Oprah writes a column in her magazine every month which she calls “What I know for sure.” I think it is a brilliant question that we should all ask of ourselves. What do I really know to be true for myself? In this ever changing world where we are barraged with information overload in the form of opinions, political agendas, magazines and internet articles, talk shows and talk radio, it is comforting to know that beneath all of that, there is something that we, as an individual, know for sure. Something that can’t be shaken or taken away. It is at our core, helps keep our equilibrium and even helps to guide our lives.
What do I know for sure? I have to admit I have had a day or two (or three!!) in my life when I haven’t been so sure anything, but when given quiet time to contemplate, things I know for sure do surface. One thing I know for sure is that WE are responsible for our happiness. I know that to be true because I experienced it myself. Happiness was not handed to me on a silver platter-- I had to work for it. For the past ten years, as I cultivated a coffee plantation, I also cultivated a life of happiness.
Studies have shown that we have what is called a happiness set point which constitutes roughly half of our feelings of happiness and isn’t affected by outside circumstances. Another ten percent of our happiness level can be increased by changing our life situation. The great news is that the remaining forty percent is up for grabs! In other words, it is in our very own hands, and WE have control over it.
Just like a coffee plantation, happiness can be grown. A coffee bush first starts with a seed. That little seed, so full of potential, is carefully planted. It must be given water and sunshine. The weeds surrounding it must be controlled so that the coffee plant gets its proper nutrition. And it needs to be given room to grow, one day at a time. Three years later, it produces actual coffee. (Yes, THREE years!) Happiness is the same. There is a seed of happiness that lies within each of us which needs to be nurtured and cared for and with the proper tools it can grow to its full potential.
One of the tools for cultivating happiness that all happy people have in common is gratitude. Happy people focus on the things they have rather than the things they don’t have. They don’t necessarily have more, but they put their attention on the abundance in their lives, rather than on what they lack. And that can make all the difference in the world. Fifteen years ago, I was focusing on what I didn’t have in my life, what I wanted to change, and who I could blame for that fact that I wasn’t happy. One day I made a drastic change in my life in search of happiness, thinking that a new relationship and a new country HAD to make me happy. Sitting in a subtropical paradise in my hammock after having left the 9-5 world behind, you think I would have been happy, right? Well I was not. What sitting in the hammock did do, however, was to allow me to see the things I needed to change within myself to BE happy. One of those things was changing whining into gratitude.
I began counting my blessings every day. Over and over again……hot water in the shower, electricity, my dogs, my family, the gorgeous views, the moon at night, clouds being born from the river below my property, a comfortable bed to sleep in, food on the table, opportunities to earn a good living in the States when I was surrounded by people who worked very hard to make very little money. Every day more and more things came to me and those things far outweighed what I felt I was lacking. Each night I recited five things I was grateful for. I also took gratitude walks during which I named off all I had to be grateful for, sometimes until it brought me to tears. It absolutely changed my life. So what I know for sure is that if you want to grow happiness, you have to start somewhere and the best place to start is with gratitude. Simple gratitude produces extraordinary results!!