“Well, they finally got us seated before the line got any longer. But I really wanted a booth. Oh great, they have 150 pancake options but not one french toast dish that I’d rather have. I may not be eating alone like that woman at the counter, but my eating companion is nothing to write home about”.
I wonder how many moments of joy I’ve missed, waiting for things to be exactly the way I wanted them to be. It’s hard not to be disappointed and to wish some things were different. But when wanting things to be a certain way became a requirement for my happiness, I closed the door to noticing the good in the way things were.
Making my happiness contingent on outside circumstances gave a lot of power to things over which I had little control. I wasn't in charge of my feelings. If we wait to be happy till people around us act a certain way, or till we have all the things we want to have, we may spend very little of our time feeling joyful.
In the end, our circumstances don’t lead directly to our feelings. Our responses to our circumstances are determined by what we believe about them. This is a good thing, because we can’t always change our circumstances, but we can edit what we are assuming.
I was assuming that my only road to happiness was when things outside of myself conformed to the way I wanted them to be. Once I realized that that was an over exaggeration, and extremely limiting, I began to understand that I could seek the joy that was right in front of me. I could choose to look and be grateful for what was good, making happiness a habit.
Building an attitude of gratitude takes practice. How many of us can rattle off a list of complaints in response to the question “How are you”, or have entered into a “contest” of who had the worst day? I am not suggesting that there we ignore the situations in our lives and in the larger world that are difficult. It is possible, however, to experience our feelings in response to these situations, without allowing them to turn into our dominant emotions.
Instead of hanging onto those emotions, we can develop a “gratitude lens” though which we can look at our lives. There are a number of things we can do to help develop this lens. For example, we can choose a time of the day when we list and remind ourselves about several things for which we are grateful.
We can widen our awareness of the things for which we are grateful. We can pay attention to things that we have previously taken for granted, such as blue skies, a warm bed to sleep in and Krispy Kreme donuts! Rather than waiting to do things we enjoy, we can schedule times in our week to actively pursue more joy-inducing opportunities. I spend some time every week doing pastel paintings, meditating and power-walking, but the possibilities are endless. I also limit negative media input and try to surround myself with others who try to choose joy.
Sometimes, when I struggle, I smile, even when there is no obvious reason to do so in that moment. My body often reacts to that smile and leads to a surge in happiness. The cherry on top of the joy sundae for me is music. Any music increases my joy, but especially the songs that act as reminders, such as “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.
When we notice and receive the good that is there for the taking, we bring more of it to ourselves. We can make happiness a habit and act as a spark to help others find more joy as well.