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HUNT COLUMN: The pursuit of happiness

By Cathy Hunt
Chair, Troup  Co. Board of Education

‘Tis the season for dispensing advice to graduates, whether it comes in the form of commencement addresses, wisdom from older family members, or newspaper columns.

My daughters enjoyed saying “Adulting is hard” as they entered the waters of self-sufficiency upon finishing their schooling. And it very often is.

Looking back over decades of adulting, I wondered how to distill all the lessons I’ve learned into succinct advice for living a happy life, and I realized that for me happiness has a lot to do with conquering stress and anxiety.

Many years ago my former father-in-law made a big impression with a lesson I’ve taken to heart. “Always ask yourself,” he said, about controlling reactions to expectations gone awry, “Is this a true disaster — or just an inconvenience?”

From time to time, life will indeed throw you a curveball that may knock you down, but in most cases the pitches that don’t level you are not worth allowing your blood pressure to spike. Instead, think, “Well, shoot. I wish that hadn’t happened, but it did, so what is a response that doesn’t involve a meltdown?”

Cultivating an ever-present consciousness of gratitude is another way to boost happiness. Much has been made in recent years of living mindfully. That may sound a little New-Agey, but being aware of all the little things that make life good on a daily basis fosters a pretty positive outlook. Instead of living for the next big life event or that day when some magic thing is finally going to catapult you to the Mount Everest peak of happiness, think about all the blessings in your life today. Life is 99% about the little things, so don’t take them for granted.

Also — and this is hard for mere mortals — avoid complaining and passing judgment if you want to be a better person rather than a bitter one. Making a habit of thinking that you know better about a situation than the people who actually live it is pretty arrogant when you think about it. Perpetual anger, cynicism, and a mean, critical spirit don’t correlate with happiness.

Conflict is inevitable, but seek to resolve it in a respectful way. Work on humility and empathy, which can be developed through a commitment to lifelong learning, whether it comes by way of formal education, traveling to unfamiliar places, or getting to know people who seem very different from you. And remembering the good old Golden Rule is an excellent way to make yourself and others happy.

A popular meme from a few years back said, “Keep calm and carry on.” This is easier said than done, but don’t let unnecessary anxiety rob you of happiness. Be grateful and open-minded, and walk confidently into the next stretch of your life determined to tame anger and stress, which can rob you of physical as well as mental health. Pursue happiness, and it will pursue you and those around you.