“It’s not what happens to you. It’s how you deal with what happens to you.” -Victor Frankl
When you feel disillusioned or depressed, it can seem impossible to change your mood. Happiness can seem like a prize that other people were given and you were cheated out of. It may appear that the circumstances of your life are preventing you from being happy, while someone else’s circumstances allow him or her to be happy. You might be saying to yourself, “If only I had xyz (more money, better looks, a better job, a family of my own, a different family, a different body…), I would be happy.”
Unfortunately, and it is an epidemic in the Western world, many of us have been conditioned to think that happiness is something you are given, or that can be acquired. We’re taught by either our families or by the culture at large that happiness is something that you can do or acquire. Yes, you can cheer yourself up for a period of time by going out and doing something enjoyable or distracting yourself, but it does not produce a long-term state of happiness. Why? Because…
Happiness Is a Noun, Not a Verb
Happiness is not something that you can do or that you can acquire. You can’t, by force of will or though any other external means, “become happy.” It is never an end unto itself. There is no reality in the statement, “If I do this or have this, I will be happy.” Rather: Happiness is a state of being, and therefore a noun. You cannot pursue it. It comes to you if you have the right attitude and if you do one crucial thing.
First, Change Your Attitude Toward Happiness
To change your attitude, switch the word “content” with “happy.” You can exist in a state of contentedness without everything around you being perfect. When you are content, you can face hardships with a can-do attitude; you can experience both joy and sadness without losing your equilibrium. When you are content, you feel that you have all you need inside of yourself to thrive, even in the face of challenges.
Second, the One Crucial Thing You Have to Do
Contentedness (otherwise known as “real, lasting happiness”) requires one thing: Shifting your focus off of yourself and onto others. Shift your focus away from your needs and your commodities — because it’s not about how much you have or what you want — it’s about your attitude. Happiness is the domain of those who don’t take themselves too seriously, who realize that there is a cause greater than themselves and dedicate themselves to that. The end result of a life of giving is lasting happiness.
Exercise: Think of one thing in your life that you don’t have, and that you think you would be happy if you would have. Make a searching and fearless list of all of the ways that you are approaching this issue selfishly. Share your list with a trusted friend, mentor, or teacher. Then turn your attention toward someone you can help.