I’m a happy person. I don’t know how I became happy, especially considering I don’t find my parents that cheerful, most of my peers appear less than joyful, and based on the evening news, the world is downright depressing. Couple that with news that veterinarians are killing themselves off in record numbers, veterinary students are drowning in debt, and pet owners are avoiding office visits, it’s astonishing I’m able to drag myself out of bed each morning.
Yet I continue to find myself perfectly pleased and eagerly welcome another sunrise each day. I guess it’s because I figured out that life doesn’t guarantee happiness. If I’m going to experience exultation, I’d better get it for myself. And so can you.
Is it our right?
I’d like to begin by investigating why so many of us falsely believe we’re entitled to happiness. I blame it on our nation’s Forefathers—it’s encoded into our country’s DNA. The Declaration of Independence famously quips, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Somewhere, though, over the past two hundred years we dropped the pursuit and made it simply our right.
Thomas Jefferson is largely credited with inserting the happiness claim into the Declaration. He was a self-described Epicurean—one who strives to find pleasure and avoid pain in life. Epicureans are also staunch independents and firmly uphold self-sufficiency and personal freedom. In other words, Jefferson believed you should find happiness on your own and be free to do so. And I couldn’t agree more.
So Jefferson and I suggest that part of today’s whining may be due, at least in part, to the myth that if we’re alive we’re entitled to be happy. I agree, but only partially (my guess is Jefferson would, too). Happiness is an active choice, a willful act, and a persistent habit. Happiness is not something you’re automatically owed, easily given, or inevitably inherit. If you want to be happy, you’ve got to work for it, earn it, and maybe even suffer a little for it.
Happiness house rules
So how does this translate to the life of a busy veterinary healthcare professional? Here are a few simple rules I’d suggest to anyone:
1. Happiness is a choice.
Study after study concludes that money can’t buy happiness or peace. In fact, more money can lead to higher dissatisfaction and unhappiness in life (see child stars, lottery winners, offspring of the mega-rich, and so on). Right now you can choose to be happy or not. It doesn’t matter how stressed, tense, or unhappy you are at this instant—the next moment of your life is undetermined. This may sound out there, new-agey, or just plain stupid. The amazing thing is that it’s true and it works. If you want to be happy, you must first choose to be happy. And sometimes that’s easier said than done.
2. Your outsides don’t determine your insides.
Even though you may be up to your eyeballs with angry clients, co-workers who detest you, and family members who resent you, none of them can control your attitude. If you allow a bitter, angry friend or colleague to ruin your day, it’s your choice. You allowed that to happen. Own it, accept it, and deal with it positively.
I’m always reminded of the stories of Holocaust survivors who endured unconscionable horrors—it doesn’t get worse than that. Yet survivors managed to maintain a positive outlook, hope, and courage. Many claimed they found happiness in their memories of home or a crumb of bread. Suddenly my predicament doesn’t seem so tough. No one but you controls your attitude, emotions, and thoughts. That’s one of the greatest gifts we have as human beings. Cherish it and use it wisely.
3. The voyage is the gift.
Too often we get bogged down with “when I get there” that we forget the present day. We promise we’ll start eating healthier “when I get through this busy month.” We vow to start exercising after we “hire another technician.” We swear we’ll spend more time with our loved ones “as soon as we complete the expansion.” Most of the time we don’t.
I’m a very, very goal-oriented individual. What people usually overlook is how much I emphasize the process, the methodology, and the structure of accomplishing a goal. I’ve learned that many times the reward isn’t whether or not I achieved the objective, but what I learned and experienced as I pursued it.
Staying present in each moment is essential in finding and maintaining happiness. Several times a day stop your whirring thoughts and reflect on the moment. Are you happy? Peaceful? Positive? If not, why not? Value each step of your journey. Those footfalls are sacred and your most precious resource. Don’t squander them unhappily.
4. If you don’t like it, change it.
As you take those tiny life time-outs, you’ll discover that sometimes you’re not happy, peaceful, or positive. That’s a call to action. There’s simply no valid excuse to remain in a destructive environment or relationship. Instead of blaming your workplace, change it. If you try—really try—to change it and your environment is a still unhealthy, change your environment. Change takes bravery, planning, and commitment. It’s much easier to complain. I hate complaining. I love making things better.
5. Grow a happiness halo.
I think I’m happy because my wife is happy. I’d also like to think I make her happy, but I realize how inadequate I am in the presence of such an amazing woman. I have very few people in my life that don’t contribute to my contentment. Surround yourselves with people that make you better.
This extends to social media. De-friend the crazies. Even a nip of negativity can shock many people—don’t chance it. If you’re in a fragile friendly state, Facebook nasties can sever your spirit and send you spiraling down the drain of depression. Every day talk with, chat with, or message awesome people who rub some of their happiness off on you. If you want to be happy, you’ve got to learn from someone. Start growing your happiness halo today.
The pursuit of happiness is ours—all ours. Jefferson and I prefer it that way. Now go make some happy.