How to Be Happy: An open letter to my children
Dear Drake and Rosey,
My hope for you both in life is that each of you is happy. I don’t mean preoccupied or entertained or superficially happy. I mean truly, deeply happy — day-to-day and ultimately. Happiness seems to come naturally and easily to you both, but you will each face hard times at some point, whatever that might look like for you. What’s important to remember is that happiness is something you do. It’s not something that you have. You must practice happiness every day. And it’s about what you believe and how you think way more than it is about what you achieve or attain.
The fact is that the world gives back as it will. You can affect it with hard work and good decisions, and you should do exactly that, but you can’t control it, not really. And, no matter what it gives you back for your efforts, the world can never give you happiness. Happiness only exists within you. It’s like Dumbo’s ability to fly. It was there inside of him all along.
So, my advice to you is to practice happiness every day, no matter what else you are doing or dealing with. This doesn’t mean to be silly or wild or even satisfied, though there are times for each of those, as there are also times for silence and times to cry. It means, instead, to be at peace with oneself and the world, even when you fail or while you mourn. Happiness transcends your mood or your situation. It’s your whole constitution and way of seeing the world.
So, to help you be happy, I want to share these ways to practice happiness. My hope is that these words and ideas make more and more sense to you as you read them again and again throughout your life.
You will hear and learn many things around the idea of God. You will see a lot about God that is culturally specific in nature – different religions, different sects of religions, etc. You will see those religions, and the participants, do good in this world and do bad in this world. You will also see people who don’t believe in God. And you will see good and bad from those people as well. So, here’s the thing. Each of us defines God. Some people define God and then believe in that version of God, worship it even. Some people define God and then reject it and don’t believe in it. But either way, the person is defining God and then choosing to believe or not believe in that which they themselves are defining. So… define God in a way you can believe in and embrace the idea of God. Be on the positive side of connecting with all of life. Some people personify God, as Judeo-Christian religion does. Some people de-personify God and have it be a force like in Star Wars. Different groups do it different ways. But you get to define God, so define God in a way that brings connection to your life – connection with all other life. The God that I know is what connects me to that which is at play in all of life existing. It’s a loving and caring force. It is “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” to quote Dylan Thomas. Yet, my God is also personified, as I speak with God just to say thank you. I do this every day. So, remember, nobody gets to corner the meaning of God. Use it as a way to connect with all that is good in this world. Don’t let God be controversial, antagonistic, exclusionary, or anything negative. Then, you can open your mind to religious ideas and stories in a way that allows you to see the beauty in them without having to accept or reject them. And don’t be afraid to thank God. In fact, I recommend that you do it every day.
Gratitude is probably the most important element of happiness. It’s simple really. When you feel thankful for what you are/have/do, then you feel happy. When you take for granted what you are/have/do and focus on what you are not or don’t have or don’t do, then you are unhappy. This phenomenon is not new in the world, but it is exacerbated by social media. When we constantly compare ourselves (and all that we take for granted) to someone else (and all the new, different, exciting stuff that they seem to be/have/do), then we are unhappy. So, be grateful, every day. Multiple times a day, I thank God for something. When I feel disappointed, frustrated, or insecure, I just say, “Thank you, God…” and then I have to think of something with which to finish that sentence. It’s not hard. There are so many blessings in my life that they would be impossible to ever list. So, be grateful all the time. Be truly thankful for the many blessings in your life always and actively, each and every day.
Being thankful does not mean that you don’t hope for things or want things. Hope is at the heart of the human spirit. Those people who have lived through unimaginable experiences will say that it was hope that pulled them through. We must always have hope. Hope for positive change. Hope for a better world. Hope for others. And hope for that which we desire to achieve. Never lose hope. And if you ever do, ask for help.
There is a great quote out there by a guy named Wayne Dyer that goes, “When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.” I love that quote. Empathy is our ability to feel for another person, our ability to care. Empathy for another person is what allows us to have deeply emotional relationships in our lives. For most of us, relationships with other people is a critical part of our happiness. The more empathetic we can be, not only to our loved ones, but to other human beings in general, the larger capacity we have to be happy. Always have empathy for every creature. This does not mean that you get taken advantage of or hurt by others. That is not what being empathetic is about. It only means that you recognize them as a soul in this world. And that you have compassion for them if only for that. Make your choices in life from a place of kindness. You will be happier for it.
Be here now. This is a powerful phrase when you truly stop to think about what it means. There is only right now. There is only the present. John Lennon sang “Life is what happens while you’re busy making plans.” This is a great line. It reminds us to stop and enjoy the day. Though the line is often misused as a justification for the lackadaisical. We have to make plans, right? We need to take care of ourselves and our families, conduct our business, etc. So, it’s a great line to make you think, and it’s fun and a bit snarky in nature – as was the wit and genius of John Lennon. Be Here Now, on the other hand, is not a quip. It is maybe the most universal truth of consciousness. Think about it. In your consciousness and perspective, there is only right now. You can remember the past and imagine the future, but it’s always the present. It will only ever be the present. So, to consume your present with worry over the past or future is to waste the present. But, on the other hand, to neglect to process the past and prepare for the future will bring about pain and frustration in your future present. So, balance is the key, and presence is the answer. When you work on planning for your future, be present in that moment. Then put it away. When you do work, do it well and with focus. Then put it away. When you are in a place, appreciate being there in that place at that time. Then go somewhere else. When you are talking with someone, give them your full attention. When you are doing something, do only that and do it well. It’s difficult to enjoy doing something when you’re worried about the other things you must do. So, you must give yourself the gift of time, which will allow you to be present. If you are thoughtful about your responsibilities, and then assign yourself the time to do them, you will find that there is plenty of time to relax and enjoy your hobbies and friends and family. But no matter what you are doing, be here now.
“You half create the world,” said William Wordsworth. You can’t control the world, but you have a huge influence on what happens to you by choosing how you spend your energy, time, and efforts. Here’s how it works: your beliefs control your thoughts; your thoughts control your actions; and your actions influence your reality. So, if you want to change your reality, you must change your beliefs. To use a simplified example, if you want to go to an Ivy League school, then you’d first have to believe that doing so was truly important. In turn, you’d have to believe that the grades you made were truly important, then you’d have to make your day-to-day decisions based on that belief, which means your actions would be dictated by those decisions, and then your outcomes would reflect your desire (as your grades would be exceptional and you’d be poised to attend an Ivy League school). If you say you want to go to an Ivy League school, but day-to-day you don’t truly believe that making straight A+s in top-level classes is one of the most important things in the world, then you won’t think about your choices in the same way, and you won’t decide to spend your time on it in the same way, and thus you will not create the same outcome. It’s because you didn’t truly believe it was important and then implement that belief on a day-to-day basis. We are all dealt cards. If you want to then change your hand, you must decide what you truly believe is important, and you must focus on that. You can only half create the world, as there are many circumstances around every individual that is out of their control. But discipline is a very powerful force in shaping your world, and discipline is an extension of belief.
And love, as they say, is the greatest of them all. You should fill your heart and mind with love. Love God and the universe. Love life and the world. Love the people and the peoples across the globe. Love your neighbor. Love your family. And love yourself. Understand that while desire can break your heart, love can only fill your soul. So, always be willing to love, even while you protect yourself from being hurt by those who would act selfishly or maliciously with your heart. Love is not lust or desire. Love is compassion and peace, and it is something that should fill each of your days.
So, there they are. My secrets to happiness. I hope these thoughts serve you well over time. I love you both, and I am so very proud of each of you.