Thursday, September 29, 2016

Building Happiness

I am the architect of my own happiness. You might be tempted to believe that should make things easier but, if so, you might not understand how much works goes into being an architect. The answer is, lots of work; lots of hard work, even. Being the architect means being in charge, but there is nothing inherently easy about being in charge. The venn diagram of Things I Can Do and Things I Can Do Easily has very little overlap, with the circle on the former side being far larger.

Nevertheless, I am the architect of my own happiness. The power is within my hands if I choose to use it. Sometimes I don’t. The truth of the matter is, sometimes being happy is more work than it’s worth. Sometimes it’s just easier to ride out some particular storm of unhappy and let circumstances run their course. They usually do and, if they don’t, I can decide to engage the necessary level of work when I deem it to be necessary. To be honest, that’s still controlling my own happiness. It’s just about balancing priorities.

There is just as much work involved in controlling your happiness as there is in controlling your health. That is a venn diagram that is almost one singular, overlapping circle. Do things that promote improvement, avoid things that degrade the system, balance needs and pleasures, and take a break to rest and recharge when needed. Whether you’re talking about mental health or physical health, that same list works for either. The details will vary, obviously, but the details vary from person to person on one side or the other. You can probably safely eat more sugar than I can, but I have a hardier-than-average constitution against your common stomach bugs. We each have different specific needs for health, whether mental or physical.

There are some basic principles involved across the board, though. You’re not going to have the body of Adonis (or Venus, if you prefer) if you eat nothing but junk food and never get off the couch. You’re not going to be happy if you fill your mind with nothing but junk and never get off the mental couch either. You are the architect of your own happiness, but you can’t just wave around the nameplate with the fancy title and demand to be happy. You have to draw up the blueprints and take the necessary actions. Sometimes you will have to make difficult decisions. Sometimes you will even have to change your plans.

One of the key steps to being happy is to keep desire and reality on the same page. There are things you can do, things you can change, and things that just are. It is important to know the difference, and to work with things accordingly. If your wants are simple and wholly within your power, you will probably maintain an excellent degree of happiness. If nothing will do for you except that rain fall upward and and tires be square, you have virtually assured yourself of a miserable existence.

Understand that I worded that last sentence exactly right. You have created your own unhappiness. If you are unhappy because rain falls down instead of up, it is not the rain’s fault. Of the two, rain and you, one has volition and one just is. The laws of nature existed long before you were born and cannot be rewritten for every whim. You, on the other hand, know that, and can fashion your expectations to suit. Don’t set your heart on the impossible and then blame the universe for your decisions.

The impossible, though, is fairly rare when it comes to the heart’s desire. Some people want love in all the wrong places, but most people have a pretty decent understanding of at least the difference between possible and impossible. They might be a little too fixated in the improbable, but that objective is still attainable. Bad odds are still odds. They just require more work. Where most people run into trouble is in making things more difficult than necessary. It’s amazing sometimes how many of life’s greater challenges are self-inflicted.

An obsessive desire for reverse rain would be a self-inflicted unhappiness, but it would also be one that most people would readily identify as such. It’s when things become a little more iffy that we tend to get a little more confused. We do things like complain that this apple doesn’t taste like a banana, or that this magazine doesn’t look like that book, or that this song doesn’t sound like that album. The object we want is right there, and we even know where and what it is, but we still insist on demanding that something else fill its place. We are unhappy that one thing isn’t another, even while the other is available for the having. We could have both things to enjoy in their own selves, but we have nothing and then blame the things instead of our own stubborn refusal to take things as they are.

There are exceptions to every rule, and this one is no different. While it might be entirely possible to will yourself into happiness under the worst of circumstances, most of us have limits that we just can’t seem to cross. If I were locked inside a horrible prison or starving to death alone on a desert island, I doubt I could find the emotional fortitude to reset my expectations into a happy place, but those are pretty unlikely scenarios. The exceptions prove the rule, as they say, and they’re more about understanding that these things aren’t absolute than about proving them wrong.

In most cases, happiness depends on attitude, desires, and expectations. There are things you can do, things that you can change, and things that just are. If you know the difference, are honest about the differences, and work within the differences, you will probably find that happiness just comes more easily. You are the architect. The design is within your hands. Use your tools wisely and build a happiness you can enjoy.

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