Summary of the book The Law of Happiness by Dr. Henry Cloud
Our son started playing football in 3rd grade. During the middle of the season, we could tell he was giving in to fear and not performing the way he had earlier in the season. When a child is young, sports are more about building character and teaching life lessons, not about the performance on the field. I do not believe parents should ask for “A” performance, but they do want to instill “A” effort. “Give your best,” we all say, “even if that best is only a “C.” What we do not want to see, though, is fear in our child affecting performance. Fear should be driven out and replaced with courage to march forward into the challenge ahead. If a child learns to develop courage and overcome fear, no matter what the outcome, they will experience success.
From the time our son was 5, he wanted to be a soldier. He would ask me when he was very little when he could “go fight.” I told him he was already a soldier. That he became a soldier the moment he asked Jesus to enter his life (which, interestingly, was also when he was 5). I reminded him that there is a constant spiritual battle that takes place around us every day, and that God had called him to be a soldier in HIS army. I told him that everything we do is a battle between good and evil. Since speaking “soldier” was a form of communication he always understood, I used this same strategy to speak to him about the fear that had crept into his mind on the football field. I said, “Caz, you know everything you do is a battle between good and evil. Even on the football field. Every decision you make is a decision to either give God the victory or give Satan the victory. If God tells you that you CAN do something, but you believe you CANNOT do something, then you have just given Satan the victory. Every time you step onto the field, you need to ask yourself who you are giving the victory to. Who are you playing for? Which team are you putting in the Win category?”
The next Saturday, our son had the best performance of his season. He played with no fear and walked in freedom. I noticed after the game that there was some writing on his skin that was poking out from beneath his forearm guards. I did not say anything to him, because I had a feeling it was private, otherwise, he would have told me about it before the game. Eventually, he took the guards off, and I was able to catch a glimpse of what was written. On each arm he had drawn a cross. On one arm he had written, “Go God.” On the other arm he had written, “Beat Satan.”
Caz had a choice to make that day. He could give in to the negativity that was entering his brain telling him that he was not good enough, that he did not have what it takes, and he could take the victory away from God. Or, he could push those thoughts out of his mind, know in his heart he could “do all things through Christ who strengthened him,” (Philippians 4:13) and give the victory to God. He chose victory. Oh, if all of us had the faith of a child!
In The Law of Happiness, Dr. Cloud talks about how happy people think. He says, “Happy people think well.” He uses the example of two women that were both single. They each were ready to start dating more, so they signed up on a dating site. The first girl went on a date, and she felt it went well. Unfortunately, the guy never called again. She was so discouraged that she canceled her membership on the dating site. She said things like, “This always happens to me. Guys just don’t like me. I will never find anyone.” The second girl was rejected several times on the dating site before she even received her first date, but she did not let that stop her. She just kept plugging away. Eventually, she met a wonderful man. Today, they are married with two children. She did not let the first few rejections create negative thoughts. She took an “oh, well” attitude, and kept going. She did not let these isolated incidents define her entire being. (Side note: There is an important point Dr. Cloud makes. Unhappy people take one bad incident and link it to their entire circumstance. “No guy likes me.” Really?? Not one single guy in the entire world likes you? They cling to this attitude and throw away everything. Happy people, on the other hand, take one bad incident and treat it just as it is…one bad incident. They do not let it define them.)
As simple as it sounds, happy people think thoughts that make them happy. Unhappy people think thoughts that bring them down, cause fear and create depression. I have a confession to make here. As I was writing this blog, I began doubting myself. I found myself asking, “Who am I to write about this? I’m almost always happy. How can I write about something I rarely experience?” Suddenly, a wave of memories flooded my brain. They were dark, and I didn’t really like what I saw. I began remembering unhappy moments in my life.
I grew up with a wonderful father that was ill most of my life. I never knew if “today” would be his last day. That’s a scary way for a child to live. Much of my life he was in and out of hospitals, enduring surgery after surgery. When I was in college, my 16-year-old cousin, who lived in the town where I attended school, was killed in a car wreck. While I was attending the university my grandfather, who also lived in my college town, was shot at gunpoint in the chest. I was by his side while he and my grandmother endured the trial of his attempted murderer. My father was able to walk me down the aisle when I married, but upon returning from my honeymoon, he was back in the hospital and died a year later. My husband and I went through years of infertility, and when our son was finally born, he was in ICU for two weeks with medical professionals telling us they weren’t sure he would make it. It was touch and go, but he survived. A short time later, we suffered a miscarriage and were unable to have more children. While our son was in the Army, we watched him deal with the danger, heartache and turmoil that is a part of every soldier’s life. This same son had an accident during one of his airborne jumps when his chute did not open properly, which ended with him having surgery and earning him the title of disabled vet. My mother recently had an accident that caused broken ribs, a broken nose and a concussion that severed a nerve in her brain causing her eyes to permanently cross. After 30 medical visits and procedures, her eyes are now healed. I live with a chronic condition that I, mostly, keep controlled through lifestyle habits and medication.
Yuk, yuk, yuk! These are just a few quick examples that came to my mind in the span of a couple minutes. I am even more burdened thinking about the trials many of my friends are currently enduring. From losing a child to fighting terrible diseases. It’s enough to make you want to crawl in a hole and never emerge. Yet, these same friends I am thinking about embrace life with joy and hope and a happiness that is contagious. I write this to say the realization of choosing to be happy smacked me in the face today. There are a lot of things I fail at in life, but I really do try to live by the principle that my circumstances will not define my happiness, and I have watched friends and family be incredible examples of this same truth.
