I've been blessed my whole life, to say the least.
I've always had food to eat, a roof over my head, and (albeit non-stylish) clothes on my back. I've always had good mental health, a dog, and a motor that gets me up when most people are still in the ring with the Sandman.
That said, my good friend died in Fourth Grade from cancer, I watched Alzheimer's eat my mom's brain away, and with that motor I just talked about comes the burden of feeling that the weight of the world is on my shoulders. My wife of 10 years demanded a divorce, I had a business "deal" involving my old employer go sideways, and I get the joy of dropping off my three kids every other week to a woman who was "just not happy."
And that's what made me decide to write my thoughts on happiness.
First off, I know I'm just some two-bit chump you stumbled upon thanks to a random Google search, and I get that. You may read this and say, 'Whatever, dude. Power through (INSERT GENUINE ATROCITY HERE), and then come talk to me about happiness."
But if you are genuinely trying to get better, more optimistic, and happier in your life, and you are willing to listen to a complete turtle-chinned stranger's thoughts on how to do it, these two cents might even be worth three.
It all starts with this: NO ONE OWES IT TO YOU.
If you're looking outside yourself for happiness, I wish you all the luck in the world on your voyage, Senor Quixote. When I say no one owes it to you, I don't mean to say that everyone's a selfish prick with only their own interests in mind. Quite the contrary; several examples of extraordinary charity and selflessness are everywhere around you.
Just go to your nearest fire or police station and you'll meet the brave men and women who will throw down their life for you in exchange for $50K a year and only pretty good benefits.
When I say no one owes it to you, what I mean is nobody has time for everybody. Hell, even Ghandi had to relax from time to time! Even the strongest and most charitable of human beings has to take time every day to take care of themselves; to eat, drink, and recharge their batteries. If you are waiting on them to make you happy... what are you going to do while they're taking care of their own necessities? Wait outside in their bushes? That won't work!
Also: happiness is NOT a static state. Not by any stretch. If both the Rock and Brad Pitt have to fight depression from time to time; what chance of evading tragedy and misfortune do we mere mortals have?
Happiness comes and goes, much like my affinity for Taco Bell (a relationship I admit, is inversely proportional). It comes in fleeting, everyday moments you must train yourself to catch in order to realize an overall happier life.
It's not optimism, which is indeed a more permanent life perspective. No, happiness leads to optimism: the better you can identify and receive happiness, the more and more optimistic you will be in your life forecasting.
It's hard to stay negative knowing later the sun will turn the sky a fiery pink, your kid will run up to you and give you a hug, or you'll find out they're running a Mel Brooks marathon on Starz.
Here's what else I've noticed: learning how to be happy means doing things that are the EXACT OPPOSITE of what you would think you need to do. Happiness - true happiness - is another way of saying 'reward,' and you can't have a reward without first assuming a sacrifice. I'd even venture to say a life filled with rewards and no sacrifice leads directly to depression.
If you eat Wah Kee's General Tso Chicken every day, it eventually becomes plain chicken nuggets with a piece of broccoli.
But - even more strangely - that sacrifice you take on must be one you voluntarily assume; an involuntary sacrifice is just a tragedy, and good luck thinking you're prepared for tragedy if you can't first arm yourself with happiness.
If you play sports, you know what I"m talking about: do what the coach demands, and you'll be part of the status quo. Be the player who gets there first, does extra reps, and then shuts the lights off at the end of the day, and you'll be exceptional.
But being exceptional means you first have to sacrifice everything else: sleep, beers with friends, vacations and parties in the middle of the season... the list goes on and on.
The best example is children. What gives a person (with their head screwed on straight) more joy than their children? Watching them play, hearing their laughter, and seeing them keep chivalry alive is rewarding on an extraordinary level... but they make you lose sleep, cost insane amounts of money, and argue over the dumbest fu*king things you can imagine.
I DON'T CARE WHO HIT WHO FIRST. NOW PICK UP THAT TOOTH.
So put happiness on yourself by taking sacrifice head on and absorbing whatever happiness you feel as it comes. I mean truly absorbing it; literally stopping what you're doing when the moment hits, and fully realizing the event giving you purpose as it's happening.
That is GRATITUDE, and if there's one sure way to happiness, it's that: being thankful for what you have.
Like I said earlier, life for me hasn't been all peachy, but AT LEAST I'm not that guy who sleeps at the bus stop on a couple of beer cans eating cigarette butts. And at least he's not the guy who just received the news he's got six weeks to live, and at least HE'S not the guy suffering from a sex addiction and micropenis.
Gratitude keeps you grounded, for sure. Someone's always got it worse, and you can easily find / think of the one around you who has. (Which gets into a whole other thing: prayer.)
Being grateful takes just minimal effort, too: genuinely thanking someone for a service or act of kindness requires only locking eyes and smiling. What the Hell does that cost you? You have no excuse.
Gratitude begets perspective, and perspective begets gratitude.
So be thankful. Genuinely, truly thankful.
To recap: what are the five steps to happiness?
1.) It's your responsibility to be happy;
2.) Happiness is fleeting, and you must learn to catch it when it comes;
3.) Willingly take on sacrifice; and
4.) Be thankful.
The fifth step? Easy. Get a dog. Not a fish, not an iguana, not a cat.
Because they are genuinely happy to see you every time they see you. Having something (or, even better, someONE) who is honestly happy to have you around goes a long way in helping you achieve your own happiness. Dogs don't blame, they go on their own adventures and learn their own things, they'll fight for you to the death, and they WAG THEIR TAILS WHEN THEY SEE YOU.
You have anybody ever do that? Dedicate an entire body part just to saying 'Hi?' It's amazing!
I hope this wasn't too preachy, and I certainly don't mean to oversimplify or make light of your unique, genuine suffering. My dad always told me that everyone walks around with a bucket of manure hovering over their head. Sometimes the manure falls out a little at a time, and sometimes the bucket completely tips over.
If your bucket has tipped over, my sincerest of apologies, and I hope you have the resources in place to help you through that.
But most of us just get the little at a time, and should teach ourselves that the one piece will not tip the entire bucket over. If we do, when that bucket tips (and it always does), our life will lose meaning and we'll succumb to the dark side.
Thinking of you, Cindy Gomez and Barbara Muller Bowen. Hang in there...
I'm Nick. I've never been afraid of getting in over my head, and I've survived every resulting injury from doing so. Played college football in the SEC while running a 5.1 forty at 200lbs, got booed off stage in front of 1,000 people at a 'Latino Laff Nite (I'm not Latino),' rolled with BJJ Black Belts, and got TKO'd by a Golden Gloves boxing champion during a fundraiser for MDA. The closest I ever got to being a real man was when my mom cut me off on the way to the Marine Recruiter's office - in the parking lot.