To decide to be happy is no simple thing…

by Judith F Kennedy, PhD

It sounds simplistic to say “Decide to be happy”. It sounds like some new age, just be positive, just do it kind of philosophy for life.  It’s not though. It’s dead serious to decide to be happy. In a different way it might be more accurate to say that one can decide to be resilient. We can not control all the circumstances in our life but we can control our attitude about those circumstances. Another way of saying that we can decide to be happy is to say we can have the “intention to be happy”.  I decided to take a year and try a self study. My choice was definitely to be happy. The way I have decided to do that is to focus on giving love to others. Instead of focusing on me and whether or not I am happy, I have made the choice in every interaction at least those where I have the presence of mind to be mindful, is to think what would make this person feel loved?

Before I pass myself off as some sort of Mother Theresa wannabe, I should say that this decision came out of great unhappiness. After a couple of years of grief, of a divorce, of not so great interactions with my loved ones, of moving once again, of death, of a unrecognizable deep sense of just plain grumpiness, I knew that I needed to do something. It became clear that when you fall into darkness, you manifest darkness. Needless to say, it also came with a bit of humbling comeuppance. I have practiced psychology for over 20 years, studied buddhist and contemplative thought, been a eucharistic minister, lead groups and individuals in therapy, raised children and have grandchildren but still I let my circumstances get me way, way down. Embarrassing, humbling to say the least. As my teacher, Jack Kornfield would say, really its just about remembering our true nature. He has said many times “Oh nobly born, you who are sons and daughters of the buddha, remember your true nature”  I just totally forgot.

So the first thing that happened is out of such deep despair and in the depths of my grief, I just simply surrendered. I let it all go. In a sense I gave it up to god, the universe, life you name it whatever you like to call it. With that surrender, came a flooding of grace. I was deeply, deeply grateful. Now after another six months or so, I have come to the point of making the intention to love others. In order to be happy, for me anyway, I have to stop the self absorption, the grumpiness, the whiny unfairness of it all attitude and just love others.  Not love them for my own agenda but just love them without an agenda (as much as I can).

I noticed something really wonderful, when this happens I feel free.