“Happiness doesn’t come at the end. Happiness comes first.” Jeff Olson
A couple of weeks ago, I was approached by two separate individuals who wanted to share with me that they had read my end of 2014 blog. I am always happy to hear from people who read my work – especially if they find something helpful for their lives. But this time, both kindhearted people reached out to share with me that it sounded as if I had had a terrible 2014 and wanted to know if I was ok. Wait, what? Did I hear that right? I will admit when I heard the question (both times), that I was taken aback because by the time I wrote that blog, I already extracted all the lessons, gifts and wisdom of 2014 and had moved forward with my life – happily.
But, as I sat a little longer with the question they asked, I was reminded of one of the most important lessons I had come to embrace and understand during my difficult past year; happiness doesn’t come at the end, it comes first. More than anything else, all of us want to be happy. Yet, all too often we think of happiness as something we achieve only after we have crossed some threshold – whether it is getting married, having children, having money or perhaps losing 15 pounds. We put off being happy and instead focus on what is wrong with our lives or what might be missing. We keep hoping that happiness will be our reward for a life lived well.
Unfortunately, happiness doesn’t work that way. Life will always bring us unexpected events and difficult times. The key is what we choose to do with those events that determine how much happiness will fill our lives. If we decide that the events of our lives mean that we are somehow undeserving, punished or unlucky, the more likely we are to be consumed by negative thoughts and sadness. We tend to spiral downward and believe that happiness is something others only get to experience. If we recognize, however, that happiness is an inside job – that we are each responsible for maintaining our own happiness first, we can more readily accept the circumstances of our lives and move forward.
So, what does that really mean? It means that each day we must ensure that we do the things necessary to guard our happiness. It includes monitoring our thoughts, our language, our activities and habits. Rather than engaging in conversations that bash others or allow our thoughts to center on negative events, we must seek out things for which we are grateful. We have to make choices that support our well being including exercise, meditation or reading books that inspire us. It also means stopping to see the gifts that the events of our lives seek to bring us. As the author, Jeff Olson says in his writings, rather than focus on doing those things for our personal development, focus on them as a way to bring more happiness in our lives. Putting happiness first means not waiting for the waves to stop crashing, but instead find the joy, beauty and peace right where you are.
And while it is not always easy, putting happiness first really does work. Each day we make countless choices – imagine how different your life could look a year from now if you simply made each choice focus on your happiness. Would you spend time worrying? Would you reach out to your spouse or partner with a random act of kindness? Stop nagging? Eat right? Laugh more? Go to the gym even when you are tired? Yes, because all of those things bring the happiness you have been putting off for someday, squarely into your present.
And the happier you can make yourself in your daily life, the more likely you will be to achieve all the things you have been waiting to happen that you thought would make you happy. More than anything, that is what last year taught me. Regardless of what was happening around me, I chose to be happy every day. I did all the things I knew would make me truly happy and have found that all the things I want, can more easily unfold.
Instead of waiting to be happy then, begin today. Focus the next twenty-eight days on adding at least one habit or practice that will bring happiness to your day. Whether it is beginning a new meditation practice, walking or finding five things to be grateful for daily, commit to adding just one thing that you know will increase your happiness quotient. And although you may not feel it immediately, stick with it and see how differently you feel at the end of your twenty-eight days. Rate how happy you feel today on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being very unhappy and 10 being extremely happy. After adopting your one habit or practice for the full 28 days, rate your happiness again on the same scale – most likely you will see that even small changes can change how happy you feel in the long run!