The last of human freedoms – the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances. —Viktor E. Frankl
At any given time, someone is telling me how someone else has made her/him happy, unhappy, sad, mad, or glad. And I can’t count the times that I’ve said the same thing, my favorite being “He made me so mad.”
Of course, psychologists warn us about using these expressions. After all, when we say others make us feel certain ways, we are giving them control over our emotions and our peace of mind. And relying on others to provide us with happiness is a precarious state to be in.
Now, my dad was of a similar mind years ago when my sister and I were kids. When we threw a tantrum, which was often, we would exclaim, “I am so mad at you.” This was usually directed at each other or one of our parents. My father would laconically reply, “Well, you’ve got the same pants to get happy in.”
To be honest, I had no idea what my father meant at the time. But the very Zen-like statement was usually enough to shut me up to puzzle over his words or to realize whatever else was going to happen, he was not going to spend any more time worrying about my anger. Now I think his goal may have been simply to watch football without two screaming children in front of him. And he did usually achieve that.
Still, my dad was wiser than he possibly knew. After all, in the end, there really is only one person’s emotions you can control: your own. So I could wait until my sister chose to stop making me mad, which probably was not going to happen. After all, this is the person who once ran over my back with her bicycle. And my parents were certainly not going to change any of their rules in order to turn my frown upside down. So, in the end, I had one choice if I wanted to be happy: to make myself so.
It embarrasses me to say it has taken a good several decades since childhood to learn this lesson, and it is often two steps forward, one step back in its progression. But I no longer expect anyone else to provide me with contentment and happiness. And on the days when I’m not so happy, I realize that it has more to do with my own expectations than other people’s intentions. And while other people can still arouse some mighty anger in me, I realize that if I hold on to it, then that’s my doing, not theirs. It’s both scary (If I’m unhappy, then it’s MY fault.) and liberating (I CAN make myself happy.)
This is not to say that life can’t be rough, and we won’t go through hard times. It can and we will. But I do believe that we make it even rougher by giving so much of our power to others.
So this week, even if for just a couple of times, choose to be happy.