SUMMARY: Three things that can help us be happy even through moderate tough times.
(About a 4 minute read)
I have yet to figure out why anyone would gamble. It seems to me life itself is so much of a gamble why pick an entertainment that isn’t much different from it? Might as well choose to paint houses in order to distract yourself from the paint fumes.
Of course, one of the biggest gambles in life is the pursuit of happiness. Even Thomas Jefferson believed our only right was to pursue it — there being no right or guarantee to attaining it. And — either I’ve been reading the wrong self-help literature — or just about everyone, even the people who map out strategies for other folks to be happy, is pretty sure that there are times when life is simply too tough to be happy.
Of course, I believe that myself. In my experience, there are indeed times so tough that it’s impossible to lay your hands on the means to happiness. For instance, you could be out in your car on prom night when your braces mysteriously and inexplicably get hopelessly entangled in your girlfriend’s public hair and so neither one of you can drive home. “I don’t know how it happened, Mrs. Sunstone, but can you come get us? No, Paul can’t talk right now, he’s….ouch!…he’s kind of muzzled at the moment. What do you mean I should be happy he finally can’t say anything?”
However, I have noticed that there are a few things that can carry you happily through many less than dire times. They might not work for major crises that only a skilled dentist can solve, but they do work for many tough times.
I think the easiest one of them is to fall into the habit of reminding ourselves of the things we should be grateful for. Naturally, this can require some effort during tough times, but I have noticed that when it’s doable, feeling genuine gratitude — even for little things — tends to buoy up the spirits.
True story. I once had some unusual expenses and was forced to eat nothing much more than potatoes for a few weeks. As I was crossing a street one evening, I got to thinking of all the ways I still had available to me that could prepare potatoes. Suddenly I realized I was feeling honest gratitude for the potatoes I had in the house — and soon enough thereafter, I became downright cheerful.
A much more powerful antidote to troubled times is love. Here I am not so much talking about loving someone in particular — although that can certainly work — but loving ourselves and our lives. It might sound as strange as trying to mow a lawn with a rose bush to suggest that we love ourself and our life during trouble times, but I have noticed it can be done.
Part of the trick is not to internalize our troubles. It’s one thing to have troubles, it’s quite another to see oneself as trouble-ridden. That almost inevitably leads to self-pity, which is one of the most lethal things imaginable when it comes to happiness — to say nothing of how it makes us appear to be a bore to everyone but ourselves.
A third thing — and in my opinion, this is the biggie — is to have a sustaining sense of purpose. By “sustaining”, I mean a sense of purpose so important to you (even if important to no one but you) that you will hold to it even when temporarily thwarted from advancing it.
For instance, a traumatic early in life experience may have convinced you to become a 24 hour available, emergency dentist in order to help teenagers who quite inexplicably find their braces entangled with…um..foreign objects. Although the sense of purpose that gives you might not mean much to most people, any firmly held sense of purpose can sustain a person through at least some tough times.
There is one thing that — much to the surprise of some folks — does very little or nothing to help us stay happy through tough times. That is, directly pursuing happiness itself.
I have no idea why, but it seems to me to almost be a law of nature that happiness cannot be successfully pursued head-on. You’ve got to come at it from the sides, obliquely, like a conscientious dentist with a blowtorch would pursue a mouthful of entangled braces. That is, you must at least nominally shoot for something else. Something, however, that has a good chance of leading to happiness.
So, whether one seeks happiness through gratitude, love, or a mission in life, one can do a bit to stay happy even through moderately tough times — or even in some cases, more than moderately tough times.
Questions? Comments? Ridiculous allegations I once had a certain mishap during the course of my senior prom night while on a date with Terri that I’ve been obsessed about ever since?