Be Happy

Be-happy“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina)

It’s one of the great opening sentences of all times, because you know right away that you are going to be reading someone’s unhappy story, which I assume is what Tolstoy knew would keep people reading. Discontent sells.

With the advent of the Internet, and blogs, and people openly writing about their daily lives and problems these days, I think though that Tolstoy might have to flip that opening sentence around these days. It seems like unhappy people are more alike than different, but truly happy people are content in their own way.

I have known people my whole life who are not “happy” unless they’re unhappy, and want you commiserating along with them. These people often have interesting jobs, nice homes, are financially secure, they and their families are healthy, and yet they are always complaining about something, or asking you to feel sorry for them or excuse their bad behavior because don’t you know they’re having a bad day/month/year? Why can’t you respect their misery or understand how hard their life is? Something is always going wrong and it’s not their fault! They seem to have an inability to see how good they have it compared to almost everyone else, or are obsessed with what others have or are doing. They seem disinterested in figuring out ways to overcome or rise above whatever is bothering them, or accept responsibility for their own agency. They choose to be unhappy and they are.

One of the benefits of being invited into others’ lives, whether in a book or a blog, or real time, has been not only learning and thinking about new things, but also realizing that there are many and different ways to achieve happiness. And, what works for one person or family, and brings them joy or contentment, will not necessarily work for me or my family. Every person, every family has their own unique way of finding happiness or contentment, and their own ways of dealing with the obstacles of daily life. Each person or family defines happiness, contentment, gratification, whatever you want to call it in their own way, and no one gets to define them for anyone else. We really don’t even get to have an opinion about it (although we of course always do). If there is a sameness to others’ contentment or happiness, as Tolstoy contends, it’s that it takes work and commitment to maintain it. It’s easier to complain, to sulk, to criticize, to whine, to look for or expect the negative than it is to remain positive and cheerful, even in the face of obstacles. It’s often easier to point the finger at others rather than focus on our own lives and what we could change or do differently to increase our own happiness.

No one lives a life free of trouble, worry or unhappiness; I certainly don’t. I have days when it seems like everything is going wrong. Bad things happen sometimes. There are days when I’d like nothing better than to get on this blog and vent. But, I also worry less these days than I did in the past because I finally figured out that problems have solutions and that things will eventually be resolved. Maybe not always the way I’d prefer, but they will work themselves out. I know that tomorrow will not be the same as today. As written in the I Ching, “you cannot step in the same river twice.” Nothing lasts, everything changes, and while things may not always get “better” right away or the way I want or even at all, things will at least get different. And, different will eventually change as well, and sometimes different is the best we can hope for.

I have far, far more good in my life these days than bad. We have enough, more than enough really. We’re healthy. We’re living the life we dreamed of and worked for. You can choose to be happy, and I choose happiness.

12 thoughts on “Be Happy

    1. It was a revelation to learn I could choose to be happy, that happiness and contentment don’t need to be determined by outside forces but by how I want and choose to face what’s in front of me. Happy takes work, but it’s worth it.


  1. You are right. Happiness, much like love, is a daily choice you make. It’s not something that “exists” in the back of your life, without cultivation & effort. There are days when it’s easier to make that effort than others, and there are times when happiness is out of reach (illness of a family member, grief), but as a general rule, I try to anchor my life in assuming that I am & will be happy, and the rest falls in place as best it can. Also, happiness doesn’t mean perfection, and there are way too many people constantly searching for perfection rather than happiness.

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    1. Thank you for this beautiful comment, HP. You’re right – being happy involves making a daily choice to be happy. Being happy and content does not mean that you can’t feel sad, or angry, or any other emotion either.

      And, screw perfectionism (says the recovering perfectionist).


  2. I have found that when people are pessimists (they call themselves realists), often their way of processing negative events is to bond with other people through complaining. This can be a very successful strategy for making and keeping friends of a similar mindset, so why change it? 🙂 Unfortunately, it creates an environment that makes it very difficult for optimists to work and co-exist, especially those of us who are solutions-oriented and who tend not to wallow!

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    1. I think we all initially respond to or are attracted by pessimists, and find their stories interesting (at first), because everyone has felt pessimistic at one time or another. We understand where they’re coming from. But, it gets old fast, especially if you’re an optimist, or a person who is looking forward rather than focusing on the past. I can empathize with pessimism up to a point, but then it’s time to move on.


    1. Thanks Denise! Getting to this place was a process, and took years of practice. I’ve had some good role models over the years though, which helped.


  3. One of the reasons I read your blog is because I find your outlook very optimistic … heck, even when you were paying off debt, your attitude was very “can do” or “What do I need to do?”.

    If left unchecked, I really have a tendency to swing towards a glass half empty kind of attitude and I’ve been this way as long as I can remember. I think that a lot of pessimists (self included) really have no idea that a change in attitude and positive daily reminders CAN have that much of an impact …just opening up to the idea that you CAN be happy is a huge hurdle to overcome.

    I have been really working on making my life happier and filled with more joy and less worry – it’s not easy to change, but I REALLY don’t want to turn into a bitter old lady.


    1. I think I have always been an optimist, but didn’t know it or recognize it for years. Forty years ago I would have said I was a pessimist, a glass half-empty girl. I was a very angry person in my 30s as I started to deal with my childhood, but during our second tour to Japan I signed up for a class on dealing with anger (not a required anger management type class though). I don’t know whether I heard it in the class, or talking with someone during a break, but someone said we can choose to be angry or not, and that we can be the one in charge of our anger (not that we should never feel angry). That was a revelation, that we can be in charge and not have to let others determine our emotions, which was what I was letting happen.

      My grandmother was a wonderful role model. She wasn’t an outwardly “happy” person, but she woke up each day and made the best of everything. She chose to be positive and look forward every day. I was blessed to have her in my life, and choose to be positive every day now because of her.


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