Can a pessimist learn to be an optimist? Can we train ourselves to be happy?
I was a guest on the podcast Changing the Rules with Ray Loewe, also known as the luckiest guy in the world. The topic was “Happiness.” Ray wanted to explore whether we could “train” ourselves to be happy.
I relayed a story about how 10 years ago I was a real pessimist. I justified it as just being a realist and preparing for what may happen. But in reality, I was expecting bad things to happen. I would be prepared for them, but I was none-the-less expecting the worst.
Having learned a lot about myself in the intervening time period and having practiced proven success principles, I believe I was missing opportunities by being such a pessimist. I now know that my predisposition was keeping me from even seeing alternative scenarios. I was filtering out what could have been great breaks for me.
I do several exercises in my workshops that demonstrate how we filter out stimuli based on our preconceived notions and what we are looking for. I am sure this is what I was doing.
I am much more of an optimist now than a pessimist. And I now believe that happiness is as much a decision that we make as it is an emotional experience to something that happens to us.
Do I believe we can train ourselves to be happy? Yes, I do.
And how do we do that?
1. By learning who we are. By understanding what brings us joy, what our values are, what our unique gifts are, and what our unique contribution to the world is, we can focus our time and attention on things that are meaningful and bring us a sense of joy. I experience real happiness when I am doing something that I value and that brings value to others and when I am doing so by contributing my unique talents.
2. By deciding to be happy, regardless of our current situation, or at least accepting of it. No matter what we choose to pursue, we are going to encounter obstacles. That is a given. Our attitude in addressing these obstacles has a lot to do with how easily we get over the obstacle as well as how distracting it becomes. Here I have learned a lot from the spiritual teacher Eckart Tolle. He suggests that we strive to do all things with enthusiasm and enjoyment. But when that is not possible, to at least do tasks with acceptance. Sometimes acceptance is all I can muster, but I strive for the enthusiasm and enjoyment.
Sound easy? Well, it is simple, but I won’t say it is easy. It has to be practiced.
But It works.