It’s human to feel as if our circumstances are a part of our emotions — something we often have no control over. Thinking along those lines can lead to all kinds of negative feelings like helplessness, anger, and guilt. The reality is you DO have control. You choose how you respond to your circumstances.
Growing up, I attended girls camp each summer. I have fond memories of hanging with my friends, doing crafts, and listening to motivational speakers in the evenings. I remember one speaker in particular. Her message had a profound impact on me — and still does today. For years I carried the little reminder card she gave each of us. It said: “If I am to be happy it is up to me, I cannot let moods or circumstances rule me.”
If I am to be happy it is up to me, I cannot let moods or circumstances rule me.
Think about it for a minute. As a teenager struggling to feel in control of her emotions, hormones, and life, in general, this little gem was a treasure I latched on to. It was a life-changing discovery for me. I have control over how I choose to react to the circumstances in my life.
Circumstances are Neutral
One thing I hadn’t grasped the concept of as a teen was the idea of circumstances being neutral. I learned about this from Jody Moore, one of my favorite podcasters. She teaches her listeners to think of circumstances differently. Too often we tell ourselves: “I’ll be happy when… we make more money, my spouse understands my needs, the kids learn to clean up after themselves, etc. The reality is — our circumstances are not what makes us happy. They may help us feel more comfortable but true, real happiness is not dependent upon our situation.
Circumstances are nothing more than facts. They exist outside of us and do not define who we are or how we feel. When attaching emotion to your circumstance ask yourself: “Is this a useful feeling? How does it help me?”
Moods, Emotions & Feelings
I am in no way labeling “negative” emotions as bad or trying to stifle what anyone might feel. There is no shame in sadness, fear, or pain. Our emotions and feelings are necessary to process healing, cleansing, and grieving. Ignoring or avoiding our negative emotions will only intensify their effect.
On the flip side, we can get stuck in an emotional loop if we are not aware of where our thoughts are taking us. Our thoughts create our feelings, and when we are conscious of what feelings our thoughts are creating, we can make more intentional decisions about them.
We can start by recognizing our negative emotions, allowing ourselves to feel them, give them a name, and then decide whether they help or hurt us. We are in control and can choose “how do I want to feel about the situation?” There is no right or wrong answer. It is about what you want and whatever you decide – it is okay.
Choosing Happiness is a Skill
One of the most significant gifts we have been given is the power to choose. Unhappy people feel a lack of control in their lives. Blaming others or taking on the victim mentality does not ever bring happiness it only gets us stuck in an emotional loop. What so many people haven’t figured out is happiness is a feeling, not a circumstance. It comes from our thoughts and the way we choose to think of a situation.
Just because you currently lack the ability to maintain emotional positivity in the face of extremely negative events doesn’t mean that the theory—the key to your happiness ultimately lies in your hands—is false. Rather, what it means is you don’t, at present, possess sufficient control over your mind to feel happy regardless of the circumstances.” –Dr. Raj Raghunathan Ph.D.
Like any learned skill, it takes practice, perseverance, and focus – learning how to be happy no matter our circumstance. It is not something we are entitled to, but it is available to anyone who wants it.
Practice believing you are happy. Don’t allow yourself to get caught in the “how.” Instead, search for evidence to prove your belief (you are happy), and focus on the next step.
Have you ever considered the word responsibility? Broken into two words — respond ability — meaning we have the ability to respond in the way we choose.
Some of you may have heard of Viktor Frankl. His ability to respond to his trying circumstances during World War II amazes me! He labored in four different concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and survived while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife died. Based on his own experience he argues we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose.
Even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself.” -Viktor Frankl
Taking responsibility is empowering. Give it a try – see how it feels.
The great news is nothing ever stays the same. Here in Colorado we often say “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” Even when there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight to your toughest situation – there are small changes in our ability to handle burdens we sometimes have to bear.
We are always choosing. Sometimes we forget even our indecision is a choice. When life has been hard, I have chosen to be happy. Not because I oversimplify complicated situations or because I’m trying to stifle or label negative feelings as bad. I choose this because it is how I want to feel. I have allowed myself to mourn, to feel sadness, and disappointment — but I have also chosen not to get stuck in those emotions and feelings.
The choice is not about being happy and ignoring the rest – it is about recognizing there is always a choice. Having opposition in all things is a huge blessing. We need to feel sad to appreciate happiness.
How do you choose to respond to your circumstances?
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- Habits of the Happy
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