A very good friend of mine and I were talking recently and the concept of being "deliberately happy" came up. We both agreed that it is the way to go. I can't remember my mother, or any adult for that matter talking with me about what it would take for me to be happy. I have heard "well, if it makes you happy then. . .", many times, but that's not what I'm talking about. That is just giving me surface permission to do something that I've presented. I would venture to say that those words usually come when you've taken a situation to someone for approval when you aren't completely sure about the decision. For instance, you haven't paid your credit card bill and there is a pair of shoes for $250 that would be perfect with the outfit you have planned for this weekend. You go to several people and none, one, some or all of them say "well, if it makes you happy, then get them". Or, they may also try to help you logically think through why you shouldn't get them; however if you're anything like I was, you have a pretty solid case on why you should and really all that's left to do is approve.
There are a variety of situations where we believe that something or someone will make us happy, but we haven't thought much about why. It took me a long time to understand how to be deliberately happy. Before I was just stumbling upon it through God's grace. I've mentioned in past blogs that I majored in Finance because I was good at math, but I didn't think about what my life would look like in a Finance position. I would be mostly tied to a desk, at a computer, working with numbers, producing reports and tied back to the desk. Well, that may work for those whose happy meter goes up when they are focused on one thing for long periods of time, and enjoys being along mostly while working. It did not completely work for me. I found that the times I could be with people, create strategies and give presentations, was when I was happiest in my work life. I must admit that earlier in my professional life the experiences that the paycheck from these jobs afforded me, made me feel happy. These experiences made me forget about how much I didn't like the environment I worked in, until I was back in it. Ultimately, I was compromising my true happiness for the money. Over time, I became very unhappy.
At some point, I took inventory of my life. The good, the bad and the ugly. I boiled it all down to fulfillment. Sound selfish? Maybe, but guess what? When I'm happy and fulfilled, I'm a better servant, mother, friend, companion, and business owner. That sounds like a win win. I wrote down all of the elements of my life that did or would make me happy. They included things like meeting new people, problem solving, teaching others, sharing, helping people to move beyond wherever they are, strategizing regularly, presenting, traveling, having authentic and meaningful relationships, memorable experiences, variety and flexibility. Ahhhhhh. Boy did it feel good to name them.
Now, I have to add a disclaimer that when you've not expressed what makes you happy in the past or lived it, you may meet with some resistance from those who are so locked in the depths of conformity that they are going to think you left the ranch, went coo coo, gone loco, if you know what I mean. This is normal. They can't fathom it and don't spend your time trying to help them see it. This is when you'll have to begin to spend your time with people who see your vision for your life and can support it. They know what it means to be deliberately happy because they are or at a minimum, they have a true desire to be at some point.
After I figured out what would make me happy, I had to go a step further and ask myself why? The reason is that you can still get caught up in the suggested elements of happiness. These are things like jewelry, cars, houses, shoes, clothes, a particular education, a certain lifestyle, etc. This is not to say that these things should not be on your "deliberately happy" list. Just make sure you dig into the why. If your happy elements include things that can be easily taken from you, what does that mean when they longer exist. When I was in my teens to late twenties (so not that long ago :)), I had all kinds of designer clothing, shoes, cars, jewelry, etc. on my list and then I lost them several times over. They say that the third time is a charm, and it was.
I first lost much of my "you fancy, huh?" clothes in a fire while visiting friends at Hampton University. Then again (having replaced much of it and more) when I went to New York to visit my sister and see Kiss of the Spider Woman, then head off to the Congressional Black Caucus in DC, everything was stolen out of my trunk. It was very sobering. I went to the Broadway play in jeans and sneakers. Luckily my mother did teach me very good coping skills, so I shook it off and had a great weekend (returned to being pissed off at a later date to process the emotion :)). Lastly, my mothers house was broken into and again. . . .they took my clothes, purses, jewelry, camera, etc.
Ah ha!!! (yes that's the light bulb coming on). I got it. These predictors of my happiness were false indicators. I felt the need to replace them so quickly because I thought they made me "happy", and when they were gone I was not. Hmmmm. Being the control freak that I am, I didn't like this one bit. Things controlling my emotions, deciding my happiness? Are you kidding me?! How could I have not seen it? Because our society fully supports it. Think about when you see someone in nice clothes, driving an expensive car, a big diamond or a pricey watch. Your first impression is most likely "they're doing well for themselves" or "there is someone who has it all". It could very well be true that owners of any of these luxury items are happy. I absolutely believe that. I'm just saying it's not an indicator.
Be deliberately happy. Determine what you what want life to look like. How do you want to spend your time? With whom? What kind of experiences do want to have? How do you want people to experience you? Who would you like to help? What kind of person do you want to be? How will you communicate that to others? Once you have all of this squared away, then add the icing; the rings, the cars, the homes, etc. This way, you can be sure to have control of your happiness.
Here's to deliberate happiness during the holidays and beyond.