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How Can I Find Happiness?

Six practical keys to becoming a happy person even in times of trouble and stress
[This article is adapted from the book ANSWERS TO SATISFY THE SOUL by Jim Denney.]

During the tough years of my early writing career, a friend gave me a book called THE CHOICE by Og Mandino. Because of the struggles I was going through at the time, I was ripe for that book. I opened it and found this quotation by Charles Fletcher Lummis: 'I am bigger than anything that can happen to me. Sorrow, misfortune, and suffering are outside my door. I am in the house and I have the key.'

That was just the message I needed. My situation at the time was bleak. My bank account was empty, I had a mortgage to pay and a family to support, and my next paycheck was weeks away. In order to collect that paycheck, I had to finish the book I was writing - and in order to write, I needed to stay positive, energized, and upbeat. Nothing dries up a writer's imagination like worry and stress.

The message of THE CHOICE energized me and got me through the tough times. That experience taught me an important lesson: Happiness is not the result of good fortune. Happiness doesn't come from having money in the bank or a stress-free life. Happiness is a choice.

No matter what life does to us, inflicts on us, or takes away from us, we always have the freedom to choose how we will respond. Unhappy people curse the unfairness of life. Happy people recognize that life is often unfair, but choose to focus on the good things life has to offer.

Misery and unhappiness will fill up as much of your life as you allow them to. You may misplace your car keys and be late for a meeting. Your computer may crash, causing two hours of work to disappear. The plumbing may back up and ruin the bathroom floor. These are major aggravations, no question - but hardly comparable to finding out you have cancer or that a member of your family has died.

I have to confess that there have been many times when I have completely lost my composure over some minor aggravation or interruption of my plans. But then I see someone who is facing cancer or loss without complaining, and I'm forced to acknowledge that happiness is a choice. We cannot always choose our circumstances, but we can always choose our attitude.

So how do we choose an attitude of happiness? Here are some practical principles for a happy life:

Happiness Principle No. 1: Take responsibility for your own happiness. If you're unhappy, stop blaming other people or God or bad luck. As long as you put the blame elsewhere, you feel helpless and trapped. But when you accept the responsibility for your own happiness, you'll feel empowered to make changes that lead to true happiness and satisfaction in life.

Happiness Principle No. 2: Focus on others instead of self. Unhappy people are focused on themselves. Happy people are focused on others. The most cheerful and contented people I know are those who are involved in volunteering, tutoring students, visiting shut-ins, and otherwise meeting the needs of others.

Happiness Principle No. 3: Get rid of poisonous emotions. Anger, bitterness, and guilt are destructive to your happiness, so do everything you can to resolve conflicts in your relationships. Let go of grudges. When the other person is wrong, resolve it and forgive. When you are wrong, apologize and be forgiven. Put wrongs in the past where they belong.

Happiness Principle No. 4: Make time for simple pleasures. Sometimes the simplest rewards can make you feel as happy as if you just hit the lottery. Think of how good you feel when you take that first sip of a perfect cup of coffee. Or when you sit on the back porch with your family and watch the most beautiful sunset you've ever seen.

Happiness Principle No. 5: Change the thinking that produces unhappiness. You can't always control how you feel, but you can always control what you think. Unhappiness usually comes from thoughts of bitterness ("I'll never forgive and I'll never forget!"), hopelessness ("This is my lot in life and it will never change"), self-reproach ("I always do the wrong thing!"), and so forth. To become a happy person, make a deliberate decision to think the thoughts of a happy person'thoughts of understanding ("There must be some reason she acted that way"), hope ("I have the power to make my life better - and I will"), and self-acceptance ("A mistake's not so bad - I'm going to learn from this").

Happiness Principle No. 6: Stop comparing yourself with others; replace envy with thankfulness. A thankful person is a happy person. If your mind is ruled by an attitude of thankfulness, then envy and unhappiness can't gain a foothold in your life. As G. K. Chesterton once observed, "There are two ways to get enough. One is to accumulate more. The other is to be content with less." Sara Teasdale put it this way: "I make the most of all that comes and the least of all that goes."

You can choose happiness. You are bigger than anything that happens to you. Sorrow, misfortune, and suffering are all outside your door. You are in the house, and you have the key.

About the Author
Jim Denney has written more than 60 published books, both fiction and nonfiction. His latest book, ANSWERS TO SATISFY THE SOUL, may be ordered by calling 1-800-497-4909.

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