Please take a moment to marinate in an excerpt from one of my favorite books of all-time. If you have kids, you should probably recognize it instantly:
[You’ll] grind on for miles across weirdish wild space, headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place.
…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go,
or bus to come, or a plane to go,
or the mail to come, or the rain to go,
or the phone to ring or the snow to snow,
or waiting around for a Yes or No,
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite,
or waiting for wind to fly a kite,
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake,
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break,
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants,
or wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
NO! That’s not for you!
Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing.”
-Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
Do you know what a “Boom Band” is? Yeah, I’m not entirely sure either.
Here’s what I do know, though.
No one likes waiting.
Unfortunately, besides the fact that it’s a less-than-enjoyable thing to do, waiting can also be incredibly dangerous too.
This is especially true when it comes to waiting for happiness.
Like Dr. Seuss said, it’s time to escape all that waiting and staying.
I might not know exactly what Boom Bands are, but I know that they’re good. More importantly, I happen to know exactly where the Boom Bands are playing too.
It’s time that we pay that place a visit.
The Reality of Happiness
(Author’s Note: Before we get started, allow me to make a quick disclaimer. Nothing that I’ll be talking about in this blog post, or in any blog post that I’ll ever write, will deal with the issue of depression. Depression is a serious medical condition that requires professional help that I am in no way qualified to provide. This is about the very common experience of unhappiness that everyone reading this has experienced at one time or another. Make sense? Okay, moving on…)
In the history of this universe, I’m not sure if there is any concept that is as misunderstood as “happiness.” Or more specifically, how to achieve happiness.
It’s time to set the record straight.
Most people have the happiness formula in the wrong order.
- They wait for 5′ o clock.
- They wait for the weekend.
- They wait until they fall in love again.
- They wait until their bathroom scale displays a particular number.
- They wait until they’re able to live in a nicer neighborhood.
- They wait until their boss either quits or gets fired.
- They wait until they get themselves out of debt.
- They wait until they are able to take that tropical vacation.
- They wait until they finally get that raise and/or promotion at work.
- They wait until they get their book published.
- They wait until they find the courage to leave their terrible relationship.
And once those things finally happen for them, then they’ll finally be happy.
Unfortunately, happiness doesn’t work that way and it never will. That’s why I cannot stress this enough:
Nothing is more damaging to our happiness than choosing to wait for it.
Please don’t be one of the many sad souls who wait until a certain event happens in their lives before they give themselves the permission to be happy.
There is a huge risk in doing this, and it should be obvious.
Once we finally get what you’re looking for, we’ll realize that while it may make us temporarily happy, it won’t make us as happy as deeply (or for as long) as we thought it would.
So, we keep chasing happiness.
And during this chase, we’ll sadly realize that happiness will always be one weekend away from now.
Happiness will always be few pounds less than what the bathroom scale is telling us.
Happiness will always be one extra zero more than what’s currently at the end of our bank account balance.
Happiness will always be waiting for us in the arms of a new significant other who is better than the loser we’re currently stuck with.
Predictably, if we choose to follow this pattern, true happiness will always remain slightly out of our grasp until the day that we die.
There is a better way.
The reality of true happiness is that we must accept the fact that it’s an inside job, and it’s a choice.
The key is that it’s not the choice that you’ve been led to believe.
Happiness: A New Choice
I want you to think of the unhappiest moment of your life.
I’m not talking about a time where you were “slightly bummed out.” I’m talking about full-on sadness and despair.
We’ve all been there. I know that I have.
Imagine that while you’re in the depths of experiencing that sadness and despair, a well-meaning person came up to you, patted you on the shoulder and said, “Come on, snap out of it. Happiness is a choice! Just choose to be happy!”
How would you respond to that person?
If you’re anything like me, you’d want to roundhouse kick that fool in the throat.
“Happiness is a choice” is such a sorry oversimplification of happiness that it makes me want to pull out the nonexistent hair in my head.
Anyone who has ever experienced real sadness knows that it’s not as simple as “choosing to be happy.” If it were that simple, every unhappy person on this earth would probably be happy already. Here’s the real deal:
Happiness is a skill.
