“Joy is our goal, our destiny. We cannot know who we are except in Joy.
Not knowing Joy, we do not know ourselves.”
In this article, Molly offers us 25 goals for happiness based on her personal life lessons and experience, as well as the life experiences of others who have shared their wisdom, lessons, and stories of personal transformation with her over the years.
“25 Lessons in Happiness”
by Molly Stranahan
At some stress-filled moment, have you had the experience of realizing you had forgotten what you learned in the past, the self-knowledge that healed and brought joy or just got you through a tough time? The theme of “Life Lessons” created an excuse for me to write down the lessons I have learned, but sometimes forget to use. I’m pledging to renew my commitment to living them, and offer them in the hopes they might help you, or they might inspire you to remember your greatest life lessons.
Even though I’m a psychologist, I’ve learned more of life’s lessons through personal experience than through my formal education. Many of my lessons have come from hearing (or reading) the transformational moments of others — their own life lessons — which they were generous enough to share. And the most important lessons I’ve learned are those that have led me out of pain and into happiness.
And so, dear reader, may you find some message below which leads you to a new belief or understanding, releases you from some burden, or takes you to an even higher level of happiness. I’ve put the life lessons I’ve learned…so far…in the form of 25 goals to remind myself daily that I know how to be happy, despite the challenges life puts in my path. I will be even happier if some of them increase your happiness.
I will make happiness a worthy goal, for achieving it is entirely within my power. Our nation’s founding fathers declared the pursuit of happiness to be an important and inalienable right. I choose to use it as a primary measure of my success in life. I believe I will die peacefully if I can say I have lived a happy life and helped others to do the same. Achieving both goals is well within my grasp because, as Abraham Lincoln noted, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” So all I have to do is help people change their minds. It isn’t what happens to us that determines how happy we are, it’s what and how we think about what happens to us. Some people call it attitude. Whatever name you give it, it’s the key to happiness.
I will use my feelings to tell me when things aren’t working for me. When I‘m angry, sad, upset, afraid, frustrated, or irritated, when any of those “unpleasant” feelings come over me, I will recognize them as signals that something needs to be changed, so I can regain my happy state. I will use them as cues to examine the situation at hand, particularly my thoughts and beliefs about what is happening to me. I will look at how I am interpreting what is happening, what thoughts are leading to my hurt or anxious or angry feelings. Some have described the process as watching themselves experience the feeling, and then looking for the thoughts behind the emotion. I find that doing this lets me be a grownup, empowered to take responsibility for my feelings, rather than a child victimized by them.
I will let go of what I cannot change: other people, the past, the future. This resolution takes the constant reminder to stop being upset over what isn’t in my control. Reinhold Niebuhr’s serenity prayer helps me do that. “Grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I have to remember that I don’t get to decide other people’s feelings or behavior. I can’t make them act the way I want them to act. I can’t make them love me. I can’t make them happy. What I can do is ask them what they’re thinking or how they’re feeling. I can ask them for what I’d like them to give me. I can control my response to their behavior, creating a reward or punishment for their choice. I can warn them what consequence I will provide for each of their choices.
When I find myself regretting something from the past, I will ask myself if it will help to talk to someone, to get a new perspective on the situation or to share mine, or decide whether I need to apologize for what I did to cause my regret. I will let go of my worries of the future by thinking about what I can do to prepare for the situation that is making me anxious. Then I will let go of pointless worrying about what I can’t control. I can choose to stop investing my physical and emotional energy in the things I cannot change.
I will focus on what I can change–my thoughts, beliefs, expectations, and behavior, which will change how I feel. When I examine, for example, why I’m upset over other people’s behavior in traffic, it’s often because I’m afraid I’m going to be late for an appointment, which usually happens because I didn’t leave enough time for lost or leisurely motorists and red lights. Rather than yell my frustration (with the windows rolled up, of course) at the “slow” driver in front of me, I can take responsibility for having brought my tardiness on myself and accept the fact that I will be late rather than shift the blame by focusing on other people and circumstances. I will then use my time constructively by phoning the person who’s expecting me or thinking about how to apologize when I finally arrive, while resolving to allow myself more transit-time in the future. Caught in similar frustrating, unavoidable circumstances, rather than fume at other people’s “selfishness” and inconsiderate behavior, I can remind myself I have no control over what others choose to think or do. Instead, I can refuse to turn into a whining child because of situations and events beyond my power to alter or fix. By keeping my attention on the things I can control — my thoughts, beliefs, expectations, feelings and behavior — I will remain an empowered, responsible adult. And I will have transformed my anger into calm.
I will appreciate the moment. I will notice the good things that are happening to me right now, whether it’s a beautiful sky, a happy child, an efficient grocery store clerk, or hitting all the green lights for a change. I don’t know how many years or days I’ll live, so I want to live this moment fully. I will ask myself often, “If this turns out to be the last day of my life, have I enjoyed it to the fullest extent possible?” It’s easy to lapse into worrying about the future, or dreaming of better things to come, or stewing in our regrets over the past while we miss the golden sunlight streaming in our window, or don’t hear the lovely song playing on the radio. I will try not to miss this moment because I’m so focused on what I should be doing next. Even when I am working toward a future goal, I will try to enjoy the process of getting there. I will ask myself constantly, “What can I do to wring the most joy from this moment, from this experience?” I will remind myself that taking out the garbage in the rain is a chance to smell the wet earth, to feel nature’s fresh raindrops on my skin, maybe even to stomp in a puddle. I will seize every opportunity to laugh and have fun and learn from every task, no matter how routine or boring. Housework becomes fun when I blast Motown and dance while drying the dishes or sing along with the Supremes while making the bed, so this is what I will do to make my life joyful…
Copyright Molly Stranahan. All Rights Reserved. (Excerpted from her article, “25 Resolutions for Happiness: What I’ve Learned… So Far.”)
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Wishing you a joyful day!!