One of the most radical things a person can do is to see life as a good time. To make a decision to be happy. But make no mistake. Living life with joie de vivre is a revolutionary act. It takes vigilance.
While no one except maybe sadsack comedian Niles Crane would check the box "No" after the question, "Do you want to be happy?" few of us believe we get to choose. We think it's a matter of fate, a roll of the dice.
* Did we have charming parents?
* Does our partner pick romantic birthday gifts?
* Does our job pay for overtime?
But those things don't matter. Whether you're happy or not is totally, 100 percent, don't-even-mention-the-word-fate up to you.
Say It Again, Pam
Maybe I should say it again: You can choose to be happy. You can choose to infuse all your thoughts, feelings, and actions with a paradigm of happiness.
The problem is that the going paradigm for the past 5,000 years has basically been "Life's a pain and then you die." We're trained from a very early age to put on a pair of gray-colored glasses and look at the world through the lens of defeat and pain. We get brownie points for finding problems.
Focusing on the good in life and assuming the best outcome sounds dangerously like "not facing up to reality." There's a bias against too much optimism and happiness.
It's A Wonderful World
Pioneer Leo Buscaglia, who taught a college class and wrote a bestseller about love, said people accuse him of being a "naive kook" because he enthusiastically proclaims the world is wonderful.
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"They think I'm a nutcase because I say 'Hi' and 'Have a nice day' to everyone," he says. "The other day my flight was canceled. I said to the other passengers, 'Great, let's all stick together. We can have a party.' They ran from me as if I had a disease. They were much too busy grumbling to waste their time on fun."
The news media, of course, thinks it's their sworn duty to come up with heart-wrenching headlines. Reporters are rewarded for ferreting out the tragic, digging up the tormented, and telling us about the ugly.
Even therapists who purport to brighten our lives encourage us to dig up old baggage and peek at creaky skeletons lurking in our subconscious closets. They pat us on the back for noticing where we're stuck, for paying attention to how we are suffering.
Quit Focusing on What Is Wrong
If we want to live big, we have simply got to quit focusing on what is wrong. Especially when there is so much beauty and love in the world.
Is the guy who blew up the building anymore real or newsworthy than the hundreds of people who spent twenty-four hours digging through the rubble? Are the "needs-to-improve" marks on your job evaluation more accurate than the "doing a great job" areas of your work life? Why do we insist on focusing on the negative?
We've become so accustomed to living in the "Life's a pain" paradigm that it never occurs to us that another reality, a happy reality, is possible. Pain, loneliness, and fear are the context within which we live our lives. We're so conditioned to wallow in misery that the concept of life as a joyous adventure seems impossible or even unnatural.
Playing Big: The Attitude of Happiness
Sure, we can buy that there will be happy events. In fact, we look forward to things like holidays and birthdays and time off work. But to believe that our happiness is possible 24-7 is a pretty big stretch for most of us.
But remember that's what we're trying to do here. To stretch. To get bigger.
In fact, the "Life's a pain" paradigm is really nothing but a bad habit, a rut we've been in since the first time our parents told us to "act our age." Looking for pain is nothing but a grossly irresponsible way of looking at the world.
Viewing Our Circumstances From A Paradigm of Possibility
That's not to say negative things won't happen. Life is full of challenges. That's what makes it so rich. But we always have the choice to view our circumstances from a paradigm of possibility rather than an "Oh no, not again" attitude.
Look at Victor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist. He was thrown in Jewish prison camps at the prime of his life. His parents, his brother, his beloved wife all perished at the hands of Nazi soldiers. Except for his sister, he lost every one who was dear to him. On top of that, he suffered near-daily torture and innumerable indignities, never knowing from one day to the next whether he would be sent to the ovens or spared so he could shovel out the ashes of those who were.
One day, while naked and alone in his squalid cell, it suddenly hit him: No matter what the Nazis did to him, they could not take away the last of his human freedoms. This is a direct quote from his book, Man's Search for Meaning: "Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: to be able to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
You Get To Choose!
Mozart is another startling example of someone who Played Big despite unbearable circumstances. Through much of his life, he was penniless, unable to find work, sicker than a dog. He lost several children to starvation. Yet, despite these gut-wrenching problems, he chose to be happy, to continue making beautiful music.
During his seven years imprisonment in North Vietnam, Captain Gerald Coffee, who wrote a book called Beyond Survival, maintained control of his perspective by Playing Big. Rather than focus on what he didn't have (and he didn't have anything), he took responsibility for his sense of joy, even providing his own entertainment. He sang every song he'd ever known, recalling memories associated with each song. He practiced being a naturalist by studying rats, cockroaches, ants, and flies.
Playing big is an attitude we can develop. By living with gratitude, by approaching life with a sense of adventure, we can deliberately discover and nourish a sense of joy in being alive. It all depends on where you shine your spotlight.
©2001, 2015 by Pam Grout. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Conari Press,
an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC. www.redwheelweiser.com.
Featuring profiles of everyday people who are living fully and completely and filled with suggestions for life-changing activities, this book will get you thinking BIG, dreaming BIG, and asking the right BIG questions.
About the Author
Pam Grout is the author of two iPhone apps and 15 books, including the New York Times bestselling E-Squared. As a Midwestern stringer for People magazine working out of their Chicago Bureau, she has written about everything from a dinosaur hunter to a couple of guys who opened a bakery for dogs to a wonderful Boeing lineman who ran into a burning building to save six children. She has also written for Huffington Post, cnngo, Travel & Leisure, Outside, Family Circle, Modern Maturity, New Age Journal, Scientific American Explorations, Arizona Highways, Travel Holiday, Tennis, Powder, Snow Country, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, First for Women, Amtrak Express, and others. Visit her at pamgrout.com.
Watch an interview with Pam Grout: The Secret 2-Step Formula For A Brilliant Day