The Decision To Be Happy

“Do not listen to those who weep and complain, for their disease is contagious.”
Og Mandino, author

A 92-year old, petite, well-poised and proud man was fully dressed each morning by 8:00 a.m. His hair was always neatly combed and his face clean shaven … even though he was legally blind.

But today was to be a different day. He was moving to a nursing home because his wife of 70 years had just passed away, and he could no longer live by himself.

After a couple of hours of waiting patiently in the lobby of the nursing home, he smiled sweetly when told his room was ready. As he maneuvered his walker to the elevator, the nurse provided a visual description of his tiny room, including the eyelet curtains that had been hung on his window.

“I love it,” he stated with the enthusiasm of a young child who had just been given a special birthday present.

“Mr. Godwin, you haven’t seen the room. Just wait.” responded the nurse.

“That hasn’t got anything to do with it,” he replied. “Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged. It’s how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it.”

The old man continued, “It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice. I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do. Each day is a gift, and as long as I’m alive, I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away … for this time in my life.”

What wisdom! Mr. Godwin had learned one of the great secrets of life … and that is … your success and happiness are not determined by the things that happen to you … good or bad. Your success and happiness are determined by the way you respond to the things that happen.

It’s what I call being “an actor versus a reactor.” It’s a concept and skill that I teach in my program on the “Journey to the Extraordinary.” And those who learn this technique experience great power in their lives … emotionally, relationally, financially, and sometimes even physically.

Kip Little is one such example. Her story was told in the magazine, “Psychology Today.” Kip was supposed to die twenty years ago. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was stunned. “I spent my lunch hours working out. I ate good things. I was a health nut,” said Little. She was a former high-school counselor and physical education teacher in Toronto and wondered, “How could this happen to me?”

Following her mastectomy, a chance encounter led Little to a psychologist at the Ontario Cancer Institute. Working with him and other breast cancer patients, she transformed her life. Together they met weekly to learn how to be an actor instead of a reactor … in spite of her initial feelings of grief, depression, pain and fear.

The program was a lifesaver for her. Little said, “It was the skills I learned that got me through — and continue to get me through.”

When her cancer returned in 1990, a physician gave her only three months to live. She rejected further physical treatment and instead intensified her practice of those activities that would heal her mental state. And today she’s cancer-free.

Dr. Alastair Cunningham, the psychologist who treated Kip Little, has spent years studying the power of being an actor versus a reactor. In one study of 22 patients with various kinds of supposedly incurable cancer, he asked experts to predict each patient’s life span. And then Cunningham and his team painstakingly gathered data on each participant’s attitudes and behaviors as they participated in an intervention along the lines of Kip’s treatment.

The result? Cunningham found that patients like Kip Little … the people who worked the hardest at transforming themselves psychologically … lived at least three times longer than predicted. Those who didn’t do much died right on schedule.

“It makes sense to me that the people who live longer are those who make substantial psychological changes,” says Cunningham. “Of course, only a few do that.”

What about you? How do you respond to bad news or these tough times? After all, the economy is ailing. Many of our companies and governmental structures are floundering. And there’s not much you can do about those things.

Oh sure, you can be a REACTOR and get yourself all worried and panicky. But that will do you no good whatsoever.

Or you can learn to be an ACTOR. You can be like Mr. Godwin or Kip Little. You can refuse to get negative. You can choose to focus on your attitude and your response … making it as positive, powerful, and productive as possible.

You can start by taking these five simple steps on the road to being an ACTOR.

*Free your heart from hatred.
*Free your mind from worry.
*Live simply.
*Give more, and
*Take time to express gratitude.

And if you want a life-changing experience that will assuredly give you more success and happiness, that will teach you all the ways of becoming an ACTOR, come to the “Journey to the Extraordinary” experience.

Action:  When and where do you typically REACT or OVERREACT? Be aware of those situations. Write them down. And then write down how you would ideally like to respond in those situations. It will help you become more of an actor.