I once listened to a stand-up comedian joke about a burglary scheme he wanted to try: he wanted to break into houses in a neighborhood and steal. But instead of thieving valuable TVs and electronics, he just wanted to steal the remote controls. Afterward, he planned to drive around that neighborhood and look in the windows so he could laugh at everyone’s frustration at not being able to change the channel. A real prankster. But there’s actually some truth for each of us in this comic routine: we often give others the remote control to our happiness.
“Most people are about as happy as they make up their mind to be.” So said Abraham Lincoln. It isn’t what happens to us in life that determines our happiness so much as how we react to what happens. There are so many things that are outside our control; however, we can always control our thoughts about those things. If, for example, you lose your job, you get to choose how you respond. You may view the circumstance as the opportunity to start that new business you’ve been contemplating – or, you might decide that you must be stupid, incompetent, or unneeded. If these unhealthy thoughts continue, the result will be drastically different and completely unhappy.
Carolyn Cooper, founder of SimplyHealed ™, often refers to the following sequence that determines our happiness: A) An event happens B) A person has a belief about what just occurred, and C) The consequential result, based on that belief. She uses the example of a football game: one team loses, one wins. Same event, but very different reactions to that event, depending on a person’s belief (in this case, which team you are on).
Choosing to be happy can be one of the greatest challenges of life. Maturity means taking responsibility for our own happiness and choosing to be grateful for what we have, instead of focusing on what we lack. There’s always a reason to be grateful for what we have right now, even if it’s nothing more than knowing you are learning an important life lesson. Gratitude is key to happiness. Always start right where you are, and be truly thankful in your circumstance. Remember that on the other side of this problem is an undoubtedly more resilient and wise person of strength.
Watch your thoughts vigilantly, knowing what to keep and what to discard. It seems to be human nature to remember an insult for years, and forget a compliment we received just yesterday. If we aren’t careful, this mindset will train us to become garbage collectors, carrying around trash that was thrown at us years ago. Being happy can be hard work sometimes. It’s kind of like maintaining a nice home – you’ve got to keep your treasures and toss the junk.
This new year, may we all maintain full ownership of the remote control to our own joy. Thieves may try to break in and steal, but we have the power to keep our happiness safe. Remember there’s a lesson in everything – if you’re looking for it. “Happiness is a direction, not a place.” Sydney J. Harris