I have also known people that go through similar situations as those mentioned above, and they spend their lives being miserable and angry at the world. Once we complete any grieving process that is needed, we have only two choices to make. We either choose to be happy, despite our circumstances, or we choose to be unhappy and be controlled by our circumstances. This does not mean we do not have times of despair, but the overriding trait of happiness is a choice.
My desire to choose happiness probably comes from the side of my personality that says life really is “all about the party.” I enjoy having fun too much to let a bad circumstance keep me from the celebration of LIFE. Or, maybe I have this attitude, because my family also has this attitude. When my grandfather was shot, I was in the middle of chairing a huge event at my university. Although my grandparents only lived 20 blocks from campus, they did not tell me about the shooting until the day after my event had concluded. When I became upset with them for not calling me, their response was, “Oh, honey, we didn’t want anything to take your mind off what you were doing. It was a very important week for you. We are fine.”
My mother had her accident on a Sunday evening. I didn’t learn about it until Monday morning. We were scheduled to have lunch that day, and I received a text that said, “Pumpkin, I don’t think I can have lunch today. I had a little accident.” What?!? I immediately drove to her house to realize this was far from a little accident! Six days later, suffering pain from all of her broken bones, she went to a make-up artist that worked miracles on her face covering up all the bruising, and she joined me in hosting a bridal shower for a precious person in my life (the sister of my soon-to-be daughter-in-law). My mother could have complained about how much she hurt, and she could have stayed home. No one would have faulted her for this! She rightfully deserved a lot of compassion and sympathy, but she never sought this. As only my mom could say, “Hot damn, I have a party to host!” Wow!! She really is my heroine. She CHOSE to be happy and not let her circumstances define her. (*)
When I look back on how my family responded to two serious incidents in our lives, they almost treated the events as just a hiccup in the road. Both events required multiple surgeries, weeks of hospital visits (sitting through a horrible attempted murder trial) and months and months of finding our “new normal.” Yet, none of them let their circumstances DEFINE their happiness.
I do not want to make it sound like I have it all together, because I don’t. (And I have friends, right now, going through things that are much worse than anything I have ever dealt with.) I do not like blog posts where people only show the best side of themselves and not the reality of life. I think that is why I wanted to mention some of my unhappy moments, and to also assure you, I make mistakes, I fail often, and I am not always strong. And, yes, sometimes I choose to be (wait for it) …unhappy! I sometimes get mad at the world and throw a temper tantrum (not my finest moments). But on days like today, when I can rise above any situation in my life, I am so thankful for the example of my family, and the promises from my God, that my happiness is NOT found in my circumstances. My happiness truly is a choice that I must make every day. I owe it to myself, and I owe it to my family.
Psychological research has proven that the way we think affects every aspect of our lives from our biological and mental health to our performance in the world. My husband takes physical steps to help him create a positive mood and “think happy.” He does this by spontaneously jumping up and down to change his mindset, and he also does this by constantly playing music. It is a rare occasion you will walk into our home that you will not hear some genre of song playing. It’s difficult to be grumpy and unhappy when your favorite tunes are being piped through the speaker.
Here’s another thought. What if we began viewing our negative thoughts as a spiritual battle that is taking place? I guarantee we would start thinking in a more positive light. At the beginning of this blog, we looked at the experiences of two women who had signed up to participate in a dating website. The first woman in the example viewed life through a negative prism. Her thoughts were, “I am not desirable. No man wants to date me. My future is dismal.” What would have happened, though, if she had thought like this, “You are MY child, and nothing can separate you from MY love.” (Paraphrased from Romans 8:38-39.)
“Successful and happy people are not overcome by their circumstances, losses, setbacks, or other events. Instead, they overcome them,” states Dr. Cloud. God says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2-emphasis mine.)
God is talking about transforming the way we think. When negative thoughts enter our mind, we must push them away and replace them with positive thoughts. I know this can be very difficult. I do this by trying to view everything in my life as good vs. evil. I try to see the spiritual battle around me the same way I taught my son to do. I get angry when I think I might lose the battle to the enemy. My anger helps me fight harder to make sure the victory stays in God’s corner. I find it easier to push the negative thoughts out when there is a fire of “fight” in my belly. Those negative thoughts of “self-doubt; I can’t; I’m not good enough,” are not from God, therefore they should not be a part of who we are. We are here for a reason. God created us for a purpose. No child is an accident, because God doesn’t make mistakes! Tell yourself, “I really am special! God has something planned just for me…ME!!” If that does not make us think happy thoughts, I do not know what will.
We are in a battle every day. Do not give into negative thoughts. YOU were created for a reason. Go God! Beat Satan!
Together with you,
(*How we choose to feel and react to circumstances IS a choice. I fully acknowledge that some people deal with deeper mental or chemical issues that can affect how they approach life, though. These blogs are not speaking to this deeper issue. If you find yourself struggling in any of these areas, and you seem unable to “choose” your emotions and reactions, then my hope is that you will seek a true professional counselor that can help you overcome these obstacles so you can be on your way to living a truly happy life.)
I want to dedicate this article to a dear friend of mine. I had just written this blog when I ran into her at our local hardware store. She, and her family, are going through a very difficult time. While I was speaking with her, I was amazed at her sweet spirit and joyful attitude. Although she is in a very trying season of life, she chooses to be happy in her circumstances. It is not a façade. She has a joy in her life that is bigger than any trial she is currently experiencing. I hope she is reading this article, and I hope she knows I am speaking of her (friend, sorority sister, two precious sons and daughter). My dear sister, YOU are the embodiment of what it means to be truly happy.