“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
Every waking moment of our lives, the mantra “How do I find happiness” loops continuously in our brains, like a song that we can’t quite remember the words to but can’t stop humming.
I know that I have been guilty of groaning a time or two—more to myself, wondering what I was doing “wrong”—as I observed yet another couple blissfully gazing into each other’s eyes, or witnessed a neighbor cruising up the driveway behind the wheel of the same shiny new car that I wanted.
Honest Abe hit the nail on the head best when he said: “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
The majority of us do make our minds up to be happy—or at least try—yet we still aren’t.
So what gives?
One of my favorite Chinese proverbs is about an old cat watching a younger cat chasing its tail around in circles. “What are you doing?” asked the elder cat with amusement. “I was told that if I caught my tail then I would find happiness,” replied the young cat. After a long moment, the wise old cat said matter-of-factly to the youngster: “Look at me, I go about living my life, and my tail just naturally follows me where ever I go.”
The simple lesson here is that most of us have become programmed to believe that a magical place called “Happily ever after” exists that we can control. Well, in a way that’s true, but mostly it’s not.
Let me explain.
We can choose the concept of happiness in the sense that it is a conscious choice, but we can’t control it to a larger degree, because the very nature of life is constantly changing—so those things that we rest this promise of happiness upon can’t and don’t last. People don’t always stick around and jobs don’t always work out. And since our brains are wired with both pleasure and pain centers regulated by different chemicals that help us avoid pain and seek out pleasure, it’s no wonder that the quest for happiness can leave most of us chasing our tails in vain.
The good news is that when we change the way that we have been programmed to believe that circumstances outside of ourselves can create happiness, we then create an opportunity to build a more realistic model of happiness.
And the real game-changer to making this happen is in the knowledge that—because our biology has wired us to be more negative than positive—it’s really up to us to stop buying into all of the “happily ever after crap” that we have been programmed to believe.
Still scratching your head? Repeat after me:
Happiness is a choice not a destination.
So how do we reprogram this unrealistic model of happiness that has become so hard-wired into our brain’s working circuitry and create a more realistic one? We do this by making the conscious choice each and every moment to be happy. Each time that we catch ourselves placing power in something outside of us, we can catch ourselves and repeat:
Happiness is a choice, not destination.
We are all guilty of complicating our lives by giving away our power to external things—so we just have to stop doing it. Most of the time (with the exception of mental health issues, which is a whole other conversation), we can just stop in the moment and consciously choose happiness over unhappiness.
It really can be this easy to make a different choice—it’s not brain surgery. We don’t have to sugarcoat the truth, either—but we can just drop whatever thoughts are causing unhappiness if they are not serving us.
With a bit of effort, we can do this—or at least try. And isn’t it worth it to just try?
As we restructure our thoughts and stop looking for happiness outside of ourselves like it were a Pokémon, one day soon we may just wake up to discover that we have become like that wise old cat whom figured out that happiness is not a place; for most of us, it’s a conscious choice that we can make, each and every single second of our lives.
Author: Michelle Brunetti
Image: Sean Hobson at Flickr
Editor: Renée Picard