Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Lesson 5: Don’t look forward to happiness; live it now.

Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of the that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.

A great obstacle to happiness is to anticipate too great a happiness.

A young man I know moved with his family from a large northern city to a small southern town during the summer before his senior year in high school. Such a move would be a tough challenge for any young person, but it was especially hard on David. He had been happy and involved in his previous school, with lots of friends and activities. Now he was starting his senior year in an unfamiliar environment. He had no friends and found himself surrounded by a whole culture that was foreign to him. Sometimes, listening to the local accent and regional slang, he even had trouble understanding the language.
As you might imagine, David was wretchedly unhappy. He knew he’d be unhappy even before the move. The one thought that sustained him was his plan to move himself back to his old hometown immediately after graduation. He just knew that if he could get back home, everything would be fine again.
Graduation came and went. David packed some stuff in an old van, said goodbye to his parents, and pointed north. Once he got there, he got a job and settled into an apartment with a longtime friend as a roommate. And guess what? That’s right; he was still miserable.
Here’s an even more extreme example: Matt made a similar move just before his senior year. He moved from an even larger city—in France, no less—to tiny town in rural North Carolina. And Matt came alone, with no family and just a basic grasp of the English language. But far from being unhappy, Matt had a great senior year. He made lots of friends and got involved in many activities. The return to his home at the end of the year was bittersweet.
You see, David made several mistakes. First, he had a negative attitude about the move south. Second, he didn’t adapt to his new surroundings. Third, he thought that his happiness depended on his circumstances. And Matt? Well, Matt was an exchange student. He wanted to be there. As a result, his attitude was positive, he adapted quickly, and he relished the unfamiliar surroundings.
Decide to be happy now, in this moment, regardless of the circumstances. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that happiness will come later, once certain conditions are met. It won’t. Remember: happiness doesn’t come to you. You must create it within yourself.

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