A man was shot a few blocks away from my house on Friday night.
The next morning as protesters were marching the streets, we sat at home discussing the ailments of the world while the TV commercials pleaded for aid for starving children in between detailing stories of historical disasters.
It’s times like these where I feel conflicting emotions of both gratefulness and guilt for what I have, and I know I’m not alone in experiencing this first-world moral dilemma. A desire to better the world while despising the world. Wanting to care for fellow humans while simultaneously fearing them. Self-righteousness and powerlessness sets in. Then wanting to wallow in emotions. Then wanting to tune it all out.
Then focus on being happy. That’s the first step towards improving the world. When I don’t know where to start, I start there.
In being happy, I don’t mean ego-driven happiness steeped in self-indulgence, but the kind of hopeful and peaceful happiness that comes from doing inner work and acknowledging my place in life.
When I walk around feeling sad/angry/scared, I affect those around me. My mind and attention is not on what’s happening around me, but what’s on the news and on people’s minds. I’m not as upbeat and social. I see others as possible threat rather than what is really there. I don’t feel like reaching out or smiling. I bring no extra happiness into the world, and thus haven’t done my part in what little piece of the world I have.
The majority of us aren’t in a position of power to directly influence major change, and so we point fingers at those who do. When they don’t do what we want, we act out from our fear and anger, which at that moment changes nothing — if anything it perpetuates conflict.
It may seem difficult to justify prioritizing personal happiness while so many people are struggling, but why add more negativity and struggle to the world if it isn’t needed? Our water, food, housing, and income would be an outrageous luxury to someone else — it would be an insult to not acknowledge what comfort and happiness these everyday things really do bring us. From a life of this kind of luxury, why not afford to smile more, to share more, to take more time to understand each other and show more love?
Just because we choose happiness today doesn’t mean that we’re endorsing everything we don’t like about the world. We won’t forget about our morals, goals, and concerns when we decide to be happy; we’re just making a conscious decision to approach change from a place of inner strength rather than indulging in fear.
When we’re upset it’s natural to want to communicate it to others, it helps us connect and understand each other. But when that communication turns into dwelling in negativity, that’s when we are neglecting our personal duty to ourselves to carry on in the face of whatever is going on and resume responsibility over how we’re experiencing life.
There’s no reason to feel guilt about focusing on feeling good. When we choose to feel hope we can express it to others and do our work from the angle of positivity. It’s how we do our most honest and constructive service to ourselves and others. It’s the biggest power we have, and when we keep it for ourselves rather than allowing ourselves to be powered by other people and events, that’s when we can harness it for the greater good.
Some things to think about to begin to move back into a place of happiness:
Look around and admit, accept, and appreciate all the everyday luxuries that we have. Coming from a place of such relative wealth, we can act from a mindset of security and strength rather than fear and lack.
Think about how other people are feeling a similar way, worried about the same kind of things. What kind of support would you like to be able to bring to them? Words of kindness during their time of stress? A positive vibe? A smile? An unjudgemental ear? An air of peace? How would you like to be for your loved ones?
Notice what change comes about from going through life upset. Is that the kind of change you want? Is there a different approach you could take that could improve the outcome?
Know that there’s nothing weak about taking responsibility for the way we feel. Anger is the easiest emotion because it rises out of pure reaction. We don’t even have to try, or think. It takes strength and growth to reassume our power and to decide how we wish to use it.
Remember, it’s your life. You get to choose how you wish to see things, experience situations, and go about living. Each passing moment is adding to your life, and how you live affects those you are close to.
This is the first step to adding to the change you wish to see. How will you choose to contribute?