I just finished my Forty Days in The Desert retreat—an intense period of self-reflection and a focus on growth and transformation.
Transformation begins when we take responsibility for our own life. Responsibility connotes the ability to make decisions and act on them; to have a choice. Life is all about choices—in decisions, actions, and reactions—to things like people, circumstances, events, and observations.
For most of us, it’s our expression of anger about the small and petty irritations that we need to curb and control. When I’m not feeling right and allow myself to be unpleasant and surly with others, I’m irritable.
What irritates me? What makes me unhappy? The list includes everything from current events to drivers who don’t use their turn signals to people who are always late.
My irritability reflects a lack of self-control and an immaturity of character. And my unhappiness is evidence that I’m thinking far too much of myself. It is true that my feelings are not the most important thing in the world.
Dennis Prager, author of Happiness Is a Serious Problem asserts that “happiness is a moral obligation.” Unhappiness, therefore, is a violation of justice. We owe it to our spouses, children, coworkers, friends—everyone we encounter—to work on our happiness and be as happy as possible.
We live in challenging times. Personally, I see a lot to be unhappy about. But I don’t enjoy being unhappy, do you? When I’m happy, I’m more positive about people around me. I treat them better and they treat me better.
Prager suggests that unhappiness is easy whereas happiness takes work. Choosing to be unhappy requires no effort, courage, or greatness. Anyone can do it.
Happiness on the other hand is a real struggle—a war to be fought not a feeling to wait for. We can choose happiness. We can determine to be happy. We can be intentional about it, work at it, overcome our natural tendency, and develop a happier attitude.
“Everything worthwhile in life is obtained through hard work. Happiness is not an exception,” wrote Prager.
It’s not simply a matter of feeling “happy” or “unhappy.” It’s a choice—an act of the will. We must be mindful and ask ourselves, “Will this thing, action, conversation, decision, or thought—make me happier or unhappier?” Most people aren’t mindful. They just do what feels good right now.
There is no shortage of reasons to be unhappy. Life can be tragic and there is real suffering in our world. But I like Prager’s mindset: “Try to be happy unless something happens that makes me unhappy, rather than unhappy unless something makes me happy.”
Let’s not wait for something delightful to make us happy. Unless something awful is happening to us, we should just choose to Be Happy!
Written by Jim Gernetzke, Executive Coach and founder of Nos Lumine