Happiness is a choice, and I choose to make it my purpose to learn, practice and master it. Do I have to work at it some days? Absolutely. Am I always happy? No. But I view being happy like any relationship I choose to be in. I take the good with the bad because I am in love with happiness.
My life was not always sunshine and flowers. My earliest childhood memories were of living in a foster home. After that, an abusive single parent raised my sisters and me, and, at times, we were on welfare and food stamps. I grew up in a tough neighborhood, where drugs, gangs and violence were part of everyday life. From the circumstances of my upbringing, I grew up conditioned to believe that being unhappy was normal. I romanticized it like a starving musician who suffers for his art. One of my favorite songs as a young adult that summed up my thinking was, “Glad to Be Unhappy,” by the jazz singer Billie Holiday. I wore being unhappy like a badge of honor, and as an excuse for all my shortcomings and failures.
Sadness had been as close as my next of kin. No matter how many times happiness came my way, I somehow closed the door, conditioned to be unhappy.
As the saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” But even then, I knew something wasn’t right. I can recall standing on a stage, singing to thousands of people, but feeling alone and unhappy. No matter my level of success, I always felt a deep sense of despair and unworthiness.
Gratefully, I have been saved many times by God’s love and mercy. I have been blessed with little miracles, disguised as life lessons. I’ve shared many of them in my book, “Live, Learn, Grow,” but none of them alone was a defining moment.
God does everything in his time, so I guess he was just working on me at His own pace. I also believe God helps those who help themselves. I know I’ve got to do the hard work. I asked myself, “If happiness is a choice, then what choices do I need to make?” First, I must learn to be happy with me. I’ve got to accept myself for who I am, imperfections and all. That begins by letting go of past mistakes. I choose to acknowledge them as life lessons, teaching me to be a better person. I figure if I can be OK with me, I can be OK with others, and life. A big part of choosing to be happy is being grateful. I practice an “Attitude of Gratitude” every day. If someone asks me, “How’re you doing?” I always reply, “I am grateful.” Saying this reminds me to appreciate everything and everyone in my life.
I find an important part of choosing to be happy is having what is called a “white belt mindset.” I stand by the philosophy that I’m “always a student and never a master.” There’s always something to learn, right? Someone who is learning is happier than someone who believes they know it all.
The greatest gift that choosing to be happy offers me is that it teaches me to live in the moment. I’ve read that if you live in the past, you are depressed; if you project into the future, you are anxious; but if you are in the moment, you are at peace. Yesterday is but a memory and tomorrow is a dream as the saying goes right? But If I can be right here, right now, I can appreciate and embrace every second the present has to offer.
I also found happiness when I discovered what my purpose is in this world. We are all unique and incredibly special. We have a purpose beyond our own selfish needs. When I came to understand that my purpose in life was to serve others, happiness came easily. Serving others always puts a big smile on my face. Whether I am speaking at the county jail, working with battered women in a half-way house, or teaching martial arts to a child with special needs, I find great joy and humility in giving back. I feel the most at peace when I serve and “pay it forward.”
The choice to be happy gives me the courage to be vulnerable, live from an open heart, and to love completely. No matter how painful that is at times, it is worth every bit of suffering I have and will endure. Love is the purpose of my happiness.