On Happiness, by Emily Cooper


“Being happy is a very personal thing and it really has nothing to do with anyone else.” The originator of this quote is a mystery, but it resonates with me. Happiness is not a constant, but a thing of variegated peaks and valleys. While great things can happen to you, happiness itself isn’t something that just happens, rather, it is oftentimes a very personal, in-the-moment choice.

That being said, I acknowledge that life sometimes deals you more than your fair share of troubles, first, through what I like to call the “external inhibitors” such as tragedy or a plain old life obstacles and road blocks. Second, there are “internal inhibitors” such as anxiety and depression. More often than not, these two types of inhibitors combine to render your choice in the matter of your happiness either impossible or of herculean effort. What do we turn to then, in times when the power of our darkness is such that it takes away any ability to choose a state of mind? We call upon the passage of time, on the workings of medicine, therapy, diet, sweat, tears and so on. In the end, it seems to me that it’s up to the needs of the individual, and I don’t carry the degrees or a full enough breadth of life experience to claim any real wisdom or knowledge on the matter. All I know is that these entirely valid scenarios bring forth important, often long and extremely difficult journeys through darkness that must be made in a very personal way.

What I believe I can really speak to, however, is more a habit of making the positive choice when choice is possible– consciously choosing an alternative and positive thought-track when passing through the general day-to-day. Here is an example: You’ve woken up groggily after hitting the snooze button twice already. The sky is overcast and rather than starting to get ready, you grab my phone and check the news. Times are bleak so you open social media and all these joyous façades are gleaming out at you, taunting you and your rumpled pajamas and your sleep puffed eyes. In this scene, your first thoughts very well may be along the lines of: “Today will be a dreary, uphill battle. I know already that I’ll be dragging my feet. I hate everything already.” Ok, maybe a bit dramatic at the end there, but let’s asses! As soon as thoughts like these pass through your mind, you can play the mediator in your own train of thought. It’s possible, I promise and highly recommend that you try it (and yes I’m recommending talking to yourself for the sake of your mental health and sanity, not to its detriment). The moment you become aware of the nature of your thoughts is the moment you have power over them, and can interject defiantly. Perhaps you’ll try the following: “This day will be exactly what I make it. This day can be great if I provide the space for it to be- if I allow the discovery and the very living-out of this day to dictate what it is, rather than these presumptions. This day could be my day.” And do you know? Some of the time just making that bit of space for a little glow of hope really does lift a weight from one’s heart and gives you a much better chance at a good day from the get go.

These little positive rebellions can be applied to what you say to yourself when you look in the mirror. They apply to how you rebound after a day that, despite your best efforts, was more or less against you. They apply to your self-analysis and in your own given potential not just on the day to day but in achieving what you dream of. I sincerely believe that in frequently practicing these small rebellions against negativity and pessimisms, the mere power of your own thoughts can change the course of your life.

Easier said than done, right? It does take a bit of hard work and dedication to retrain your thoughts. These days, for whatever reason, a positive slant often goes against the grain or even becomes exhausting whether we mean to default to negativity or not.  I’m sure you’ve heard the modern day colloquialism, “block out the haters,” correct? I think a person can unlock their true happiness potential when they endeavor earnestly to focus less on the outside world and making comparisons to others, and more on the path beneath their own two feet- on what is within their power to control. Anything external, that is, anything to do with anyone else is such a lamentable waste of valuable time and energy that could be spent in getting you where you want to go, and toward appreciating all the wonderful things you have going for you in this very moment.

This may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes to help me maintain motivation or focus on my passions and goals, I remind myself that there will always be someone better than I am. There will always be someone smarter, more talented, more attractive, etc,… In that instance, if it’s futile to compete why am I wasting time in lamenting that I can’t and stalling on my dreams when I could just say, “Darn it all to hell” and do what I love anyway. Why? Because I love it. Rise above that mess that is the game of comparison, unless you’re the kind of person who is actively fueled by it to create your best work. A little healthy competition never hurt, but don’t let it stop you from going after what you’re passionate about. In the end we’re all fighting our own battles and you need to be the star of your very own show- no one else can do that for you and I believe we all deserve a chance to shine out.

In addition to choosing and practicing positive thought tracks, there are a few things we can easily influence in our immediate environment for the better that have a way of paying it back in kind over time. Ask yourself a few questions, such as, “Am I making my community a better place in the small ways that I can?” “Do I leave a place looking better than when I first arrived or walked by?” “Do I leave a person feeling better when I’ve left, if I can?” I truly believe that caring more about these basic things can culminate in more lasting gratification. It boosts how you feel about yourself, and how your peers feel about you. What matters most, though, is if you can say that you’re proud of you for making a positive influence on your surroundings.

Just as important as bettering your environment, I believe real happiness stems from being- simply enough- a better friend and cheerleader to yourself.

From 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos:

Treat yourself as if you were someone you were responsible for helping.

Make more space for the things that bring you joy and make you, you. It’s likely I’m stating the obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded every now and then. I’ll often ask myself, “Am I providing space in my life for the things I love and that I’m good at? If not, what can I do right now to make that happen? What can I research? Ask? Explore? Try? Be doing differently? What immediate steps, great or small, can I take to get me there?” Most of the time these line of questions are the simple helping hand I need in finding clarity and a more direct path to a harmonized lifestyle. To anyone who struggles to reach for themselves; to anyone that has a habit of perpetually undervaluing and underestimating their worth, I would ask them to “treat yourself as if you were someone you were responsible for helping”. The alternative is living in a rut where nothing is good enough, and if you had a choice, would you choose to be happy? Try being kinder to yourself- all great journeys start at a first step.

In the end, to me, happiness is a matter of personal choice and initiative- of shelving worries about what everyone else is doing or thinking (what does that matter to your own important path?). And yet, happiness becomes so much more than personal. One’s happiness, when grasped, can affect all in your orbit.

For more related content, view  This Is How To Be Your Best Self: 3 Secrets Backed By Research


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