A friend told me that he used to think that his childhood was a great impediment to happiness. He grew up in poverty, surrounded by a community of rich people.

Sometimes he had no shoes. Often he felt abandoned and these feelings stayed with him into adulthood. Even after becoming a successful businessman, resentment and envy darkened the joy he might have derived from his accomplishments.

But a few years ago, he had a new thought. As a child, he ran freely through his neighborhood by the sea, exploring with friends, playing on the seashore, feeling the sand under his bare feet, and the sun on his shirtless back. Despite his poverty, his childhood included moments of joy.

How To Be Happy When You’re Unhappy
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His thinking changed when he began to realize that happiness had more to do with his attitude than his external circumstances. Seen in some way, his childhood was an anchor that dragged him into an ocean of bitterness.

But from another perspective, he was able to view the sand and the sun, his companions, and childhood adventures with gratitude and joy.

The Foundation For Real Happiness

Many external things bring me happiness: laughter and hugs from my grandchildren, a community of caring writers, nature in all its forms, sharing good food and wine with friends, the encouragement of my husband, satisfying vacations, a job well done, books, mood, exercise, financial stability, good health.

The list is endless.

But happiness based on external things can disappear as suddenly as the first financial or health crisis. It can be fleeting, elusive, and subject to my moods and thoughts.

As my friend discovered when he thought of his childhood; happiness has a lot to do with our attitudes and perspectives.

Sometimes I am glad to have a long day with nothing to do; a blank sheet of opportunity. Other times, a whisper of discontent tells me I should do more.

Sometimes I’m excited when ten people like and comment on a story I wrote, and other times I’m dissatisfied with that number, wishing more people had responded.

Yesterday I enjoyed swimming with my grandchildren, but last week when I was in the pool with them, I was thinking about how much I would rather be at home doing something.

The end result is that I can be angry or very happy in the same circumstances! It all depends on my attitude.

Two Things Determine Happiness

There are two things that determine whether I am happy or not: external circumstances and the way I internalize those circumstances through the colored lenses of my thoughts and moods.

How To Be Happy When You’re Unhappy
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Happiness based only on circumstances is fleeting. Circumstances change, perspectives change, and the things that make us happy today can make us unhappy tomorrow. One day I really want to start a project and the next day I am consumed by the fear that the project will fail.

But happiness can be sustainable, despite our circumstances, when it is based on a solid foundation of strength, beliefs, and attitudes. These fundamental beliefs and attitudes can lead us away from fear, worry, dread, negativity, and disappointment.

Long-term sustainable happiness will be marked by unhappy moments, but those moments are the exception; it is not the rule. We may experience the normal emotions of sadness, disappointment, and negativity, but those emotions will be fleeting and impermanent. Our joy will remain intact, ready to resurface as soon as the crisis passes.

The foundation for long-term sustainable happiness is the underlying certainty that life has meaning and that we have value.

When we realize that life has meaning and that we are loved, we can be happy, no matter what the universe throws at us. We view life with gratitude instead of resentment, hope instead of despair, optimism instead of pessimism. Sadness may take hold of us, but we know that the sun is there, ready to warm our souls and rekindle our joy.

We are sustained by the certainty that life is good, life has meaning and we have a purpose. Many things bring me happiness. A life of faith, purpose, and meaning brings me continued joy.