It wasn’t until about 25 years ago that I realized how simple it really is to be happy. Notice I didn’t say it’s always easy—although it often is that too!
What I have discovered is that virtually anyone, by learning about five simple concepts, can become much happier than ever before. I don’t mean happy “all time,” but most of the time for sure, and even when we lose our way, it’s pretty simple to guide ourselves back in the right direction.
Let me introduce five simple principles very briefly here and then I’ll speak a little bit about their applications in our daily lives.
1) The first principle is that of “thought.” In short, our ability to think creates our psychological experience of life and most importantly, thinking is a voluntary function. In other words, we produce the thoughts—we think them up! And, with no time in-between, we feel the effects of those thoughts. That’s why it’s so critical to be aware that you are the one producing and thinking your own thoughts.
If you ever tried to scare yourself with your own voice, you’d be out of luck. Why? Because, very simply, you’d always be one step ahead of yourself—-you’d know it was you who was saying “boo.”! By becoming aware that we are the producers of our own thoughts, we can have a similar insight. We will always have thoughts to contend with, but once we realize that we create and produce them, it’s pretty hard to be freaked out by them.
Instead of bumming ourselves out or getting angry or scared, we simply say to ourselves, “Whoops, there I go again,” reminding yourself that you’re having what you might come to call a “thought attack.” If you have any type of thought and know it’s “just a thought,” and it’s stemming from inside of you, it’s easy to drop it, and bring yourself back to this precious moment.
2) The principle of moods is incredibly simple. When we’re in a “good” mood, life generally looks pretty good. But when we’re in a “bad” mood, the same life (and that’s the key)! The exact same life looks drastically different. All of a sudden the partner you were so in love with is problamic, the car you drive doesn’t look so good and your future looks less than promising.
But how can this be? While in a good mood, you’re totally in love, the car you drive is absolutely fine and your future looks great. I could give a hundred other examples, but I’m sure you get the point. Your life doesn’t change—–only your mood does. Knowing this changes everything. When you’re down, you feel it and you make allowances for it. You don’t take your own thinking very seriously at all.
Instead, it’s a waiting game. You wait until your mood returns to a better state and then you think about your problems. Same with other people. You begin to recognize when someone is in a low mood and when they are, you don’t take what they say and do very seriously. It’s really that simple. Everyone is subject to moods and when any of us are in a low mood we will say and do things we wouldn’t even consider while in a better frame of mind. Knowing this is a huge advantage. You learn to make allowances for others and their moods—and you get used to the expression, “But for the grace of God, go I.”
When you do suppose most people discuss their problems? While in a low mood of course, because that’s when life has a sense of urgency. But ironically, you can’t solve a problem when your low because you have lost your wisdom, common sense and happiness. But when your mood rises, you’ll have your wisdom back and life will look good again! I used to tell couples about this trick all the time and, frequently, one of the partners’ would say to me, “But Richard, if we waited until our mood rose to discuss our problems, it wouldn’t seem like we had problems to discuss.” “That’s the point,” I would say.
3) The third principle is called Separate Psychological Realities. Essentially, this means that because we all think uniquely, we each live if a separate psychological reality. This one is easy to apply. All you have to do is expect, rather than be surprised or disappointed when someone disagrees with you or can’t see things your way. Of course they can’t!
4) Fourth is the principle of feelings. This is probably my favorite and is certainly the simplest. Essentially, all you have to do is pay attention to your feelings. Then, depending on what you are feeling, you use that information to guide you as to what to do. For example, if you’re angry, instead of “thinking” about why you’re angry, you use the angry feelings to remind yourself that you’re a little off base, because again, your goal is to be happy.
You must be thinking angry thoughts or you would be having different types of feelings. Your feelings, positive or negative, are not “bad,” they are simply information and they are foolproof in letting you know where you stand and what needs to be done.
5) The last principle is to live more of our life in the present moment. By using our feelings, we can tell when our mind is drifting away from this moment—which is so common in today’s world. But as you bring your attention back to just this moment, you’ll begin to feel the joy of each precious moment of life. When you’re bothered or irritated, it will usually be because you’re thinking about something that is already over or something that is yet to be.
Practice bringing your attention to the here and now and you’ll be one of the happiest people on earth! Life is a magical adventure when you are right here to enjoy it!
Richard Carlson, PhD, was considered one of the world’s foremost experts on happiness and stress reduction. As the author of thirty popular books, which have sold more than 26 million copies worldwide, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, he showed millions of people how to not let the small things get the best of them.
* Based on the book You Can Be Happy No Matter What, 15th Anniversary edition Copyright © 2006 by Richard Carlson, PhD, Reprinted with permission from New World Library, Novato, CA USA 94949, 1-800-972-6657, www.NewWorldLibrary.com.