POD #12: Conditions for happiness
Scan your world. Is there any relationship or project or area of your life in which you have been imposing impossible conditions on your happiness?
Is there any place in your life where you are telling yourself the story that you would be totally happy if only everyone else did exactly what you wanted them to do and everything turned out exactly the way you would do it?
Are these conditions even possible? Is it an impossible demand to expect the whole entire world and everyone in it to comply with your desires? Are you conditioning your happiness on the impossible?
Now: what would it take for you to decide to be happy in that situation regardless of the conditions? Does thinking about this spark any level of fear? Who would you be if you dropped the conditions and decided to be happy, regardless? How would your conversations change? Your relationships?
Can you envision happiness without conditions? What would that be like, to live? Can you feel it, even for a minute?
Alternatively, have you already figured out how to be happy without conditions, even occasionally or intermittently? If so, describe a situation in which you are happy and satisfied even though someone is not doing what you want them to do, or the circumstances aren’t exactly what you’d pick. How’d you get there?
For the most part, I have learned to be happy without conditions. It was a gradual process, and every now and then I can settle in to putting conditions on my happiness, but generally speaking I have learned to be happy. I have been able to get there through getting my focus off myself and onto God. I love the way the message puts one of my favorite passages from the Bible:
I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—…Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. …. Philippians 4:10-14
I spent the first two-thirds of my life placing conditions on my happiness. If I wanted something and didn’t get it, I was not happy. If someone could give me something and didn’t, they must not be a true friend. I was a selfish, manipulative, and pretty unhappy person. Yes, I could wear a smile and play a part, but on the inside I was miserable. Circumstances certainly didn’t help much in contributing to my happiness. Although it was not a role I took often, I very easily could have decided I was the victim of circumstances and blamed my unhappiness on that.
I know that it was God moving in my life that changed my disposition. At first it was intermittent. Brief times where happiness shined surrounded by a life of unhappiness. I learned how to put on a show of my happiness. The more I focused on my relationship with Christ, the more the brief times increased and the less pretending I needed to do. I remember when that happiness really started to soak into my everyday life. I literally would walk around with a song in my heart and a tune on my lips. I rarely even noticed that I was doing it.
One particular day, one of the physician assistants at the hospital that I would at the time ask how long I had been there. I might have been working at the hospital about six to nine months at the time. It wasn’t long enough for what he was looking for. He asked because he wanted to nominate me for an award that had a minimum time frame to have worked at the hospital attached to it. I was a bit taken back when he commented that I was always so happy, and that he enjoyed how I would hum or sing as I walked through the corridors. Honestly, I hadn’t even realized I was doing it. When it was brought to my attention I realized how often I really did walk with a song on my lips.
Happiness is about where we put our attention. My life is not perfect, never has been. I can stay focused on the negative experiences or I can choose to enjoy where I am in the moment. Some times I just need to be aware of what is bringing me down for me to turn things around.
About three years ago, my world was turned upside down when my only son moved away. Not just out of the home, but halfway across the country. Each of my three children is a unique person and they mean the world to me. They each have a different aspect of my personality that I have always said my son is my heart. I had two summers before to prepare as during his last two years of high school he spent the summers with the National Guard in Basic Training and Advanced Intensive Training. I thought my own heart was ready for him to launch into adulthood as he is the second child.
I have always had my family around me. When my daughter moved out, I still talked with her at least weekly if not most days. Family get-togethers have always been important. As my children got older we implemented family dinner night so that at least once a week we could be together. When he left, these were incomplete.
My son was following his heart. He followed his girlfriend, now wife’s family when they moved to North Carolina. I think the world of my daughter by marriage and her family. They are part of our family, and I could not have handpicked a better family for him to join. My son was surrounded y a godly support system where he was. He found a great job and a church where he could be fed and serve. Other than living next door, or at least in the same community, I could not have asked for more for my son.
Yet, as the holidays came around I found myself in a funk. I wasn’t depressed, but I wasn’t my happy self either. Other events in my family were transpiring at the same time. My mother’s health was failing, I was working a different job, my husband’s schedule was changed, my daughter still in the home was working more. It was just a lot of change. I mentioned my funk to one of the women at church, and she immediately pinpointed the changes occurring and validated how I was feeling as normal. Just being able to label my funk helped me start to get out of it.
When my son told me that he was not going to be able to come home for the Christmas holiday, I was disappointed, but focused on the positives and made plans to send him presents. It would be the first Christmas that I didn’t have all my family. However, I also know that it was inevitable at some point in my life, so I resolved to enjoy the family that was with me. I do admit a few weeks later I was stoked when he called me and then a few minutes later knocked on my door. He had driven through the night to surprise his mom.
Regardless of the circumstances, I have a choice to turn my focus on something negative or look for a positive and turn my attention there. I have learned that when I chose the positive, circumstances eventually start to line up with the happiness that I am feeling on the inside. They may not look like I anticipate, but when my focus is on God and the good things He is doing, everything else works out.
This post is prompted by Tara-Nicholle Nelson’s 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders.