My husband Thom had a rather cantankerous relationship with his mother. Bert, short for Roberta, had a very strong need for approval, especially from others. That led her to working every day to make Thom the perfect child. Unfortunately, the more she tried, the more rebellious he became. But even then, something she did do for him was to plant an extremely powerful seed in his mind. Ironically, rather than tell him directly, he overheard her saying it to a neighbor. That seed, that statement was, “Thom can do anything he sets his mind to.” Not only did that seed sprout and take root, it’s been a guiding principal in his life. And I’d bet, when you think about it, most of us live our entire lives based upon what we’ve set our mind to be, do, or have. Regrettably, many of us ignore the power of that set point as well as our ability to adjust it in a positive way by design.
Because I write so much about maintaining a positive attitude and happiness, I frequently hear from others that suggest that it is easy for me because I have such a great life. But from my perspective, a big reason why I have such a great life is exactly because that is what “I’ve made up my mind” to have. While that might sound like bragging or even being delusional, I am actually just following in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln is reported to have said, “Folks are usually about as happy as they make up their mind to be.”
And Lincoln should know. In case you’ve forgotten, Lincoln had a very tumultuous life. History shows that Lincoln battled with sadness and depression his entire life. Not only did he fail in two business ventures, he lost a number of elections for public office, including the Vice-Presidency. His mother and sister died when he was young and his first fiancée died before they were married. Following that he had a nervous breakdown and was bed-ridden for six months. When he eventually did marry his wife had four children with only one of them living to maturity. Yet in spite of all that loss and challenge he was able to say that we can be as happy as we make up our mind to be.
In case you’re wondering, Lincoln wasn’t the only person who said something along these lines. Here are a few other quotes from others that show the power of making up our minds to be happy.
“Make up your mind to be happy. Learn to find pleasure in simple things.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson
“You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. Remember, fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind.” ~Dale Carnegie
“It is your choice to be happy. Make up your mind to enjoy this day, to have a blessed, prosperous, victorious year. You may have some setbacks and your circumstances may change but don’t let that change your mind. Keep it set to happiness.” ~Joel Osteen
“It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.” ~Lucy Maud Montgomery
“If you want to be sad, no one in the world can make you happy. But if you make up your mind to be happy, no one and nothing on earth can take that happiness from you.” ~Paramhansa Yogananda
Okay, so say you agree with me and others that we all have the power to make up our mind to be happy. Why don’t we? What keeps many of us from making this choice every single moment? I think the most obvious excuse comes from a guy named Robert Breault who said, “It’s hard to make up your bed while you’re still sleeping on it. Hard to make up your mind for the same reason.”
Accepting that, here are five things that I think are necessary to help us make up our mind to be happy:
1) Stay Present And Mindful. Most of us are pretty sloppy with our thoughts. Like the blowing wind, we allow circumstances and distractions to take our thoughts in every direction nearly every moment of the day. As author and Harvard Happiness Expert Daniel Gilbert says in his book, Stumbling on Happiness:
“People spend 46 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy… ‘Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,’ Killingsworth says. ‘In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.’… Time-lag analyses conducted by the researchers suggested that their subjects’ mind-wandering was generally the cause, not the consequence, of their unhappiness.”
2) Train Your Thoughts It is very popular to get enough exercise and eat in a way that keeps a person healthy. But some people are far less discriminating about doing what it takes to train their mind and keep it healthy and happy. Sounds simple, right? But as author Anne Lamont says:
“Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper.”
3) Pay Attention To Your Self-Talk Most of us would never, ever say certain things to people we care about. Yet, without even noticing, we often say some of the harshest and unkind things to ourselves over and over again. Anytime we put our negative emotions like fear and anger into words in our mind, we are feeding ourselves a toxic waste that destroys our happiness. Like sports star David James said:
“Be mindful of your self-talk. It’s a conversation with the universe.”
4) Hang Out With The Right People I think we all intuitively know that the people who we spend the most time with have the power to influence both our health and our happiness. Research is going even further now by proving that it happens even with the friends of the friends we hang out with. If you want to make up your mind to be happier, then be very picky about the people you hang out with. As Mark Twain said:
“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you too, can become great. When you are seeking to bring plans to fruition, it is important who you regularly associate. Hang out with friends who are like-minded and who are also designing purpose-filled lives. Similarly, be that kind of a friend for your friends.”
5) Stay Focused And Determined To Be Happy ~ I realize that some of us have it easier than others to make up our mind about happiness. But instead of comparing our lives to those of us who have it easier, how about we take a look at all of those who have faced and triumphed over challenges much harder than ours and won. It is possible if we take the time, and if you’re anything like me, I find that very inspiring. I’m like everyone else—I can complain or whine about some of the pain I’ve had in my life or I can make up my mind to create the life I want. As George Bernard Shaw said:
“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.”
Starting today, I am going to do my best to make up my mind to be happy no matter what. That doesn’t mean I’m condoning bad actions or that I won’t stay actively engaged at working to create a better world. But what it does mean is that in spite of any circumstances I am going to act as though happiness, hope and possibility are available to each and every one of us. Plus, as Earl Nightingale said, “We are all self-made, but only the successful will admit it.” Just remember it’s SMART to realize that every single one of us can set our mind to anything. Choose wisely.