Abraham Lincoln once said, “People can be just about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Well if that’s true, why did Lincoln dose himself with a crude antidepressant, mercury tablets (which made him fly into rages)? Why was his wife suicidally depressed?
You can’t just decide to be happy any more than you can decide to be taller.
That’s because happiness is not a finite entity unto itself, but is the sum of the most important qualities of happiness: love, optimism, courage, a sense of freedom, security, health, spirituality, altruism, perspective, humor, and purpose. These are the things you should make up your mind to achieve.
Of course, achieving these qualities is tough. But that’s the point! Happiness isn’t la-la land. It’s not for the weak or lazy. If you wanted to become physically fit, you wouldn’t expect to get there by just deciding, would you? When people try to be happy by just resolving to be, happiness becomes a mirage, forever fading into the distance.
Happiness is hard work, and it’s harder for some people than others, because there is a genetic component to it. In an important study of identical twins who were reared in different homes, it was found that happiness may be as much as 40 percent heritable. In this study, identical twins who were reared apart were found to be more likely to have the same happiness levels than non-identical twins who were raised in the same home.
Fortunately, most of the major qualities of happiness – such as love, optimism, and freedom – are intrinsically pleasant, and most of the happiness tools that help generate these elements are innately satisfying. For example, one of the simplest and most effective things you can do to lift your mood is to simply keep a pleasant expression on your face. This was proven in a study in which half the subjects were asked to hold pens in their teeth – which made their expressions approximate a smile – while the other subjects held pens in their lips, which created pouts. Both groups were told a series of jokes. The group with the pens in their teeth rated the jokes as funnier.
Now you know the key to happiness. Hold a pen in your teeth. Better yet, use the happiness tools. Actually, this is only a â€œtoolâ€ of many that you can learn and use each day. The tools are all about action. If you could just force yourself to be happy, through sheer willpower – without doing anything – you wouldn’t need the tools. But it doesn’t work.