I have an old friend from law school who had a term for people who – when asked how things were going – always said things were simply fabulous no matter what the circumstances were in their lives. We had a classmate who – even if she was going through a difficult break-up, or didn’t do as well on an exam as she had hoped – she’d still keep a smile on her face and confidently declare her life was wonderful when asked. My friend called her a “maintainer.” She suggested to me that this person “maintained” that life was blissful because outside appearances were so important, but that the truth of her life was not all rainbows and butterflies.
Or was it. Is there an objective truth – a set of laws – that defines the relationship between our life experiences and our emotional state? If we lose 10 pounds, does that mean – per se – that we are happier? If we don’t get the promotion, does that mean, automatically, that we are unhappy? If we dissolve our marriage, does that mean unhappy? If our child gets into the gifted program, does that mean happy? And if we are met with tragedy, are we allowed to feel happy despite the tragic circumstances?
Things that to one person might be “tragic” events or circumstances might be life-affirming blessings to another person. This became very clear to me when I received a melanoma diagnosis last summer. While at first I experienced sensations of deep and uncomfortable fear, within a short time I found myself deeply grateful. I found myself on the receiving end of a very profound wake-up call – a clear message that my body is sacred and is meant to be nourished and appreciated, as well as a reaffirmation that my choice to take the plunge into the deep waters of starting my own business, hanging out my shingle, and sharing my experiences and musings with the world was exactly what I was meant to be doing. My husband and I found ourselves feeling even closer, and my commitment to being present in the moment with my son grew even stronger.
If you haven’t heard me say it (or anyone else say it), listen closely: Happiness is a choice. We can either be the victim of our circumstances, or we can choose to create our own experiences, to choose the lens through which we see the events and relationships in our lives. We can consciously choose to shift our perception so that we open our eyes to the gifts in our lives.
My old law school friend was right, just being a “maintainer” isn’t enough to actually be a happy person. But, it’s a start. In fact, it may even be a prerequisite. Real happiness starts with a true DESIRE to FEEL happy. A conscious decision to embrace joy, freedom, gratitude – or whatever those highest value feelings are in your own life that make up the definition of happiness for you. Just saying “it’s all good” isn’t enough, but it is essential. Start now.