Jane Marczewski, a 30-year-old singer, performed on America’s Got Talent in June of 2020, and she sang an original song about her past year as a cancer survivor. She experienced horrific cancer treatments, her husband left her after a long period of emotional abuse, and she was told she had a 2% chance of survival and 6 months to live. She radiated joy during her performance and when asked how she could be so joyful, she replied “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy”.
In her statement, Jane (also known as “Nightbird”) reveals the secret of happiness. It does not depend on what we achieve or have in our life; it does not depend on our life circumstances at all. Happiness is not a feeling, but rather an over-all mood state, and is not dependent on what happens to us, good or bad, but is based on a decision to be happy. While happy, we can have a variety of feelings, including joy, sadness, anger, and fear, but underneath all of these emotions is a state of happiness. One way of picturing this is to imagine we are happy at the bottom of the ocean, and while the surface can be quite turbulent as various feelings are experienced, we remain happy far below the surface. Happiness has also been characterized as resembling the sky, and like the sky contains various weather conditions that come and go without affecting the sky, so our thoughts and feelings can come and go without affecting our happiness.
In order to experience happiness, it is necessary to change many habitual thoughts and beliefs. It is common for us to think that others or our life circumstances cause us to be happy or unhappy. We believe that we will become happy if we get what we want, e.g. we have a lover, we win the lottery, or we have every material possession we want. We believe that we will be unhappy if bad things happen to us, such as getting sick, losing our job, or losing someone we love. We can learn to replace these thoughts and beliefs with the understanding that happiness is a choice we can make, no matter what our life circumstances might be. We can stop blaming others and our life circumstances for our unhappiness and to realize that we can choose how we respond to these events. We can choose to be happy regardless of what has occurred.
There is some research that suggests that such actions as smiling, expressing gratitude and having a positive outlook are associated with increased happiness. Once we have made the decision to be happy, we naturally smile, feel and express gratitude, and see the positive in all situations. Genetics may play a role in making it easier for some people to choose happiness, but even people with less favorable genetics can still succeed at choosing happiness with enough effort. Happiness is a choice that must be made daily, and some of the practices that make it easier for us to support our choice for happiness include experiencing and expressing gratitude, loving ourselves, forgiving others, pursuing our life purpose, loving others, and serving others with compassion. These practices do not cause happiness; rather they serve to express the happiness we have already chosen.
Another post will focus on the role of action in our life. While thoughts, feelings and body-states play an important role in our lives, our lives will primarily be shaped by the actions we take.