Choosing your perspective

Something I’ve read about a few times recently is the “secret” to being happy. Now, I see that on the cover of a magazine and my first instinct is to scoff because I don’t really believe there could be a secret. If things in your life are going badly, it will make you unhappy; and when things go right, it makes you happy.

Luckily for these magazines, the articles aren’t really about a secret (that’s unlucky for whoever writes the cover lines because they’re misrepresenting content, but I digress). They’re about a mindset and a way of approaching life: Focus on the positives.

It seems so simple and obvious, yet so many people don’t do it. Think about it: How many of us pick out the one bad thing that happened in a given day and get hung up on that? How many of us take for granted all the blessings in our lives? How often do we forget about the little things that make our lives great because some big thing is going wrong?

I have been as guilty as the next person in this for much of my life, but I feel like in the past few years I’ve acquired a refreshed perspective. It’s all due to my nightly rituals.

For a long time now I’ve read every night before I go to bed, but for my 19th birthday I received a set of 12 notebooks, each labeled with a month, so I added journaling. I don’t write a lot or for a long time, and I don’t write anything particularly exciting, but I write about accomplishments, stresses, events of the day, things coming up, just anything on my mind. It gives me a chance to unload my brain onto a page or two of paper before settling down for the night.

Also sometime in the past few years I added a brief prayer to my routine (yes, it takes me quite a while to go to sleep). I’m not a very religiously knowledgeable person, but I have faith in my personal relationship with God, so that’s what I turn to. I ask for help and guidance with some things, but I always start with my thank-you’s, and more and more I’m noticing that there are a lot more elements of gratitude than elements of need. Having that nightly reminder that there’s more good than bad in my life is truly eye-opening, and it’s a regular attitude check.

The important note here is that the thank-you’s and journal entries aren’t big things. I’m not praying about long-term efforts or major events, and I’m not writing the next great American novel; I’m focusing on the things that make up my daily life. This perspective helps me so much to be thankful for all the tiny blessings that otherwise go unnoticed: the people I saw or talked to, the beautiful weather, the tasks I was able to complete, the good food I got to cook and/or eat, the health I can count on, the feats my body accomplished (such as running 5 miles).

These little things happen, in some way, almost every day, so it’s easy to forget them or take them for granted. But saying a quick prayer and writing a short journal entry helps me keep my perspective on all the great things I have going for me. What’s more, it helps me to live in the moment and focus on the day-to-day, rather than losing myself in the big, scary picture.

So if you ask me, that’s the “secret” to being happy. As writers of these stories often conclude, you have to choose to be happy by how you frame your perspective. That perspective should emphasize the small victories and blessings.

The majority of life doesn’t consist of monumental events, so our outlooks on it shouldn’t either. And besides, for most of us, the majority of life is good.

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