“What would it take for you to be Happy?”
It was a question that took me by surprise one Sunday afternoon. A bit earlier, I had looked out the kitchen window of our mid-western farm cabin and spied my life-long partner, friend, wife, and champion horticulturist digging weeds out of the gravel with her triangular Korean digging tool commonly referred to as a Homey. It occurred to me that I might like to go out and sit by her and watch what she was doing, so I did. It didn’t take long for a conversation to develop.
Without looking up, she said, “What would it take for you to be Happy?”
Sitting on the gravel nicely warmed by the August sun, I considered her question and my response. Her question was interesting because it called out two important observations: my state of being and intentionality in life.
As a coach, speaker, and trainer, I have the opportunity to ask people a slightly different question, “What does success mean for you?” People often answer, “I want to be happy!”
While I think we all can identify with a desire to be happy, their idea of “HOW” to be happy is very different. Most people see their happiness as dependent on external circumstances. For instance, some single people may think they would be happy if they could be in a relationship. However, many people in unhappy relationships believe they need to be single, and then they would be happy. Happiness based on external circumstances is fleeting at best and an illusion at worst.
“Happiness simply cannot be relied upon as a measure of success.” John C. Maxwell
When I was a very young lad, Grandma and Grandpa would take me to the dime store, which, at the time, actually had things you could buy for a nickel or a dime, sometimes even a penny. I think a single piece of Bazooka bubble gum was 2 cents, and you even got a little cartoon in the small package. I was always excited to go because I knew they would buy me some toy, and I was tremendously happy when they did. I don’t remember one thing they bought me - it was a passing, fleeting moment of joy.
These days, many children yearn and cajole to go to Disneyworld or something like it. I’ve been to amusement parks like that, and there are always a lot of very unhappy children: whining, crying, upset, angry, mad, tired. And their parents aren’t looking very joyful with the situation either. External circumstances do not produce lasting joy, often the opposite.
Jack, a friend, recently talked about how his girls always like to go to the local game place for amusement. Yet, when they begin playing the games, they get frustrated with not winning, want to play more, and get more stressed and animated in the process. They leave with no happiness or joy, but something makes them want to return.
Long-lasting happiness, joy, and contentment come from an internal condition of the mind and emotions. Our external circumstances will often change for better or worse, and the storms of life fall on everyone. But how can we experience this type of happiness in life?
Happiness, as a psychological construct, seems to be influenced by several internal factors, such as expectations, levels of satisfaction, ideas about meaning in life, and the way our brain does or does not function. You can research this in detail on the Internet and find a lot of interesting information.
One of the people I often remember talking about this was Paul, who, back in the day, was a somewhat distant disciple of Jesus Christ. But don’t let the fear of religion scare you away from what he had to say,
“I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little...”
Paul, what was your secret? He continues, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” You may think, “Wait a minute, this guy Paul depended on something external for his happiness and contentment, wasn’t he?” Yes and No.
Paul’s joy was not in his capability but in his God’s capability to get him through every challenging circumstance (and Paul went through a LOT of tough things). So, in that sense, Paul’s contentment was based on something external. This is something he learned through many trials. But when he learned it, no external circumstance could shake his contentment and peace. In that sense, it was something inside him that made the difference.
As I contemplated the piercing question from my very best friend in life, I realized that I often struggled with my own emotional well-being and was not in a particularly “happy” mood or high spirits. It had never really occurred to me that this was affecting her... until now.
As I broke from my reverie of thoughts, I realized she was looking at me, waiting for an actual answer. She had stopped digging weeds in the gravel but was now digging some out of me. She softly repeated the question,
“What would it take for you to be Happy?”
Smiling, I said, “Just tell me to be happy, and then I will.”
With a tilt of her head, she pointed her homey at me and commanded, “Ok, Be Happy!”
With unexpected energy, I jumped up and danced with my hands in the air, like the Hokey Pokey. It may seem odd, but I actually felt happy in that small action. Suddenly, I learned something. Happiness and contentment are a choice. And when I made that choice, nothing external could offend it.
That moment on the gravel with her was a turning point in my life. After that, whenever I am frustrated, upset, or sad, I remember what she said, “What will it take for you to be happy?” Then I think of some way to do it - and I am.