Never Better

I recently finished Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. In one of the most famous opening sentences in literature, Tolstoy writes: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. I wonder if that is true?

I believe there are two kinds of people in the world, those who are happy no matter what and those who are unhappy, no matter what. How does one end up on one side or the other? Is happiness innate? Is it circumstantial. Can it be acquired?

What do you think?

For me, happiness is acquired, in fact, it is a work in process. I’ve been working on it for quite a while. I’ve learned that I can’t depend on favorable circumstances to make me happy. I simply don’t have that much control over life and besides, I find that I need happiness the most when things aren’t going my way. To be happy, I had to find happiness that was resilient to circumstance.

Around twenty-five years ago, I went through a very difficult time. I won’t bore you with the details, except the situation was bad, it was out of my control and it couldn’t be fixed. The only way out, was to keep moving forward, which wasn’t easy. I remember pulling into a gas station on my way to work one day and I couldn’t recall how to open the latch to put gas in the car, despite having owned the car for three years. I finally gave up and consulted the owner’s manual. Stress was taking a toll. Arriving at work, I pressed 23 and waited as the elevator ascended. It opened to a colleague’s greeting, “Hi Tim, how’s it going?” I enthusiastically answered, “never better!” To this day, I don’t know where that answer came from. What I do know, is that ever since that moment, I have actively worked on making it true.

If you decided to run a marathon, what would you do? My guess is you would commit to a running schedule. If you decided to learn to play the piano, what would you do? My guess is practice regularly. What if you decided to learn a foreign language? You get the point.

So, what if you decided to be happy regardless of difficult situations you are facing? The answer is the same, you must practice. Some might say happiness is not something you can practice. Let me assure you that is wrong. Running a marathon is not easy, learning to play the piano is not easy, becoming fluent in a foreign language is not easy. Likewise, learning to be happy is serious business that requires commitment. If you are up for that journey, I believe this site can be of assistance. We will begin with next week’s post.

Key Principle: Practicing awareness on a routine basis
Question to think about: Is your happiness dependent on circumstance?

8 Replies to “Never Better”

  1. There is a theory that the human condition allows one to experience happiness for only 5 minutes at a time. While I’m skeptical of that (it may have been proposed by a very unhappy person!) I wonder if the practice of happiness is the same as the practice of gratitude/appreciation or the practice of joy. Are these all the same? Do they feed each other? Would love your exploration on that sometime, too! Thanks, Tim.

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    1. Thanks for that commenI very much support that idea. Gratitude, appreciation and joy all point away from Self. Planning to write about that, as I think it is key!

      Tim Sent from my iPhone

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  2. Tim, when I saw this week’s title I thought now that’s a typical Tim response to “how are you?” You have said it to me many times over the years. I often wondered if you really meant it as it sometimes came off as too automatic. Now I understand why. Thank you for being so open and honest. I too tend to automatically say I’m fine when asked the same question. But actually it usually is true that I do feel fine. Not that i haven’t had my share of tragedy and difficulties but I have been fortunate not to sink into depression or despair. Perhaps I just don’t dwell deeply enough on the problem at hand. I have felt subdued and preoccupied, worried and stressed, I have experienced profound grief, and yet, getting outside, an intellectual distraction, a good stiff drink, an empathetic ear, a good night’s sleep have helped me carry on. I do think some people are born optimists and some are born pessimists so I would have to say that a happy disposition is innate. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn to see the glass half full – as you are proving. I agree it isn’t easy but it certainly helps me to overcome life’s many trials. So is my happiness dependent on circumstance ? Yes, I believe it is. For me, there is a difference between a happy disposition and happiness. I think you can work at cultivating a happy disposition, but happiness is something that happens to you independent of your volition. A person, a setting, an experience, an accomplishment, can bathe you in a sense of well-being, of wanting this moment to continue, of joy, of ecstasy. Those are moments to treasure and remember because they don’t usually last ! But they leave a solid foundation from which to face the next challenge. They make you stronger, if you recognize them for what they are. Jane

    Sent from my iPhone

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  3. Tim,
    Three of the “intangibles” I think about when it comes to happiness are:
    1) Resilience – it’s always amazing to me that some folks can persevere through the toughest circumstances and others get derailed with small road blocks
    2) Gratefulness
    3) Empathy – the ability to understand others perspectives and feelings.
    I think all of these are influenced by nature but all are predominantly a choice. They are something you can practice each day which can contribute to your overall happiness. Cheers

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  4. Happiness in my mind is a relative term. Happiness for one person is one thing or so much of a certain thing while it is something else for another. I think that is what is so unique and important about Happiness. In many ways it is so much about the expectations that we set for ourselves and the World around us. I am not saying one should set their expectations low so that they can over achieve them and then think they will find Happiness. One can never really fool themselves like that because it is almost impossible to lie to oneself. However, realistic expectations really help shape our degree of Happiness throughout our lives. Sure people say there are so many things out there that we cannot control so how can we ever think we can find Happiness. I say to them be realistic and consider your expectations and then work real hard with genuine effort and you will find so much Happiness in your life—-My favorite sign off to any note I write someone is “Onward Through The Fog” because it is the way life is. We do not know with real certainty what lies ahead of us but we can meet everyday with a big smile and a genuine hopeful heart and then do our best to help those around us and in turn help ourselves!!

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  5. I agree, some people are happy or unhappy no matter what. Others are influenced by circumstance. Some are crushed under a parade of trials too overwhelming that never relent. Can people learn to be happy? I hope so. Are others doomed to unhappiness? I have seen that as well. For certain, life is a lot more complicated for any one of us to judge the response of others through eyes other than our own.

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