How to Choose Happiness – Even (and Especially) When Crappy Things Happen

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“They” say… “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

I hate that.

When I’m in the midst of a crisis, if someone says that, my ears turn red.  How am I supposed to pretend that my child getting sick is a good thing? What about when someone we love passes away? When the breadwinner loses her job? Or when your 10-year-old nephew gets diagnosed with leukemia? Lemonade? Really?

I hate positive thinking. Not only because “over-the-top” positive people annoy me, but because positive thinking is always used to combat something negative. People have to try to be positive only when they believe something is bad or wrong.

If nothing were wrong, why would you have to be positive?

Here is my mantra: Nothing is inherently good or bad.

The key word is inherently. There really is no sugarcoating the pill we are required to swallow when seriously crappy things happy. And crappy things happen, all of the time.

Having a commitment to being genuinely happy does require some intellectual effort. In case no one has told you this yet… your brain has no interest in your happiness, or the quality of your life. None. Your brain was designed to keep you alive and to procreate. It only asks 3 questions, “Can I eat it? Can it eat me? Can I have sex with it?”

That’s it.

Granted, we use it for other things, but the fundamental design of the brain, and its MOST important function, is to keep you alive. You cannot eat or procreate tomorrow, if you get eaten today.

Positive thinking is like trying to trick your brain. You know your butt looks fat in those jeans, but when you look at yourself in the hall mirror (the one that is bowed), you look hot! That is positive thinking. It is pretend happiness.

To choose the genuine, authentic, full-fat chocolate-chip cookie dough ice cream happiness, we have to be willing to take a different perspective.


Part One:

Crappy things happen. You cannot avoid it or pretend they don’t happen.  Period.

Part Two:

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there any way that this can serve me?
  • Is there any lesson I can learn from this?
  • Is there any part of my life affected by this circumstance that I need to adjust to be more aligned with who I really am and what matters to me?

I have heard about and have personally experienced many incidents that felt atrocious at the time, and then have turned out to be some of the greatest gifts.

  • If I hadn’t gotten divorced the first time, I wouldn’t have my beautiful kids just the way they are.
  • If my flight hadn’t been cancelled that day, I wouldn’t have met a person that changed my life.
  • If my dad hadn’t been in the hospital, I wouldn’t have built such a loving relationship with my stepmother.


Like Steve Jobs said, “You can only connect the dots back, not forward.”

There is no way of knowing “why” this crappy circumstance is happening now. (Though our brains will do just about anything to try and figure it out.)  You won’t know the “why” for a while, if ever.  But you can harness and re-direct those 16 terabytes of brainpower. Instead of trying to figure out why it happened, or pretending it’s not happening, or wondering how in the world you are going to survive this one, try trusting that it is all part of your journey.  Start looking at how this situation could possibly be useful in the grand scheme of things.

Part Three:

Remember that your life is not JUST about surviving. That is your brain’s job.  The “you” that is in there, the “you” that is listening to your brain, is here to participate in something bigger. And that something bigger is for “you” to say. Make art, love people, save the whales, recycle. Anything you believe is worthy of giving your life to.

Maybe the crappy thing that happened was just a wake up call to start living your life on purpose.

I have no way of proving the absolute truth of anything, but one thing I “know” for sure is that when we can recognize the divinity in the plan and surrender to the journey of our life, peace and real happiness are possible.


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