Dear Dr. Norquist:
I have a tendency to look at the people around me and wonder about their lives. I guess a lot of people do - people I know, people I don’t (like those I see on the subway or the streets of Manhattan), in any walk of life. I’ve been ‘observing’ some of them for a long time – like my childhood friend’s parents, my relatives, and my parents’ friends and neighbors.
Some people seem to grow happier, or at least stay pretty happy with their lives. Others seem to become more sour and beaten down and cynical. And it’s not just that the happier ones have had easier lives. I’m wondering because I don’t want to end up as one of those sour cynical ones myself. What can I do to try to become one of those happy old men when I get to that age? (I’m in my 30s now).
Dr. Norquist responds:
You have a lot of foresight to be thinking in this way at your current age! Your question shows that you are already exhibiting one of the most important factors in happiness. You are not a passive recipient of whatever life hands you; rather you are actively and consciously taking responsibility for creating the kind of life that you want.
People who see others (or life’s misfortunes) as the source of their own unhappiness are missing out on opportunities to make their lives better. It is not the external situation that creates happiness. Rather, it is what we bring to that external situation that determines whether we are happy or not. How you interpret the outer situation makes all the difference in the world. Hardships can be opportunities for growth or reasons for unhappiness, depending upon your perspective. It’s not difficult to see the emotional consequences of each of these interpretations of hardships!
Try asking yourself what life is for. This (usually unconscious) belief guides your actions and your decisions whether you acknowledge it or not. The answer to this question is totally up to you. This is your life journey and yours alone. The more your outer life is in alignment with your inner sense of what is meaningful for you, the happier and more fulfilled you will feel. Take time to listen inside to the source of your joy and your passion. What does the full expression of who you are look like? What holds the most meaning for you will make itself known if you take time to listen to and respect your own passions, your own curiosity and your own inner excitement.
A happy life is also all about feeling connected; connected with your inner Self, connected in a safe and loving way with your family and friends, and connected with God (however that manifests for you). My hunch is that the happy people you have observed in your life have close and meaningful relationships in their lives. This meaningful and secure sense of connection supports health and immunity as well as contentment. It is the elixir of life.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2014 Chaitanya Counseling Services