The Happiness Discipline

“To think good thoughts requires effort. This is one of the things that discipline — training — is about”. -James Cringe Clavell, Shōgun (1975). Image and quote from Wikipedia.

Distilling the essence of my book down to a few paragraphs is a challenge. But, this is that. On we go.

Do you know how it feels to be happy? It could be while you are doing something elaborate, like enjoying a one-man musical performance as you are eating your dinner surrounded by a room full of like-minded people in an environment that resembles what must have been the speakeasy vibe necessitated by the advent of prohibition. Or, it could be as simple as enjoying the last few bites of a bowl of oatmeal while writing a long overdue post on a joyful subject. Yes, that was me last evening and this is me now this morning. Funny how food is a factor in both scenarios. Does eating make you happy? Not me, I’m already happy and I get to eat! Count your blessings.

Yesterday I was putting an idea to the test with my audience of one. That one being my Jill. She is the incarnation of the ideal woman for me. Those details would fill pages and this article is not about that. However, she did illustrate for me the very point I was hoping to make with my test.

Here is the concept:
If you give someone the simple two-word command of; “Be happy.” they may immediately argue that it is not really that simple. What would you say? My Jill started with, “Yes, but…” and that is exactly my point. You can finish that “but” with any number of reasons that sound quite plausible. After all, you have goals, desires for things, a brighter future you are working toward, etc. Right? Seriously, are you too busy working to be or have that future thing or state of being that will ultimately result in your greater happiness? Put another way, does the pursuit of happiness end? When you arrive or have the thing that you thought would make you happy, how long will it be before you define your next goal, conquest, attainment that will make you happy again? What research shows is that by being happy you improve your chance of success in all endeavors. You probably have heard it said, the destination is an end point, enjoying the journey is the best way to get there.

That is where the other side of the argument begins for me. The idea of greater happiness comes up daily for me. By that you may surmise that I am already happy. And, I often say that same thing to Jill.

“I was already happy and being with you adds to my happiness. I’m happier with you.”

When I tell the story of how Jill and came together I always say there is no way I would have attracted her if I hadn’t been happy. We have had discussions about the energy that people put out there and how people feel another’s vibe and this energy is what brings them together. This is simple stuff. So is being happy. Jill keeps me happy and I like being kept that way.

Now, on to the discipline part of the title… As is so with many English words, the word “discipline” has multiple meanings. The first definition includes the word, “punishment.” This is not about that. This is about the second definition, a practice of enjoying your life by “a system of rules of conduct.” Furthering the definition, Wikipedia says, “Discipline can be a set of expectations that are required by any governing entity…” That one I really like. You set the expectations for your happiness. I like to say it’s on you. You are the governing entity, completely in charge of your current state. It is an obligation, a responsibility, an expectation, find the word that best fits the way you think about what you “have to do.” It takes discipline to follow your rules. And, because you are the authority who has laid down the law, you also are well aware of the fact that since these are your rules, you are allowed to break them. Circle back to definition one and you’ll find the punishment there comes from you knowing that you did not meet your own expectations.

Here is where part of the fun begins. You are still allowed to enjoy all of the other emotions (labelled as negative by other so-called authorities) — sadness, anger, aggravation, frustration, and the list goes on. Things will happen and circumstances beyond your control will bring on other emotions. These moments can be seen as brief diversions from your natural state. You’ll know this is true when your happy self starts to look at you. The fun to be found in this is that you may begin to talk to yourself.

Your happy self may butt in with a question, like: “What’s going on here?”

Your upset self likely has the answer: “This happened or this circumstance has me feeling this emotion.”

Your happy self is so helpful: “Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?”

The real answer is, “Yes. Be patient with me while I work through this and I’ll get back to you when I am ready.”

While you “work through this” you may feel conflicted; your happy self is waiting for you and you may begin to set time limits on the sad state you are in because the conflict you have is anxiety. You are anxious to get back to normal, that normal state being your state of happiness.

If you have ever had to remember what it was that upset you, the way you do that is to relive the moment in your mind. When you replay the event, conversation, situation, call it what you will, you send the same emotional response through the circuitry of your brain and by doing so you renew the feeling of upset as if it was happening again for the first time. Your happy self will be shocked that you should want to do this, but remember that you are the authority who created the rules of your happiness discipline and free will allows you to break your own rules and enjoy your upset and relive it as often as you want, until you are finished behaving like a child throwing a temper tantrum. And only when you are finished will you decide to get back to normal.

If you have ever said to yourself, “wait until (fill in the blank) hears about what just happened to me.” And, when (fill in the blank) hears your detailed, perhaps embellished version of what just happened, he or she nods in a agreement in support of your upset state, you are now one step further away from normal.

Your happy self may start to enjoy his or her impatience WITH YOU! Now you are in serious trouble. When your happy self starts to join in with you on the upset train it may begin to pick up speed, gaining moment on the way to terrible day. Then later when someone asks how was your day, you’ll get to kick happiness to the curb as you (again) relive the events that caused your upset by telling that story all over to someone else. Have you done this?

So, let’s circle back to discipline here. Imagine yourself as a adult. Humor me here. Now imagine yourself as the parent of yourself as a child. Think of the three of you sitting around a table doing the “post-mortem” on the events of your day. Naturally, the parent begins the conversation.

Parent: “Tell me about your day.”

Adult: “My day started off pretty well as I was happy and grateful to be getting out of the bed to enjoy all of the blessings of my joyful life.”

Parent: “That sounds good.”

Adult: “It was. Then something happened.”

And the child begins… Let the child tell the story for as long as the parent is tolerant and for as long as the adult remains patient.

You’ll see how quickly you want to get back to being an adult and you’ll also notice how unpleasant this exercise is for the parent who made the rules and now realizes that his or her child requires a higher level of discipline. The problem for you the adult is worse than it is for you the parent. Because you are the one who allowed the child to behave in a way that did not meet your expectations and it was you who decided to allow that child to tell and retell the story so you the child could “enjoy” your upset for as long as you wanted to prolong this madness.

The good parent does not get angry or blame the child. He looks at himself and works to find a way to be better at providing good guidance to his child.

You as an adult, however, may be angry with yourself as an adult. And, it bears repeating, you can remain in this upset state as long as you like. Since you made the rules for discipline and you have free will you can choose to get back to your happy state whenever you are ready to do so.

Do you see the feedback loop here? You create it and it is yours to enjoy.

With practice, you can imagine this three-selves conference anytime an emotional upset occurs. Imagine having to explain to your parent self how it is that you want to continue breaking the rules (the discipline of happiness. ) It quickly gets old. Using this exercise “to talk yourself down off the ledge” can be very helpful if only to focus your mind on something more productive than reliving the moment that led to your upset. Quiet the child and enjoy peace.

Let’s go back to the simple command: “Be happy.”

If you are unable to immediately comply with that order, sit down with your three-selves and hammer out the rules. Make them simple enough that any child could follow them. Make the rules fun, even for you the adult. Make them in such a way that you the parent will be proud to see you enjoy the discipline you’ve agreed to for yourself. Sing a song, if it makes you happy!

The “rules or code of behavior” or the “set of expectations that are required by any governing entity” are yours to create and yours to enjoy as they lead to one easily acceptable result; your happiness.

That’s it. I’m done. I could write a book on this subject.

That will take some discipline. And I’ll be happy to write it.

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