important decisions. This is another thing I’ve learned from Abraham-Hicks that makes a lot of sense. When we are in a calm, relaxed and happy state we think more clearly and make better decisions. If we did this with greater mindfulness, every decision would surely bring better results.
- Consciously hang out with other happy and optimistic people. Do others in your life continually remind you of all that is wrong in the world? Do they complain or ruminate on their health of that of others? Are they convinced the world is going to hell in a hand basket? As I’ve written before, the people around us are contagious. Decide today to stay away from those who drag you down and seek out those who lift you up. More importantly, strive to be a person who offers happiness and hope to everyone you encounter.
- Treat yourself like a really good friend. Talk kindly and soothingly to yourself. Eat well, get good sleep, and stay physically active. Take yourself dancing and play on a regular basis. It’s very easy to look to other people to be our best friend. But until we start treating ourselves at least as well as we would someone we love and care for, our inner being will suffer. By befriending and caring for ourselves, we grow stronger, healthier and more able to engage with life.
- Measure your personal success by the degree of your happiness and wellbeing. How many of us use the amount of money in our bank account, the car we drive, the home we own, and the number of our friends or whatever else to tell us that we are successful? Refuse to let pain or worry be the measure of your caring. Instead, allow yourself the gift of using your own hope and happiness as the ultimate measure of a successful life.
- Realize that trying to make other people happy is impossible. You can never be miserable enough to make unhappy people happy; you can never martyr yourself enough to satisfy a martyr.
- Do what you do because you find satisfaction and fulfillment when you are actively engaged in helping others and spreading good in the world—not because it is a ticket to somewhere once you die. If you are giving out of guilt or trying to buy favor, not only are you sacrificing your happiness, your efforts are diminished. Likewise, you are teaching those around you that guilt, sacrifice, and martyrdom are necessary elements in this life.
- Bonus* It seems a bit silly to mention it over and over again here on SMART Living, but I think we all know that staying grateful is one of the sure ways to happiness and hope. No matter how challenged, if we can find something we are truly grateful for, it has the ability to shift our focus toward the light.
This year I intend to make happiness my primary goal. I want to be like Helen Keller who said, “Life is a daring adventure, or nothing.” I want to live like songwriter Jimmy Buffett sings, “I want to die while I’m living, not live while I’m dead.” I want to relish my life and what lies ahead like poet Mary Oliver who writes,
“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
There are those in the world that believe it is only possible to be happy when everything lines up perfectly in their lives. Others seem to fall apart and pull everyone down with them at the first sign of danger or disaster. It’s as though they were previously immune to the possibility, and now that they’ve been startled awake, they are convinced happiness at its root is a lie. Still, others think happiness is an impossible emotion better left to children or the ignorant. I disagree.
Being happy and hopeful doesn’t mean bad things never happen to good people. It also doesn’t mean that I sit back and pretend everything will work itself out just because I am a positive person. Instead, it is having the trust in both the Universe and myself that when I rest in well-being, hope and grounded happiness, I will be motivated to stay active and engaged in the world in a way that is most helpful to all. And as always, SMART Living is remembering that I have the choice to do that 365 days of the year no matter what. Why not start today?