The Power of Positive Doing

“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be,” Abraham Lincoln once wrote. I’ve long thought so, too. Happiness seems to be a habit as much as anything – a habit of perception, a habit of attitude, a habit of responding to life, a habit of action.

I recall seeing a sign in a manager’s office a number of years ago. It read:

“Happiness is available. Help yourself.”

I loved the double meaning – “help yourself” as if a big bowl of happiness was sitting on his desk, like a bowl of jelly beans, and all you had to do was dip your hand in and help yourself – and “help yourself” as in “take action on your own behalf.”

It reminded me of one of my all-time favorite books, Happiness is a Choice, by Barry Neil Kaufman. Barry and his wife had a baby boy, their third child, who was diagnosed as autistic. At first, the couple was devastated – they thought their lives were ruined and their child doomed to a hopeless future. But once they worked through their initial reaction to the diagnosis, they made a huge choice: they decided to be happy. They said, “We can let this situation drag us into depression and self-pity, OR we can decide to love our child, make a nurturing family for him, and have a good life together. They chose the latter.

They rejected the advice of doctors who told them to put the child in an institution and move on with their lives. Instead, they completely redesigned their home and their lives to meet the needs of their autistic toddler. He couldn’t meet them in their world, so they met him in his. They sat on the floor and played with him, mimicking his shrieks, whoops, and wild gestures. Bit by bit, they were able to build rapport with their son, teach him new behaviors, and coax him further and further into normalcy. The boy grew and thrived under his parents’ unconditional love, patience, and teaching – it was a long, challenging process, but he graduated from high school, then college, with honors. And throughout those challenging years, Barry Neil Kaufman and his wife chose to be happy. They made it a habit.

How do you make happiness a habit? Simply choose it. Again and again. Habits are formed by repeating the same thing over and over again until it becomes the normal way you behave. Scientists tell us that if you repeat something consistently for 21 days, it will become a habit.

So, if you want to really feel the Power of Positive Doing in your own life, start by making happiness your new habit.

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