I used to say that some people in the world were naturally happy and others weren’t. I was in the unhappy category and as friends or relatives gave me books meant to inspire, like Chicken Soup For The Soul, I became more bitter instead. I was so tired of seeing cliched little sayings like “smile and the world will smile with you” because some of us just don’t feel like smiling, and that should be okay. Happiness was something that either happened or didn’t, but I felt like it was out of my control.
You’ll hear me mention often that in 2009, I was laid off from being the public relations director for a large company. It was that scary situation, being out of work for a year, that gave me the time to dig deep into myself. I devoured information about health and emotional wellness. I was desperately seeking relief from my cycle of anxiety and depression, something I’d been hiding from most people who knew me.
Much to my dismay, one of the themes that kept coming up again and again, is that happiness is actually a choice.
If you’re rolling your eyes right now, I get it. If happiness was as simple as a choice, we’d all be bouncing with joy. However, just because something is a choice doesn’t mean its easy. Eating healthy is a choice but that isn’t always easy. Exercising is a choice, but that isn’t always easy. Happiness is a choice, but it isn’t always easy.
The idea of seeking ways to be happy doesn’t mean you are ignoring the fact that a lot of life is filled with difficult situations, pain, frustration, and unfairness. Those things are all true. What I found though is that choosing to look for the few good things in life made the crap of life much more bearable. It was easier to move through the difficult situations when I wasn’t focusing on how difficult it felt.
The basics of mental health – just like physical health – are a choice; inner peace doesn’t come in a pill. It comes from the hard decision to react to life differently, every single day. We have to choose to let go of things that harmed us in the past, to stop thinking the world revolves around us, and to stop thinking that the world owes us something.
One of the best stories about our choices comes from one my favorite speakers; Ajahn Brahm. He has hundreds of talks on YouTube and he’s the abbot of a Buddhist monastery in Australia, but he tends to be pretty funny. In the talk below about depression and anxiety, he tells the story of two chicken farmers; one smart and one stupid. Essentially, this story is a great example of how we can choose to see the same situation differently.
This link below starts the video at this story, although I recommend at some point starting from the beginning and listening to the whole talk.
For those who may not be able to watch the video right now, I’ll sum it up: The stupid chicken farmer wakes up in the morning, takes his basket out to the coop, and puts all of the chicken shit into the basket. He leaves all of the eggs to rot, then goes inside the house with his basket of shit; no one wants to be around him. He carries his basket around all day, making no money, and causing people to avoid him. He wakes up the next morning and does the same thing all over again.
The smart chicken farmer wakes up in the morning and takes the basket out to the coop and collects the eggs. He leaves the shit to put into his garden later and takes the eggs inside his house. He makes a nice omlet for his family and then sells the rest of the eggs at the market. He wakes up the next morning and does the same thing all over again.
So, are you a shit collector or an egg collector? Do you look at the stuff in your life and focus on the eggs (the good things in life) or do you focus on the shit? Both things are right in front of you but its your choice as to which where you focus. Is there shit in life? You bet! But there are also eggs. They may not be easy to find and they may not be the shape, size, or color you want, but the eggs are there if you take the time to look for them.
Otherwise, all you have is a basket of shit.
Once you embrace this idea that happiness is a choice, the techniques I’ll talk about will make so much more sense. You’ll be able to see that if you’re collecting shit you can choose to dump it out and search for the eggs instead.
One of the ways we do that is by shifting our perspective. Read my next post about that topic about how to do that and keep on your path to happiness.