You deserve to be happy, as does everyone else. Actually, using the word “deserve” illustrates a common misconception, that happiness must be earned before any of us can have it. Though have you ever watched the very young at play? Whether human babies, puppies, kittens, just about any breathing thing is a great example. They all require so little to be happy. Give a kid a large box and he will have a blast. Give a kitten a piece of yarn and the same will invariably happen.
Though for many of us, this simple pleasure, being happy, becomes much more complicated somewhere along the way. Once we introduce rules into our happiness, conditions that never existed before, we make it much harder to be happy.
Then when we begin interacting with others, building relationships, happiness can seem even more elusive. Many of us develop rules that others must treat us a certain way, say particular things, and do specific things in order for us to be happy. When at one time, all it took was a cool cardboard box!
It is easy to give the keys to our bliss to someone else, and though it’s not the most ideal way – we are still all ultimately responsible for our own joy – but if we manage to find someone trustworthy, someone who loves us and will embrace joyfully the responsibility of helping us to be happy, maybe it’s not such a bad thing.
The really difficult part happens when we set up rules for happiness, and then generalize them to others. To family members, to our inlaws, our coworkers, sometimes even to strangers on the street! Think about it, haven’t you had the experience of another driver cutting you off in traffic on the way to work? How happy were you about it? Most of us would likely say that we weren’t happy at all about it. But these things pass, right? So what about our being upset by that incident, not letting it fade, instead adding all sorts of self-talk that reinforces our having been wronged, insulted, attacked? What about working ourselves into a frenzy, so that by the time we get to the coffee shop, we share our less-than-stellar attitude with the barista, and other people in line? How helpful do you think that will make them?
Further, do we have the right to dump on someone else’s day just because we had a run-in with a bad driver? What if, as has possibly happened to you, you just had additional incidents, products of your frustration, irritation, impatience, and it just made it worse? Like spilling your coffee as soon as you got back into your car? Then getting to work and your attitude sets someone else off, and you again feel insulted, attacked. Before long, your entire day appears to be one disaster after another, a true “disasterpiece”, not the masterpiece it could be.
The same dynamic happens in families all the time. One person is careless with another’s feelings, perhaps takes her for granted, and she feels sleighted, attacked, insulted. She decides not to speak to the perceived offender, who perhaps doesn’t even notice how much angry energy he’s exuding. He in turn perceives her sleight, her rejection of his own feelings, as she defends herself.
Such toxicity is very easy to create, and as we do so, it’s like we’re soaking in our own toxic waste. But rather than climb out of it and clean up, many times we instead go on “autopilot”, take no responsibility for our own feelings and actions, and blame others rather than just forgive and move on.
Forgiveness is a powerful thing, and too often it’s incorrectly perceived as a weak gesture. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s the one who forgives that manages to let go of the negativity, pull himself (or herself) out of the toxicity, and find their happiness again. Though there’s something else to consider: when we forgive, we let go of the tension, the toxicity, the hurtful emotions. We begin, in essence, to heal ourselves.
Consider the holidays, which offer many opportunities to observe this. Family members may experience a falling out, perhaps even through one party’s actions. And perhaps they really were in the wrong. Does that blame have anything to do with our toxicity? Of course not! Whether I am to blame or you are, we’re both struggling through this, and not getting what we need. Our happiness is on hold until we can work out our feelings, sort through our pride, and just forgive.
A giant in the field of Neuro-linguistic Programming, Steve Andreas, wrote a powerful article years ago that makes a fantastic point – forgiveness is for you, not necessarily for the other party.
We mention that because people who cling to grudges often are the same ones who think forgiveness is a sign of weakness. They will argue that the other person is to blame, and therefore they must apologize. Only then will such people let the other person off the hook. But as we cling to a grudge, we aren’t really living. We aren’t happy, we are simply clinging to a moment of anger. That suspends our ability to live and to be happy. The point is to find the ability to forgive within you, let go of the grudge so that you can move on, and again to be happy.
A dear family member once told us that in order to make way for new things, you must get rid of the old. If you only have finite closet space, for instance, and you want a new wardrobe, you will need to pull out the old things you don’t wear anymore, give them to someone who needs them more, and then you have room for new clothes. Keep trying to add the new without the other part of that process and you will have closets so bursting at the seams that your home looks terrible and you can’t find anything. Our minds and hearts are the same way. Make room for greatness, for happiness, creativity, playfulness, and bliss by letting go of the old junk that doesn’t serve you. It’s time to forgive wrongs that others have dropped on you – no matter how wrong you just know they are!
Why should you take the first step? Because this is your life and it’s too short to devote years to being upset, angry, bitter, or sad. It’s time right now to figure out who you need to forgive in this world (and it may even be yourself…) and “make like Nike” — “just do it”.
If your relationship needs a bit of a jump-start, look very honestly at whether you might have an area or two in which you have the power to change it, whether there’s any place you could have already forgiven your partner, his or her parents, friends, anyone who you might perceive wronged you. You have this power. You can reclaim your happiness. It’s time.