Imagine you were born holding the script of your life in your hand. Imagine if you, your mother your loved ones could erase all the bad things that were going to happen to you. Imagine if your life were to be one of total bliss and happiness. Imagine if nothing bad ever happened, the accidents never happened, the bad relationship never happened. Imagine you met the perfect partner first time round, lived in your dream home and had perfect kids who went to a perfect school and had perfect friends and everything in your whole life was just day after day of complete perfection.
What an amazing happy, beautiful, blissful life you would lead……….Or would you? I remember reading an article from a retired Jew about how happy his life was, and how much he enjoyed his life with his family and where he lived. How much he enjoyed waking up each day, how much enjoyed feeling the hot sun on his face, how much he enjoyed spending time with his family and friends. He also stated that if he had his time again, he wouldn’t change anything.
What was so remarkable about this article was that it wasn’t written by someone who had lived a happy peaceful life, it was written by an Auschwitz survivor. Someone who had been through horrors so terrible its hard to imagine how he could ever feel like he did.
Overcoming the odds
I love to read autobiographies, from people who have made something form their lives, about how people became a successful artist, musician, a leader in their field, or just an ordinary person who did something extraordinary in their life. These books are from people in very diverse areas, diverse occupations, some are rags to riches tales, some are great sporting achievements, all very different in one way or another.
Yet there is always one common thread in all these stories, not a single one of them achieved what they did without going through hard times. I’ve read stories of great sporting champions who have had to overcome horrendous injuries, pop stars who completely went off the rails, leaders who totally lost their way, and people who have changed the world with good deeds but have had to overcome illness and depression that was so bad they almost lost the will to live.
On my wall in front of me I have a quote from Nelson Mandell talking about how we should love one another regardless of background or skin colour. It’s hard to imagine that this was once a very angry young man who was regarded as the No. 1 terrorist in South Africa. A man who had to endure 25 years in a brutal prison. And yet every image I see of him, he looks happy, he’s smiling, took great pride for his many achievements and has written some truly inspirational quotes. If any of these people had been able to alter the script of their lives when they were born, would any of them have achieved what they did?
Sowing the seeds of happiness
Although there are many people who are just generally happy people, for many people happiness is not necessarily a birthright, it’s not necessarily something that you would just stumble upon, and in a lot of cases, happiness is well earned.
Happiness is often the result of many years of toil, of pain, of getting so many things wrong, and battling adversity. I have a friend who claims he lives a happy blissful life and when you see him it’s hard to argue against it. Yet he spent over 20 years battling alcohol and drug addiction.
When I talk to people about their lives, they will often talk with pride about some of their happy times, the day they left school, got married, had kids etc. But I’ve often noticed how people light up and become animated when they talk about how they overcome adversity, or how they rebuilt their lives after a catastrophe. The pride they feel at overcoming these times of turmoil is infectious, they genuinely and quite rightly feel they have achieved something truly remarkable in their lives.
When going through hard times, it often feels as though these times will last forever, there is no light at the end of the tunnel, these times will destroy us. And yet its through these times that hope is born, it’s the start of a journey to happiness. It’s through these times we build inner strength, it what makes us who we are, it shapes our future.
The happiest people I know are often those who look back and embrace what has happened to them through challenging times and have had the courage and determination to turn what was once bad into something that is now good.
Turning adversity into good fortune
It’s hard to find anyone who has not had to endure some form of hardship in their lives. It could be losing a loved one, losing a job, a relationship break-up or an accident. I’ve noticed that the happy people I know are not those who have never had any misfortune but who have turned this misfortune into something good.
The Auschwitz survivor said he felt happy every single day because nothing he would ever face again could ever be as bad as what he experienced in the concentration camp. Often happiness is about being grateful for what we now have, the friends we have, what we experience every day. It doesn’t mean we should forget about the hard times, or pretend they didn’t happen, but as with the Auschwitz survivor can be used as a reference to compare against where we are now.
Happiness is often the feeling that you are in a better place now than you were then and are determined to embrace the good times.
A personal journey
About 5 years ago my life was a shambles, my marriage had broken up and I’d had a stream of failed relationships since, which had left me feeling very despondent. My friends and family were many miles away, I never saw anyone, and had no motivation to do anything, and if I’m honest I really didn’t see much point in my life. And yet in the five years since, I’ve made many friends, had some amazing experiences, been to University and got a degree, bought and renovated a house and I am now happier than I have ever felt. It was hard to imagine at the time, but when I hit rock bottom and in my worst state of despair, I was actually sowing the seeds of my future happiness.
About the author: Steve Emery
‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’
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