Most of us know that happiness has little to do with our situation. Getting a raise, hearing good news about our health, or receiving an unexpected gift brings us joy, but that feeling is often fleeting. If we count our blessings we know we should be happy and yet it seems all too easy to get bogged down and stressed by the minutia of our daily lives.
One of the great paradoxes of our lives is that many of us fail to appreciate our gifts until they are in jeopardy. In Thorton Wilder’s well known play “Our Town” the lead character Emily turns to the audience as she prepares to go to her grave and asks, “Does anyone ever realize every moment of their lives?” In truth, that is probably impossible. Who’s got time to seize the day when we have to get to work, take care of errands, make dinner and deal with our bills? So we can start by asking ourselves if we can realize not all, but more of our lives. Can we be more cognizant (even marginally) of our good fortunes?
When we are going through something painful in our lives we often tell ourselves to take it one step at a time. The same is true for having a good attitude. It doesn’t happen all at once. For many people, happiness is a discipline. It takes effort and consciousness. And it’s not always easy. The rewards, however, are infinite. Here are three small steps to help you have a great attitude:
- Choose it. Happiness is a choice. We decide (usually unconsciously) how to perceive every event in our lives. In the Chinese language the symbol for crisis also means opportunity. We learn from every difficult experience. If we look back on our lives we realize that much of our growth has come from challenging times and people. So when that difficult customer walks in the door, or your boss gives you criticism, you can make the decision to perceive it as awful or as opportunity.
- Make lightness a daily goal. Type A personalities have a hard time being light hearted. It’s hard to make a decision to be light and stick to it. It’s like dieting: If we decide to wake up and get thin, chances are we won’t be able to do it. Instead, make a decision for 24 hours to be light hearted. Remind yourself as many times as you can throughout the day to be joyful, playful and to go out on a limb and try something new. Behavioral psychology shows that feelings can follow a behavior. So if you act light, you will actually start to feel that way.
- Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude. We don’t have to jump for joy every moment to be happy. For many people happiness is a sense of peace and tranquility. It’s hard to be depressed and stressed when we truly take stock of our good fortune. Former owner of the 76ers and best selling author Pat Croce suggests keeping a Victory Journal. Before you go to bed tonight take three minutes to write down every good thing that happened to you today. Include even the smallest events. Read over your list. Chances are you will sleep more peacefully and start to look forward to the blessings that will come to you the following day.
A great attitude begins with a decision. Think about the success we could achieve if we put daily effort into having a great attitude. We all know that if we work at almost anything daily we incrementally get better at it, and there is no better place to start than with our minds and hearts.