I am reading, for the second of what I am sure will be many times, a wonderful book titled, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart by Gordon Livingston, M.D.
This doctor has a noteworthy background. His personal history includes losing two sons, one to childhood cancer, his oldest to suicide. He knows sadness.
He also knows recovery and hope, as he is a therapist. I say all that because it can be hard to read some of the “Thirty True Things” he says we need to know.
But I am reading them over again, and already forever changed by his claim that we are what we do. You have gifts and challenges, so… what’s next?
Dr. Livingston obviously meets a lot of people who want their lives to change. They feel miserable, stuck, lonely. Maybe they can’t remember what happiness feels like at all. His thoughts on medications are fair enough–they treat symptoms of depression, but they won’t make you happy. So what will?
Most of us know, deep in our hearts, that happiness comes from inside us. Seeing something pretty or finding something new is not enough to “make” us happy. Even essential things, like water, shelter, air, freedom, which may literally keep us alive, so rarely lead to happiness (in a privileged first-world life, at least).
Feeling happy is simply, as Dr, Livingston puts it, “the absence of despair.” Right. It’s a state of being, a state of mind. So how do we get rid of what troubles us, then, so we can feel happy when we see a beautiful sunset, meet someone new, awake on this day?
We must be in the state where our lives have both meaning and pleasure.
How do we get there? I’ll quote the book on this one:
We are always talking about what we want, what we intend. These are dreams and wishes, but are of little value in changing our mood. We are not what we think, or what we say, or how we feel. We are what we do.
We know we judge other people by how they act, not so much by their intentions. So it stands to reason that our own behavior is what leads to our judgments about ourselves. And while we indeed have permission to make a wish, have hope, and suspend disbelief, this is all still part of the planning process for action.
You can DO what allows you to feel happy. Pleasure, and meaning. Grow those in each day and like a healthy lawn, you’ll crowd out any weeds of despair.
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