When my father died there was a great upheaval in my family. We moved several times, my mother re-married, and we lost touch with his side of the family. The greatest causality was losing contact with my half-brother, Peter -- my father's only child from his first marriage. Eighteen years older, he was in the air force, newly married and starting a family. He wasn't sure which name we went by or where we went. As the years flashed by, after many attempts to find him, I was sure I had lost him forever.
As I grew into a young adult I developed a personal history. I authored a narrative -- a story -- about where I came from, who I was, and all the people in my life. It included the heroes who inspired me and the villains that stood in my way. In my story I was the main character telling the tale of everything that had ever happened to me. I recounted my joys and sorrows, my greatest successes, and my most stinging failures.
My story about my personal history became the filter through which I experienced everything. Unfortunately, it greatly distorted what I perceived. My story held together my construction of reality -- a framework of all my beliefs, my opinions, other people's opinions, my experiences, and all my accumulated knowledge. What happened to me did happen. It was true, but my story about it was only my interpretation -- what I decided it all meant.
I even began to pass my story onto my son. Good and bad it contained real tragedy -- how I lost my brother and could never get him back. Telling that story invoked an upheaval of emotion. Telling the story about how I lost my brother made me unhappy.
Then Google happened. With the revolution of the Internet came the ability to tap into vast resources of information that never existed before. With a little effort, and Google, I found my long lost brother, Peter.
But the reunion was bittersweet. Peter's health was failing. There were so many questions about my Father and his family I wanted to ask Peter. I asked my questions, but his memory, along with his health, was frail and failing.
So we just sat together. Spent time. Talked about whatever came up. Even though he understood that things for him were not going to get better, he was happy. He chose not to create a big tragic story about his situation because of the way it made him feel.
The lesson I learned by finding Peter, reinforced over the years, is simply this: The only real power we have is what we decide every experience means.
I used think it was impossible to be happy and content in the most difficult times. As hard as I tried my desire for happiness wasn't being reached by having more, knowing more, or finding my long lost brother. The problem with my search for happiness lay hidden within the core of my deepest beliefs, and the stories that were fueled by those beliefs.
We think we are in control of so many things, but in fact we are not. All we have control over is where we place our attention and the decisions we make about what happens to us, or around us. We decide what things mean and those meanings become the stories we tell about everything. More importantly, the stories we tell ourselves invoke emotions perfectly aligned with those stories. Unhappiness is manufactured by how we interpret what has happened. No matter what happens.
It's funny, but now when I practice yoga, mediate, or just hike in the mountains and quietly align with the present moment, everything is okay! And I'm happy. What's extraordinary about this is that nothing has changed.
The key to being happy is realizing that you decide what everything means kindling emotions that are in line with the story you have been telling yourself. With that awareness you have a choice -- the choice to be happy, no matter what. Happiness just happens. Unhappiness is a byproduct of every limiting interpretation you make.