Were you taught that unhappiness comes from lack? You know, if you don’t have this, then you are unhappy, and when you have that, then you’ll be happy… I bought into that lie early on in my life and it turned my pursuit of happiness into my pursuit of this and of that.
But then I figured out that the people that had all the things I thought were requisites to a happy life were not happy, after all, and it just didn’t make sense to me. How can someone have it all and still be unhappy?
Many of my favorite artists took their life in their prime. They had fame, money, adoring fans, a fit and healthy body, and unprecedented talent. They could experience what many would never dreamed of and travel to destinations that were beyond belief. It just didn’t make sense.
It did make sense that I would be depressed. I lived in poverty, was shamed and rejected, and was afflicted by abuse. I had none of this nor that. I guess I figured I had to find out for myself because I didn’t stop hungering for approval, recognition, money, possessions, and achievement – this was my definition of success.
I was very disappointed when others thought “I made it,” because I still didn’t feel like I had enough. I never felt like I was enough. Yet I pretended I was happy, misleading others in their pursuit, because I didn’t want to admit I was suffering.
I thought surely there was something wrong with me. How could I justify my inability to feel genuine joy about these blessings? I know that some of my depression was due to tragedy and trauma, and lies I believed about myself, but some of this misery was also self-imposed: I had unreasonable life rules.
Tony Robbins once said “too many rules can make life unbearable,” and counsels his students and mentees to examine our rules to make sure they serve us. a
On page 300 of his book “Giant Steps: Small Changes to Make a Big Difference,” he tells this story:
Two men with different rules for success attended one of my seminars. One was a prominent executive with every reason to feel on top of the world: a happy marriage, five beautiful children, a seven-figure-income, and a body sculpted by marathon running. Yet he felt like a failure. Why? He had completely unreasonable rules.
By contrast, another man who had none of the executive’s ‘advantages’ felt truly successful. When I asked him what had to happen for him to feel successful, he answered, ‘All I have to do is wake up in the morning, look down, and see that I am above ground – because every day above ground is a great day!’ Which of this men do you think is more successful?
I first heard this story while listening to his Personal Power II program in my car, and it made a huge impact in me because sometimes we can be quite delusional. Here was a man who made millions of dollars, but didn’t feel successful because he didn’t have billions, who was unhappy because his BMI was not at the level he had hoped or planned for, and he had attached these “milestones” to what he should feeling.
This is a delusion we often fall for as moms. There is a Cinderella sized checklist to qualify us as a “good mom,” and feeling like a “great mom” is not something that we even think we can aim for.
Have you ever thought:
- “in order for me to be successful I have to…..” (like make 6 figures or win an award)
- “in order for me to be considered a good mom I need to…” (like never yell or always have a spotless home)
- “in order for me feel appreciated people need to…”? (like my children listen one hundred percent of the time and do what I say without complaining).
The statements that result when you fill in the blank are your rules. Your life rules establish what has to happen in order for you to feel happy about something. Feeling happy comes from focusing on gratitude.
Consider this man who thought “every day above ground” is a success. The old me would have scoffed at him with cynicism. How could he come to this silly conclusion? Maybe “he’s just lazy and not ambitious enough” I would have probably judged, but he is wise, because he is grateful for the gift of life, and gratitude is birthplace of joy.
There is a teaching story called “The Gift of Life” that illustrates how essential gratitude is in our lives:
A group of scientists, having discovered the secrets of cloning, decided they would have a conference with God and tell God, God was no longer needed. Yes, God had created humanity and all of life, in fact, from the very dust of the earth. But now science had taken over the job and God could retire.
So the top scientists in the world gathered together and they called God to a conference having told God, He was no longer required.
God said, “Explain this to me.”
They said, “We now know how to make life out of dust ourselves.”
God replied, “Well then, okay, you go ahead and show me how you can do that.”
“Fine!” they exclaimed as they reached down to scoop up a handful of dirt.
God, shaking His head in disapproval, said: “Uh, uh, uh, get your own dirt!
When we realize that we own nothing and everything is a gift, we can see how precious each day really is and can start to appreciate the abundance that comes with each day above ground. I know it sounds simple, but it isn’t easy when you have focused on lack all of your life, or perhaps have become entitled because you believe you can create alone and have separated yourself from others and from the Divine.
HOW CAN SOMEONE EXPERIENCE LOSS, OBSTACLES, AND AFFLICTION AND STILL BE HAPPY? HOW CAN SOMEONE HAVE IT ALL AND STILL BE UNHAPPY? WHERE DOES HAPPINESS COME FROM?
Gratitude is the answer. Happiness can come from focusing on GRATITUDE. I’ve met incredibly inspiring people who have experienced many trials, lacking what many thought they needed, yet they are some of the happiest people I know because they focus on gratitude. In many of my tragedies, I have noticed that ONE MIRACLE was enough to make me happy.
In the same sense, ONE AFFLICTION, one loss, one person or event that causes you pain, one thought, one regret, one thing you are lacking, one situation at work, one fight in your family, one memory, one misunderstanding… can make you unhappy when you focus on it. You can ALWAYS find ONE THING that is not perfect, one that doesn’t match your expectations, one that you won’t accept, one that will make you MISERABLE. As hard as it can be, focusing on gratitude and making new rules about gratitude can help ease the pain.
HOW CAN YOU POSSIBLY BE GRATEFUL WHEN EVERYTHING SEEMS TO BE GOING AGAINST YOU?
Many days, you can turn your day around just by shifting your FOCUS. I do this a lot and I swear by it. GIANT DISCLAIMER here: it is NOT easy, not even a little bit… but if I can do it, so can you. Sometimes it’s not a choice and your depression can get the best of you, your anxiety wins, and your demons haunt you. But many times it is possible, so it’s always worth a good try.
Ask yourself: What Is ONE THING I could BE grateful for right now? Continue until you find an answer that calms you down, gives you peace, and makes you smile.
Can’t find anything to be grateful for? If you’ve been keeping a gratitude journal, you can give it a read, but if nothing on it works or makes you even more depressed, you can try some prompts. As a homeschool mom, I’ve fallen in love with prompts. In 2013, Eliana and I attended Time Out For Women in Arlington, here in Texas, for the first time. We met John Hilton III, who shared some prompts to write 100 things you are grateful for. Here’s my modified list:
The 100 THINGS YOU’RE GRATEFUL FOR List
- Write 10 physical abilities you are grateful for.
- Write 10 mental faculties or talents you are grateful for.
- Write 10 living people you are grateful for.
- Write 10 deceased people you are grateful for.
- Write 10 things about nature you are grateful for.
- Write 10 things about today you are grateful for.
- Write 10 places on earth you are grateful for.
- Write 10 modern inventions you are grateful for.
- Write 10 foods you are grateful for.
- Write 10 material possessions you are grateful for.
This powerful exercise can transform your life, because when you focus on gratitude, you become more aware of how loved, blessed, and supported you truly are. I know like I know like I know that POSITIVE is not the absence of the NEGATIVE, it’s the OVERCOMING of it… and the staying GRATEFUL while doing it. It’s worth a try!
What has to happen in order for you to feel grateful? As you change your life rule and focus on what you can be grateful for, you can BE happy! Share your thoughts in the comments below!