Thursday, January 24, 2013

Some Thoughts on Happiness

This isn't a sermon. It's not a quick fix for unhappiness.
   Lots of people have written about happiness. Some of it's good stuff, and some of it isn't. There's no method to obtaining and keeping happiness.
   It's up to you.
   I was unhappy for a long time, but didn't know I was unhappy. I had a good career, but somehow it just wasn't satisfying me. I didn't recognize the correlation at the time, but the higher I went up the ladder, the more I drank. The more I drank, the less happy I became, and the combination of the two led to some interesting--and not good interesting--twists and turns.
   In a path I don't recommend to anyone, I got very sick (Wernicke encephalopathy--which you can read about in this blog). I came pretty close to dying and had to make some difficult lifestyle changes.
   I'm glad I did. I'm glad I got sick--and even happier I recovered--and I'm glad I made the lifestyle changes.
   How does that make me happy? It doesn't. Not by itself, anyway.
   I made a decision to be happy. Maybe it's because of the illness. It might have allowed me to open my eyes and see that happiness is a decision. I decided to be happy.
   Deciding to be happy is the easy part. After that, I needed to decide on the how. My wife, always, and I mean always a source of happiness in my life, stayed with me through it all. 
   One day, while cleaning toilets at 4:00 AM as part of my duties as a housekeeper in a big restaurant, I looked at the Johnny mop in my hand an almost felt sorry for myself. There I was, a man with a college degree and seventeen years management experience, wiping bodily fluids off a stool at an ugly hour of the day.
   It made me sad, for about thirty seconds. Then I reflected on how much I had come to dread staff meetings, and long hours, even for the noble cause for which I worked.
   My sadness left. Maybe I banished it, and maybe God blessed me a little bit (again) that day. I started to grin. The job was about as unglamorous as I could imagine, but I did it and did it well. I found it strangely satisfying.
   I was free! Not free financially. I needed the money they were paying me. Trust me, cleaning toilets at 4 AM didn't feel like any sort of noble public service, even though it is.
   I looked up. Up at the ceiling of the restroom, and then (in my mind at least) through it to blue skies of a world. A world that didn't care what I was doing at that hour. The world was marching on.
   The reason I quit my salaried position, was that my wife and I wanted a chance for me to pursue what makes me happy. In my case it was writing. I wanted to write books.
   It was a concrete goal. We set a deadline--a couple of years--for me to get books into the marketplace. Sure, I dreamed big. I dreamed of writing a bestseller, backed fully by a publisher. It hasn't happened that way, yet. I think it will someday.

I've written several books and self-published them in Kindle format (available at Amazon), Nook format (available at Barnes & Noble), and in paperback and hardcover available here: I'm not a housekeeper anymore, but I didn't give it up because I was unhappy with it. Other positions in the same company became available to me, in no small part because of my attitude.

   I started getting up early enough to watch the sunrise. I find happiness in watching the birth of each new day. I quit drinking--at first because doctors told me I would die if I didn't--and learned to enjoy sobriety. I learned that it's okay to love simple things. I learned that if I thought I was going to have a bad day, that's what I had. I learned that if I decided to have a good day, that's what I had.

   Guess which I decide now, decide consciously. I decide to have a good day. I'm fond of telling people to make it a great day, and I mean it.
   Deciding to make each day great is an important step, but it's not the only step. Sometimes we have to make tough choices. If there's something in your life that makes you consistently have to change something about the situation. Don't take that the wrong way. Don't march into your supervisor's office tomorrow and say, "Steele says I have to quit." 
   I have no idea what you have to do to be happy. You might not even know what you have to do to be happy. Maybe you're happy and don't know it. Take stock of what you have, and you might find you have a lot to be happy about.

What's my point? Simply this:
Happiness starts with a decision to be happy.