"Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it."
- Groucho Marx
What is in your control and what is out of your control? I'm not talking about free will here as much as I'm talking about free emotion. Can you choose to be happy despite your circumstances? If you're Groucho Marx, the answer is yes, but what about average, everyday people who aren't successful and famous? After all, Marx probably didn't have much in the way of debt or a job he didn't like or plenty of other problems that normal people have.
In the 1940s, during the World War II, an Austrian psychologist named Viktor Frankl was taken to some of the worst concentration camps in the Holocaust. He saw his family taken away from him and people he knew and loved killed before his eyes. When he was in the midst of complete and utter suffering, he tried to figure out what it was the Nazis couldn't take away from him. He realized that the last thing he had left was his decision as to how he would react to the circumstances he was in. Some who were taken by the Nazis were completely despondent. Others were willing to tell stories and give their last pieces of bread to other prisoners who were weaker. All Frankl had left was the choice to react in an honorable and healthy way. Frankl discovered that there is a gap between stimulus (something happening to you) and response (how you react to it). There is action followed by reaction with a tiny space in between. If you can control the space you can control the reaction.
If Frankl could learn to react in the most positive way possible to being interned in an awful camp of death, I believe that anyone could learn to deal with any situation imaginable. You simply have to do what Marx suggests. Tell yourself that you will decide on whether or not you want to be happy and you will not let events that are out of your control dictate your emotions. It takes practice and it's certainly not easy to do at first, but if you start to make the conscious choice of whether or not to be happy, you will find that it becomes part of your life.
Maybe you've had a rough week or a rough couple of years. It doesn't matter. If you wake up tomorrow and tell yourself that events no longer have control over you and that you control if you're going to be happy or not, you'll start to find that life will grow better and better with age. You have the choice to be happy today and the rest of your life. Make that choice right now.
Bryan Cohen is giving away 61 paperback and audio copies of The Post-College Guide to Happiness and a Kindle Fire between now and May 7th, 2012 on The Happiness Blog Tour. All entrants receive a free digital review copy of The Post-College Guide to Happiness. Bryan hopes to give away at least 1,000 copies during the blog tour. To enter, post a comment with your e-mail address or send an e-mail to postcollegehappiness (at) gmail.com. Bryan will draw the names at the end of the tour. Entries will be counted through Sunday, May 6th.
Bryan Cohen is a writer, actor and comedian from Dresher, Pennsylvania. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2005 with degrees in English and Dramatic Art and a minor in Creative Writing. He has written nine books including 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts: Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More, 500 Writing Prompts for Kids: First Grade through Fifth Grade, Writer on the Side: How to Write Your Book Around Your 9 to 5 Job and his new book, 1,000 Character Writing Prompts: Villains, Heroes and Hams for Scripts, Stories and More. His website Build Creative Writing Ideas helps over 25,000 visitors a month to push past writer's block and stay motivated.
Feel free to follow along with the tour at The Happiness Blog Tour Hub Page or on the book's Facebook Page.