Everyone tells you to be happy.
Perky dating experts tell you that men like happy women. Come on, girls, turn that frown upside down!
Your boss tells you that customers like service with a smile. See that yellow smiley face? That’s you, for the hours between 9am and 5pm. No exceptions.
Your doctor warns you that gloominess is hard on your health. Optimism has known health benefits. Get depressed, and you may be at risk of heart disease, diabetes, even osteoporosis.
Great. Just great.
Okay, time to think positively. See that glass as half full.
Half full of wine. No, half full of champagne. The expensive stuff. The kind that Jay-Z orders for Beyoncé.
Feel any better?
We’re under enormous pressure to be happy these days.
Just look at Oprah. She’s always smiling on her magazine covers. No wonder, given how many self-help books she’s read and gurus she’s interviewed. She’s got that whole happiness thing figured out.
Maybe that’s the answer.
Read a lot of self-help books, listen to a lot of interviews, and transform into a serene makeup-free model radiating peace in yoga pants. Self-help solutions are everywhere, given that it’s a $10 billion a year industry.
And if you figure out the secret to happiness, you can always write a book about it and get your piece of the dream. You could probably even afford a half glass of Jay-Z’s favorite bubbly then.
But there’s a problem.
Sometimes, life sucks.
Know what I mean?
Nothing goes right. Instead, everything—and I mean everything—goes horribly, awfully, inevitably wrong.
You wake up in the morning wondering what disaster is awaiting you today. You have no idea what you’re going to do about the disaster that happened yesterday. You’re still dealing with the disasters that happened last month, not to mention a couple from last year.
And you’re supposed to be happy?
Isn’t that a bit insensitive, given what you’re going through at the moment?
Those self-help gurus should step into your life for a day. Maybe they’d see their prescription of “one smile fits all” is completely, absolutely, indubitably rubbish.
But you know what?
It would be nice to be happy.
To smile without catching yourself. To laugh like you mean it. To take a break from your troubles.
It would be even nicer to pretend that this is all happening to someone else, preferably a svelte blond A-list actress in a Hollywood blockbuster based on your true life story.
I’m not going to suggest meditation, or a gratitude journal, or laughter therapy. Though all those do have scientific backing.
Instead, there’s a simpler alternative.
One that doesn’t take time, effort, or making a fool out of yourself.
Just close your eyes and imagine that all your sources of stress have magically disappeared.
Picture this. You’re driving down the highway in a brand-new, fully paid off car that virtually drives itself. You’re wearing designer shades, your latest model iPhone is plugged in, and you’re listening to your favorite playlist on a sound system so crystal clear it brings tears to your eyes. You’re going somewhere amazing, even more amazing than where you’ve just been.
Fill in the details.
Maybe your favorite people are in the car next to you. Maybe you’re driving home to your dream house or to the airport for some tropical R&R. Maybe you’ve got a big rock on your finger, and your lithe tanned arm reflects how seriously fit you are. Whatever you want. It’s yours.
Not bad, huh?
What were you worrying about again?
Sometimes, we do need a break from our lives. Our imaginations give us the perfect vacation.
Experts call it “creative visualization.” They suggest that being able to see your dreams clearly, in as much rich detail as possible, is the first step to manifesting them.
But it doesn’t really matter whether your dreams end up coming true. All that matters is the pleasure you can get from them now.
If you’re finding it hard to see reasons to be happy, then why not visualize a time in the future when you will be happy? Borrow some of that future happiness to get you through the present.
One reason daydreaming works so well is because it gives us hope.
We’re not just unhappy because of what’s going on in our lives right now. What’s really terrifying us is the thought that things will always be like this. It won’t get any better. This is the hand life has dealt us, and we’re stuck with it for good.
After all, don’t they say that happy people attract abundance and all sorts of good things?
Well, if you’re not happy, that must mean you’re doomed, right?
It’s not terribly helpful for people to tell you to just be happy. If you could be happy, you would be. But something is getting in the way.
What’s getting in the way is the ability to imagine a future where things are different. Where everything is going right. Where you’re living the dream, and troubles are things that happen to other people.
It’s like that old metaphor.
If you’ve ever flown during a storm, you may have had the experience of coming out of a bank of black clouds, where winds and rain were lashing at the plane, into the serenity of a clear blue sky.
Once you get high enough in the atmosphere, you leave the storms behind.
So get higher. Without the use of recreational drugs, ideally. Let your mind take you to a higher place where nothing can touch you, where everything is perfect, and the sun is always shining.
It’s there. Just above the clouds.