Science has shown that it’s a wise idea to choose to be happy — you’re more apt to experience good relationships, you will be better at your job, and there’s an excellent chance it will extend your life.
I used to think of happiness as the end result of all the good things I experienced or that happened in my life. But lately, I have started thinking of happiness more in terms of a steady state of contentment.
I’ve come to believe that we can choose this lasting state of contentment for ourselves, so it can’t be taken away, no matter what takes place in our external environment. In the process of choosing my own contentment, I’ve discovered four ways to liberate a state of perpetual happiness:
1. Make a decision that you want to feel happy
Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” So is happiness merely a matter of deciding?
Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, spent much of his life in prison as a result of his Faith. While there, he spent his time caring for the poor, writing divine scripture, and working to bring about the unity of humankind. His body was broken from years of malnourishment, deprivation, and confinement. He had to endure the death and suffering of family members and loved ones, and he was persecuted by a corrupt clergy who wanted to silence his words of peace. Yet throughout all his difficulties, he chose to be happy:
I myself was in prison forty years – one year alone would have been impossible to bear – nobody survived that imprisonment more than a year! But, thank God, during all those forty years I was supremely happy! Every day, on waking, it was like hearing good tidings, and every night infinite joy was mine. Spirituality was my comfort, and turning to God was my greatest joy. If this had not been so, do you think it possible that I could have lived through those forty years in prison?
Thus, spirituality is the greatest of God’s gifts, and ‘Life Everlasting’ means ‘Turning to God’. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks
2. Focus on what makes you feel good
Since focusing on our difficulties only seems to exaggerate them and make us feel worse, why not consciously choose something happy to focus on and start to magnify it? It may be difficult in the beginning, but the first step is to find one positive uplifting thought – anything that makes you feel better. Laugh, find the humor in situations, and learn to see the positive:
Even as the clouds let us shed down tears, and as the lightning flashes let us laugh at our coursings through east and west. By day, by night, let us think but of spreading the sweet savours of God. Let us not keep on forever with our fancies and illusions, with our analysing and interpreting and circulating of complex dubieties. Let us put aside all thoughts of self; let us close our eyes to all on earth, let us neither make known our sufferings nor complain of our wrongs. Rather let us become oblivious of our own selves, and drinking down the wine of heavenly grace, let us cry out our joy, and lose ourselves in the beauty of the All-Glorious. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha
Humour is an essential element in our comprehension of reality. – The Universal House of Justice, July 23, 1985.
3. Don’t worry about the negative — just live for the positive
The times I have been most unhappy are the times I let someone else’s unkind words, actions or judgments ruin my day. Negative words and thoughts can rob of us our happiness, but we don’t have to let them. If we can understand that people treat us according to how they feel about themselves, not about anything else, it’s easier to not take their judgments or comments personally. Associating with loving positive people, on the other hand, cannot help but attract happiness:
The company of the ungodly increaseth sorrow, whilst fellowship with the righteous cleanseth the rust from off the heart. He that seeketh to commune with God, let him betake himself to the companionship of His loved ones; and he that desireth to hearken unto the word of God, let him give ear to the words of His chosen ones. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words
4. Be grateful — because everything that happens is there for your benefit
What about unwanted circumstances and negative events that swirl into our lives, just when we were finally feeling happy? The truth is, there will always be situations to test us, but if we are patient, these difficulties will polish the gems of our souls and bring a level of happiness and inner contentment that can never be taken away:
If thy daily living become difficult, soon thy Lord will bestow upon thee that which shall satisfy thee. Be patient in the time of affliction and trial, endure every difficulty and hardship with a dilated heart, attracted spirit and eloquent tongue in remembrance of the Merciful. Verily this is the life of satisfaction, the spiritual existence, heavenly repose, divine benediction and the celestial table! Soon thy Lord will extenuate thy straitened circumstances even in this world. Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith
Be happy and joyous because the bestowals of God are intended for you and the life of the Holy Spirit is breathing upon you. Rejoice, for the heavenly table is prepared for you. Rejoice, for the angels of heaven are your assistants and helpers. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace
Happiness is a choice — which we can make every day. It requires a conscious decision in each moment to focus on what uplifts our spirits and our dispositions. Happiness comes from associating with loving people and not falling victim to the negativity of others, keeping things in perspective and having a good sense of humor. Happiness results from awareness and appreciation in each moment of all our blessings. Most of all, happiness is, as Abdu’l-Baha said, “Turning to God,” and being grateful in the knowledge that we are assuredly on the path to our heavenly home.