A Guide to Finding Happiness In Hard Times
Even in difficult circumstances, we can learn to thrive on happiness.
There’s a lot going on in my life right now. I have a lot on my mind that could easily be influencing how I feel. So how do I find happiness in hard times, especially when happiness seems to depend so much on how I feel?
How I feel inside is going to be reflected in how I live out my day. It’s going to affect how I look, how I dress, how I interact with just about every living thing on the planet. My feelings give me energy or sap my strength away. They are going to make me fly high, or have me going around in circles.
But it is possible to find some happiness in the hard times, and it starts when we decide to stop being a slave to our feelings.
The Rise and Fall of Feelings
When my mother was diagnosed with cancer last year, my feelings went into overdrive. My thoughts became clouded with unspoken fears as my mind dwelt on questions and what-if scenarios. I was in uncharted territory and didn’t know how to deal with what I was feeling.
As my life became more and more driven by my feelings, it seemed like I had jumped ontoan emotional roller-coaster that never stopped. Ever experienced that?
At times we’re on the up, enjoying the view. Sometimes we find ourselves experiencing the sense of anticipation before the drop; other times we’re screaming, laughing, or upside-down.
Then it all starts again. It’s not really a great way to experience life.
My levels of happiness and joy can seem to rise and fall without warning, like changes in the weather. One minute it’s cloudy and grey, then next sunshine and smiles. No matter how hard I try, I seem to be at the mercy of my feelings.
But through all the emotional turmoil of the past year, one thing has become clear to me —I can’t live based on how I feel. And how I feel, according to the psychologists, is largely a result of how I think.
Our thoughts shape our feelings. And that’s good news for us.
What Am I Thinking?
The more I learn about my subconscious and the infinite depths of the mind, the more I’m amazed at how limited our thinking can be.
Every one of us has the capacity to think amazing things, yet we spend an awful lot of time dwelling on the mundane. We play an annoying song over and over in our head; we rerun the unexpected plot-twist in the TV show we watched last night; we even imagine our worst fears coming true and worry about things that haven’t even happened yet.
And what we think about directly affects how we feel.
One of the books I picked up last year was The Inside-Out Revolution by Michael Neill. This book is essentially a philosophy on life which you can take or leave. I left a fair portion of it, but one thing I did take away was this little gem:
‘We live in the feeling of our thinking.’
Neill put into a short sentence something that I’d been pulling together over the last few years. Essentially, how we feel inside is very much influenced by how we think and what we think about, which is pretty much all to do with external circumstances, most of which we have no control over whatsoever.
In the English countryside where I spent a lot of my childhood, you’ll see many old buildings with weather-vanes on the roof-tops. Weather-vanes come from a time when it was important to know which way the wind was blowing. The wind is from the south today, that means it should be fine later. The wind is northerly, better wrap up warm. That kind of thing.
When we live in the feeling of our thinking, or more precisely when we let external circumstances fill our thoughts and affect how we feel, we are acting very much like a weather-vane.
The wind changes direction and our weather-vane swings round in reaction to the change.
Essentially our lives are affected, or even controlled, by outside influences. It’s what I call the reactive life, a life where we end up being on the receiving end of every little change in the “weather”. Something good happens — we’re happy; something bad happens — we’re sad.
The 90% Rule
The easy assumption to make is that we simply fill our thoughts with good things. That’s fine, but we don’t live in a perfect world — we are all going to be faced with challenging circumstances.
The real power lies in what we give our attention to.
If, as a guide, we assume that 90% of what we spend all day thinking about is simply stuff we have no influence over, then let’s suppose that about 10% of it consists of things we can do something about.
And even if it’s only a few things, those few things are worthy of our attention.
Take the situation with my mum. Over a year of fighting cancer. Some things seem to be working, others don’t. We live over 1,000 miles apart in different countries. I can’t be there like I want to be. And even if I were, what could I do, really?
I could spend all my time thinking about the 90% or more of this horrible situation that I can do nothing about, and let my feelings get me down. I know, because that’s what happened to a large extent last summer — with all the emotional spinning around, at times I felt like a zombie. Thank God I have a supportive wife who was simply there for me.
Instead of pointless worrying, how about I focus on the few things I can do. I can talk to my mother every day, either by phone or just chatting on messenger. I can check up on my sister who sees her every week. I can pray. I can be a positive source of encouragement.
I could have been much happier my whole life if I’d just decided to be happy despite my circumstances.
Happiness From the Inside
It would be naive of me to think that I can change anything about my life by worrying about it. It would be crazy for me to wait around for circumstances to be perfect before I felt good.
It would be disastrous to end up at age 84 realizing that I could have been much happier my whole life if I’d just decided to be happy despite my circumstances. We are so much more than our feelings.
As long as we allow ourselves to be weather-vanes, turning and changing in response to the winds of circumstance, we will fail to live up to our potential and fail to find the happiness and fulfilment that can be ours in a moment.
When we choose happiness, we are choosing life. We are more content in ourselves, more able to approach each day with a good attitude, and better equipped to face the hard times head-on.
More importantly, we are able to be there for those who need us to be at our best.
Choosing is Not Ignoring
But isn’t choosing how we feel simply shutting ourselves off from all the negative? Are we kidding ourselves by covering our eyes and ears to the reality that is life?
We’ve probably all experienced, either first or second hand, a shutting off of emotions in an attempt to deal with things. We may know someone who’s been hurt emotionally and now they don’t dare feel anything.
That doesn’t mean that person doesn’t think about it. It’s impossible to shut down our thinking (unless drugs or alcohol are involved), and that wouldn’t be the right approach.
You don’t need to shut down your emotions, you need them to lift you higher. Instead, make happiness a choice.
Making a decision for happiness despite our circumstances is the intelligent thing to do. It’s also well within our capabilities as creative beings. We are meant to be over-comers. We are designed to thrive.
As humans, we have developed and expanded and grown because we have an innate ability to find solutions to problems. To see beyond the now and imagine a better tomorrow. To focus on the 10% we can change, in order to make things better for everyone.
We aren’t made for dwelling on problems.
The moment we decide to make our way and make our day, we start on a path that is filled with potential and bursting with possibility.
Want to start being happy? Don’t wait for external circumstances to be right. Make it a choice.
- Be happy in your work and you won’t need work to make you feel happy.
- Be happy in your family and you won’t need to go looking elsewhere for love.
- Be happy on a cloudy day and when the sun comes out you’ll be shining.
- Be happy with yourself and you won’t ever need someone else to verify your worth.
Craig R. Pennell As published in Medium Sep 15, 2019