Happiness is no different than playing the guitar, speaking a foreign language or learning how to swim.
Just like we cannot magically choose to become an expert guitar player, Spanish speaker, or swimmer without practice, happiness doesn’t just magically happen to us without practice either.
And similar to any other skill, happiness takes some serious effort and practice to master. Also, since our minds are already wired to be negative, it may take more practice than you might think. For example:
- It takes effort and practice to consistently focus on the solutions to our problems instead of mindlessly complaining to anyone who will listen.
- It takes effort and practice to consistently choose an attitude that not only empowers us, but also makes the world a more positive place instead of a more negative one.
- It takes effort to mindfully manage and control our emotions instead of letting our emotions control us.
- It takes effort and practice to find the good in situations where the good is not clearly obvious.
That’s why I find it incredibly irritating when people say, “It must be nice to be as happy as you are. Some of us have real issues to deal with.”
You’re kidding, right?
Please trust that I have many “real issues” to deal with and that I don’t magically wake up each morning just being “happy.”
I work my ass off to be happy. Every. Single. Day.
Happiness is important to me and I work hard at it. I actually consider it to be a full-time job–and it’s not always an easy job either, but it’s definitely one of the most rewarding.
It takes a lot of strength, determination and courage for a person to pull him/herself out of less-than-positive circumstances to find happiness–it would be far easier not to do it.
But I refuse to go down that road anymore.
I decided that after quite a few years of being miserable, that continuing to go down that dark path was a pretty terrible way to go through life (not very profound, I know).
Now that I’m a parent, I have fully committed myself to practicing the skills of happiness, not only so I can be the best dad possible to my little girls, but so that I can also teach them that they can learn the skills to be happy too.
All it takes is repetition through deliberate practice.
- We can learn to be fully present with deliberate practice.
- We can learn to be thankful for what we have with deliberate practice.
- We can learn to control our emotions, instead of having our emotions control us, with deliberate practice.
- We can learn to surround ourselves with people who bring out the best in us, instead of the ones who consistently drain our energy, with deliberate practice.
- We can learn to find the nugget of positivity in almost any situation, instead of instantly wallowing in the negative, with deliberate practice.
If you want to do something amazing for your overall happiness, start by being aware of when you’re doing the opposite of the five things mentioned above.
For example, when you notice yourself complaining indefinitely about a negative event/person in your life, become aware of it, and make a conscious effort to do something that will make you happier (e.g., focus on finding solutions, be thankful for what you already have, choosing a more useful thought, etc.)
Just like any skill, with repetition and consistent, deliberate practice, the skill of happiness becomes easier and easier until it eventually becomes a natural part of who we are.
That is the only way to achieve meaningful and long-lasting happiness.
This news should be very liberating.
Instead of thinking that happiness is something that will eventually happen to us, find us, or magically be bestowed upon us on one special day in the future–none of those things are even close to being true.
Happiness is a skill that we make happen through effort and practice. That means happiness is in our complete control.
And there’s the real choice.
Where Real Happiness Exists
Some of you already know this, but I like to jokingly call myself a Happiness Extremist. More than anything, I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of being happy and joyful while we’re alive on this earth.
I believe that far too many of us spend our lives in a constant state of blah-ness that is SO far away from truly experiencing real happiness.
How many people can remember the last time that they laughed so hard that tears streamed down their faces?
How many people can remember the last time that they were so happy that they couldn’t stop from singing and/or dancing in public?
How many people can remember experiencing a state of joyful gratitude that was so deeply powerful that it resonated throughout their entire being?
And even if they do remember these times, are those special moments a common occurrence or are they a once-in-a-blue-moon type of deal?
As bad as all of that is, I saved the most disturbing question for last:
How many people will continue to wait for happiness to find them?
Don’t be one of those people.
We can start practicing the skill of happiness the moment we’re done reading these words. Remember, you’re slowing killing your life by waiting until “someday” do it.
Like Dr. Seuss said, it’s time to escape all of that waiting and staying.
I know exactly where those Boom Bands are playing.
They’re playing inside of us.
It’s the only place in the world where real happiness exists.
Have you ever waited for happiness in your life? Do you believe that happiness is a skill that can be learned with practice? Either way, jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!