A happy person is not someone to whom “bad” things do not happen. Rather, it is someone who understands that his or her reactions to events are the stuff of happiness.
You are everything you choose to be. One of the real keys to happiness and serenity is the realization and understanding that you always have a choice. Every waking conscious moment provides you with the opportunity of choice. When you forget or haven’t the awareness of options and choices, you begin to suffer and create a victim’s mentality. Victims feel powerless because they feel they have no choices. With no choice, there can be no change. Without the possibility of change, there is no hope. Without hope, we feel stuck, paralyzed and helpless. Gaining real power is permitting yourself to create more choices and options. When you develop the awareness that you always have choices, you understand that you have control over your life.
Let’s take a worst case scenario to see if choice still exists. Everyone would agree that the holocaust experience suffered by the Jews in World War Two is about as inconceivably horrific as it gets, and yet choice still existed. Author Victor Frankl recounts in Man’s Search For Meaning that choosing humor seemed to lessen the suffering. He and a friend promised each other to invent at least one humorous story daily, about some incident that could happen one day after their liberation. When they were on a train being transported to a concentration camp, they chose a joyous response in discovering that the train was not heading for the Mauthausen camp, “only” for Dachau.
Frankl also recounted stories of inmates who chose compassion over selfishness by walking through the camp comforting others and giving away their last piece of bread. Frankl concluded from his concentration camp experience that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
One of the major complaints I hear is that there is so much to do and so little time. I gently remind people that we are all working under the same constraints when it comes to time. It’s really a matter of choices on how to live your life and spend your time (priorities and good time management skills).
One of the most powerful choices you can make is learning to say no, not only to people but also to time wasting activities and things you really don’t want to do. The more you permit yourself the choice to say no, the more control you have over your life. Saying no isn’t easy, but it’s a learned skill and with practice it becomes easier. I have great respect for those who can say no to a dinner party invitation without feeling obligated to justify their decision with a transparent excuse (“I’ll take a raincheck” or “Gee, I’m busy that night”), when the truth is that it’s simply something they have chosen not to do. Saying “no” shouldn’t be viewed as an act of unkindness, but as an act of integrity necessary for your personal well being. Integrity means that your behavior is consistent with your values and beliefs.
Individuals make choices about how happily or unhappily married they are. I have chosen (and so has my wife) to be happily married. Kathy and I went to four different marriage counselors looking for insights to make our marriage work. We knew if we could make it work, it would be a great marriage. Traditional marriage counseling provided no answers. One counselor stressed the need for better communication skills. That wasn’t the problem. We both are very clear that we are somewhat selfish (not necessarily a bad thing) and we really prefer to have the other see and do it our way. This hasn’t changed, but we have learned to accept and appreciate each other and to negotiate the differences. We both believe our differences are good for the relationship.
A light bulb moment for me was after coming home from the final emotionally charged session with the last counselor. My longhaired cat “Peaches” met me at the door. Peaches sheds hair over all the furniture, frequently regurgitates hairballs and will occasionally bite you if you don’t immediately begin petting her when she jumps uninvited into your lap. I’m very fond of my cat and understand that these behaviors and inconveniences come with the territory of owning a longhaired, crotchety cat. Peaches and I have never been in therapy. It’s all about acceptance.
If I choose to be in a relationship with Kathy, I have to accept who she is, how she communicates, her values and her life style.
One of my core beliefs is that happiness is really an inside job. Others can’t make you feel happy, good and at peace with yourself. Good relationships are a great perk in life, but the key to real happiness is the relationship one has with one’s self.
I think it’s an oversold myth that the key to successful marriages is finding the right person. There are thousands of right people for you, if you don’t need to be overly and neurotically dependent upon your spouse for your happiness. It’s not finding the right person; it’s being the right person. After I decided to be happily married and understood that Kathy could be a great partner in a wonderful relationship, I began to make other choices to support my choice to be happily married.
I chose to focus on what’s good about the relationship rather than what’s lacking in the relationship. Kathy is a highly independent woman, who travels extensively and leads a full and exciting life. This provides me the space and solitude my highly introverted personality requires and freedom to pursue my own interests. I really enjoy being married to a high energy, on-the-go person. I also enjoy my wife’s companionship. I understand I can’t have it both ways; someone who loves to travel and has many friends and social obligations cannot be at home 7 days a week, cooking meals and entertaining me. I chose to feel fortunate rather than deprived, to be in a relationship with such a dynamic and interesting person.
I chose to work strictly on my own issues and not try to fix my wife. I have discovered the more I work on myself (being more loving and practicing deeper listening) the better she gets. I chose to be supportive of my wife’s goals rather than selfishly demand that she subordinate her desires and be subservient to me in any form. I always miss my wife when she travels but her happiness is more important to me than her feeling obligated or burdened by our relationship. I chose to act in a way that was best for the relationship. The criteria for a good relationship isn’t right vs. wrong, but whether a particular action or behavior creates intimacy and trust rather than distancing and alienation.
I have also chosen to love my kids and not let them drive me crazy. I no longer allow myself to be set up for disappointment by what I view as thoughtless or immature behavior. After several scheduled visits in which one of my kids forgot and wouldn’t be at home to meet me, we now meet in a coffee shop of a large bookstore. If he shows up, I’m delighted. If he forgets, I have no problem killing time in a bookstore.
