September 9, 2016 Rodney Cowled

Is Happiness a choice? Well, Kinda.

He’s got nothing, I think to myself. He’s barely got enough money to buy food and his house…well, does he even one? I’m not sure. I’m referring to the elderly slow-moving homeless-looking man who stands between me and my train.

By all conventional definitions of success he’s failing, he has perhaps failed.

The hallmarks of a traditionally successful life appear to allude him in his current stare, perhaps they have always alluded him.

He has a few trinket-like possessions, tattered clothes and weary unwashed hands. Cracked and calloused, like saddle leather left to wither in the sun for an age. 

If I left the description of this old man here, you’d be left with an image of a stereotypical of an age wearied, apparently homeless old soul. If this was all he had offered me, perhaps I would have passed by him with little more than a passing glance.

What is it about this time beaten man that has captured the attention of my soul? What is it about this man, who has nothing, that driven me to deep contemplation? 

It’s his smile.

His smile is rich and deep, as if he knows something that I do not. He radiates a happiness that infects those around him. A happiness which draws people towards him and from his apparent nothingness he gives abundantly; That which he gives is not visible, yet still it is strongly tangible.

He’s happy, no rather, he’s completely joyful. This old man has nothing, and he has everything he wants all at once.

We learn how to read, we learn how to write, we learn how to do our job, we learn how to play sports. When do we learn how to be happy? When do we learn what this man knows?

Time has taught him a lesson, for which there is no school curriculum. Age has instructed him, and he as listened. He’s caught hold of wisdom that all but a few are too busy to hear.

I don’t want to wait till time has wrinkled my skin and slowed my mind, to understand that which he knows innately.

I must know what he knows, I must know now. “You’ll miss your train” my mind interrupts my plan, “you’ll miss out on life my heart” responds. I change my direction and walk directly towards to old man, from the corner of his eye, he spots me. A quickly as his body will allow him he turns towards me with a smile, almost if he knows what I’m about to ask him. I suspect I’m not his first student.

I’m not sure exactly what to say. How do you ask a question like this without offending the recipient? I decided to omit the details about his age, financial position, appearance and skip directly to his demeanour. “How…” I stumble over my words. “What…What’s the secret to being truly happy?”. “How are you so happy any joyful every single day, despite your conditions?”.

Was that rude? Was I too direct? My mind races in the moments between my question and his answer.

As if reading my mind and with a gentle wave of his leathery hand, the old man summons me nearer. There’s a glimmer within his eyes, and he slowly draws a slow deep breath that puffs up his chest. He looks like a proud father at a sporting match right after his child has just scored the winning point for the team.

The Wisdom of Time

He’s preparing to share the wisdom bestowed upon him by time. He know’s that it has the power to change lives, it has his.

Then he says just one word, “Practice”. Then he waits to see if I’m ready, had I not been, I suspect he would have stopped there. “practice” I respond softly. “Yes, practice” he continues, “at first you’ll feel like a new born trying to walk, a pianist at the keys for the first time, a child without training wheels. Then it will get easier. Practice it every day and don’t stop till it becomes a habit.”.

Of course, that was it, it was a habit.

The old man didn’t have to try hard to be happy, because he’d already done the work before hand. It was a habit for him. Just as an expert pianist doesn’t have to struggle to read music, they just do it.

Time had showed the old man that happiness, like a piano, was something that could be learned.

Learning to play the piano, is a choice, but it’s not only a choice. You don’t simply choose to play the piano and *SHAZAAAM* you’re a concert-ready pianist. Becoming a pianist starts with a choice and it becomes a reality through practice.

It makes sense. Why haven’t I thought about it like this before? Almost everything we do is a result of a habit or ritual formed throughout our lives. Why would happiness be any different? I suppose that it come from a limiting belief that our emotions affect us, rather than we affecting them.

If this old man is to be believed, happiness is also a skill to be learned. To be joyful, happiness is a choice to be made and then a habit to be formed through practice.

Just as playing a piano is practiced before the concert, happiness too, is best learned before it is under fire. Screaming “I am happy, I am happy” in the face of a devastating situation probably isn’t going to be much help, if it’s your first day at the keys of happiness.

How different would things look if we’d practiced happiness each and every day, through the good and the bad, leading up to this point?

A silver lining may be visible through the clouds, a lightness in the face of pain, an unknown strength found in the midst of loss.

We too could have a daily joy that improves your life and infects those around us. A happiness like the spry and youth-filled man from the start of this story.