I recently heard about a concept called “Unconditional Happiness.” The person talking about it said that when she finally learned to let go of anger and focus instead on being unconditionally happy, it saved her life.
So I started thinking about this concept, and my first thought was, “Is this even possible? Can a person really be unconditionally happy all the time? Especially when you look at what’s going on in the world and how people are treating each other?”
I thought for a few more minutes about it, and my answer is a resounding YES! It’s completely possible! I don’t think it means that we are blithely skipping around our lives surrounded by rainbows and unicorns or being “checked out” in a constant state of ignorance and elation. But I DO think it’s possible to make the choice to choose to focus on the good and to keep ourselves happy in our lives regardless of what is happening outside of ourselves, often completely out of our control.
I look at it this way: What is unconditional love? It’s loving someone with our full hearts and minds and souls no matter what. It doesn’t matter what they say, what they do, or what mood they are in at a given time. We are going to love them without condition, without strings attached, and without demanding or expecting anything in return. So we can apply the same properties to unconditional happiness. We can say that we are going to be happy regardless of what someone says to us, how someone acts toward us, or whatever mood I happen to be in. It also means that I choose to be happy and find the positive in situations, no matter what else is going on around me.
Take a traffic jam - this is the worst, right? We have to be somewhere, we’re already running late, and now we’re stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, which means that we will most definitely be late and UGH! Why does this always happen to me? I can’t believe this is happening NOW! ARGH! And on and on and on…
My blood pressure is rising just thinking about this scenario.
How do we react if we’re practicing unconditional happiness? We first put the situation into perspective and recognize that while it’s not ideal, it’s also not the end of the world. No one is hurt, no one is sick, all that’s really going on is that we’re a little inconvenienced and things aren’t going exactly according to the original plan. Secondly, we take a moment to be grateful that we weren’t the ones in the accident that caused the backup, or if it’s because of construction, we can be very glad and grateful that we’re not the ones who have to be outside in the blistering heat or freezing cold, completely exposed to the elements for 8 hours a day doing hard manual labor. Next, we can take the opportunity of being stuck to talk to the people in the car with us if we’re not alone. We can play a fun car game or two, or ask some fun Table Topic type questions to generate some insightful conversation that we’ll enjoy, and that we’ll end up saying “I’m so glad we got stuck in traffic,” for. If we’re alone in the car, we can still do the first two things, and then we can play around on the radio to find a song we like, perhaps finding a radio station or two that we were previously unaware of. Or we can fire up a podcast that we had been meaning to listen to but haven’t gotten around to yet. Or we can make a list of all of the things that we’re grateful for, including the things listed above. Or we can take that time as “me” time, and daydream about things on our bucket list or plan the dream vacation we’ve always wanted to take. Take that 5, or 10, or 15, or 20 minutes, and consciously turn it around from something annoying and frustrating into something fun and joyful.
Not to mention, has you getting angry and exasperated at a situation that is completely out of your control EVER changed it one iota? So why get yourself worked up over it?
Here’s another example: You have a whole day planned with the kids at an amusement park but you wake up and it’s pouring down rain. Or the place is unexpectedly closed. Or one kid wakes up with a fever and you’re not going anywhere. This can be a really disappointing thing for everyone. And yes, you are allowed to rant and rave and shake your fist at the sky and bemoan your circumstances…for about 5 minutes. After that, you move on with positivity and with the glee that comes with finding out you have a snow day. That’s the greatest feeling in the world, isn’t it? A snow day! It’s actually the same thing - your original plans were changed at the last minute, only in this case it’s cause for celebration not despair.
So you look at this turn of events like a snow day, and you fill it will all of the things you all like to do. You bake cookies, you play board games, you put on music and dance around the living room, you have a movie marathon - which is something you’d never have time for otherwise - you make a pillow fort and climb inside with flashlights and read stories to each other. You have breakfast for dinner, you paint pictures on the windows, you finally put together the jigsaw puzzle or Lego set that has been sitting there waiting for you to have enough time. You make the best of it, and don’t focus on the fact that your original plans were thwarted by something you couldn’t control. And 9 times out of 10 you will have ended up having an even better time than you would have had doing your original thing.
Admittedly, these are easy fixes. But how do we continue to have unconditional happiness when the hard things come. A friend’s betrayal. The death of a loved one. A dire diagnosis.
Well, in those times we allow ourselves some measure of anger, disappointment, and self-pity, but we do not allow ourselves to remain mired in that swamp for long. We consciously pick ourselves up and focus on the good. The person we love has left us, but there are still flowers blooming in the yard, there are still ducks swimming on the pond, and we still have the gift of being alive ourselves to enjoy them. The diagnosis is devastating, but it’s also an opportunity to research treatments, to receive love and care from others, and to treasure each day as it comes. The friend who pulled the rug out from under us is not someone we needed in our lives and most likely we were spared something worse down the line so it’s ultimately better that this happened when it did and not later. These may all sound like rationalizations, but who cares? We do not have control over the bad things that happen in our lives, all we have control over is how we deal with them. And choosing to be happy in spite of pain and loss and disappointment is sometimes the only way we can prevent a spiral of darkness that can be nearly impossible to pull ourselves out of.
I’m in favor of unconditional happiness because it is a mindset that can get us through some of the most difficult times in our lives. It can also make the good times even better since we’re starting out at an optimistic level of joy to begin with. And for the person who dismisses this concept as a naive and pollyanna way to go through life, I would ask them this question:
Has anyone ever said on their deathbed, “I just wish my life had been more miserable?”
Choose Happiness. Make that, Choose Unconditional Happiness.