Having a bad attitude or a good attitude is a choice. Which set of people gets more enjoyment out of life: those with a chip on their shoulder or those with a good attitude?
Personal growth is a choice. Real growth requires you to make the choice to be honest with yourself and choose to build into your schedule time to reflect and work on your issues. It requires soul searching and honest introspection to identify root causes, bad habits and previously made poor choices.
If you can learn to question rather than blindly accept, you will discover the multitude of choices that are available to you:
How do you spend your time? What activities are done by default rather than for real enjoyment? Do you engage in meaningless arguments, discussion and debates? Do you routinely and mindlessly watch boring television shows?
Who do you talk to and associate with? Are your friends nurturing and supportive or are they anchors around you neck? Do they inspire you and make you feel good or does their negativity depress and pull you down?
What makes you angry?
What time do you get up in the morning?
How do you choose to look and present yourself to the world?
How do you choose to deal with problems?
What do you expect from yourself?
How do you choose to deal with others?
Do you choose to coast through life following the path of least resistance?
Do you choose to set goals?
After making a big or major choice, we can make smaller choices that support the larger choice. For example:
Major choice – The Choice To Lose Weight
The choice to eat the right kind and amount of food.
The choice to exercise.
The choice to avoid situations and people that encourage poor eating habits.
The choice to spend more time with people who encourage and support your weight-loss choice.
The choice to educate yourself about nutrition and better eating habits.
The choice to have greater awareness and selectivity when shopping.
The choice to say no to second helpings or dessert.
Major Choice – The Choice To Improve An Important Personal Relationship
The choice to be more loving.
The choice to learn and practice better listening skills.
The choice to express yourself more positively.
The choice to accept and not blame or shame.
The choice to work on cooperation.
The choice to eliminate hurtful arguments and learn to disagree respectfully.
The choice to find more common interests to share.
Major Choice – The Choice To Get More Accomplished
The choice to have written goals.
The choice to focus and eliminate distractions.
The choice to make and follow a plan.
The choice to ask for help when needed.
The choice to discover and utilize available resources.
The choice to take breaks for purposes of renewal.
The choice to reward yourself for accomplishments.
Success is a culmination of a series of minor choices. You have to exercise your right to choose in order to provide yourself with the benefits of change. Your future is wholly determined by the choices you are currently making. Manage your choices and you will control the direction of your life.
Choices are available to all in every facet of their life. The following list of questions is provided to raise your level of awareness about the endless number of choices that are available to you. You might choose to spend a few minutes reviewing the list and note the choices that you think might be applicable and beneficial to you. Ask yourself – do you think there are choices you could make which would improve your life?
Do I have the courage to name what I want?
Do I have written goals?
Do I go after what I want?
Am I willing to learn new skills?
Am I willing to pay attention and learn better listening skills?
Do I allow small and inconsequential things to bother me?
Do I exercise good personal grooming habits?
Are my fingernails always clean and trimmed?
Do I get a hair cut on a regular basis?
Are my shoes shined?
Do I change my socks and underwear daily?
Do I try to lead a clutter free existence?
Do I keep my car clean and free of trash?
Do I either fix up promptly or throw away broken items?
Do I procrastinate?
Am I willing to examine my life and ask myself hard questions?
Am I willing to work on my personal growth?
Is there anything I can do to lead a healthier lifestyle?
When and where do I eat out?
How often do I eat out?
How much TV do I watch?
What programs do I choose to watch on TV?
How much do I read?
What types of books do I read?
Do I read newspaper?
Do I read magazines?
Do I subscribe to magazines?
Do I go to the movies?
What types of movies do I see?
Do I write letters?
Do I write emails?
Do I write thank you notes?
Do I have hobbies?
Do I make time for my hobbies?
Do I maintain a good personal image?
What type of clothes do I wear?
Do I wear appropriate clothing for various outings?
Do I wear a hat?
Do I wear a hat backwards?
Do I take advantage of the latest technology?
Do I own a cell phone?
Do I own a computer?
Do I keep my computer skills up to date?
Am I willing to take risks?
Am I willing to experiment?
Am I willing to learn how to cook new dishes?
What time do I get up?
What time do I go to bed?
Do I vote?
Am I financially responsible?
Do I save money on a regular basis?
Do I invest a portion of my income?
Do I pay monthly interest charges on credit cards?
Do I drink?
Who do I listen to and whose advice do I follow?
Do I give unsolicited and unwanted advice?
How much do I socialize?
How much time do I have for myself?
How do I celebrate holidays?
How do I show my spouse or significant other that I love him or her?
Do I give presents?
How much am I willing to spend?
Do I send Christmas or holiday cards?
How do I nurture myself?
How do I celebrate life’s victories?
Do I give compliments?
Do I ever perform random acts of kindness?
Do I smile?
Do I approach and talk to strangers?
Do I tell lies?
Do I habitually complain?
Am I supportive of others?
Do I start the day off with a healthy breakfast?
Do I own a pet?
Where do I shop?
Do I comparison shop?
What type of people do I associate with?
What do I think about when I wake up?
What do I think about when I go to bed at night?
Do I spend time outside on nice days?
Do I take walks?
Do I watch sunsets?
Do I watch sunrises?
Do I share?
Do I dwell excessively on things that happened in the past?
Do I fantasize excessively about the future?
Do I have dreams?
Am I willing to take action?
Am I willing to take a first step?
Do I worry excessively?
People who do not identify their choices live by default and forfeit control over their future.