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How I Learned to Be Happy: Past, Present, Future

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When dealing with the unknown of the future and harsh realities of the past, how are we able to obtain true happiness today?

I used to spend countless hours being envious of the world around me. Everyone seemed to have more of everything that I wanted: money, love, good physical health, a house, a family -- you name it, someone else had it, and I wanted it. I spent so much time in everyone else's life that I didn't realize mine was passing me by, but not in a bad sense; I simply wasn't appreciating and enjoying everything that was happening around me. Instead of living in the moment, my thoughts were consumed by plans for my future and whether or not I would make something of myself or my life. The reality is that focusing on the future prevents us from truly enjoying today.

In a similar vein, the events of our past can also act as a roadblock to appreciating our present. I grew up in your typical '80s family. I had divorced parents, which meant scheduled visitations and alternating weekends with each parent was the norm. I had a terrible relationship with my father resulting in significant verbal and emotional abuse. I was the child left behind on vacations, left in parking lots because of fights with my father, and the list went on. The abuse had a significant impact on my own views and perspective of the world. My mother was my personal cheerleader. She likely overcompensated for his inability to be the parent he needed to be, and I am grateful for that every day!

Today, I focus on my gratitude list daily. It represents all the things in my life that are worth celebrating. It is not limited to just positive things and the list may be as deep or shallow as I desire. The ability to answer the simple question "how happy are you?" is key. I even practice this at dinner with my wife and kids (who are only 4 and 2 years old)!

I also include my father and his part in my upbringing on my gratitude list. It gives me an opportunity to genuinely appreciate where I have been and where I am headed. It also provides me with an inspiring perspective when faced with difficult decisions or situations.

When I recently shared my personal challenges (including my diagnosis) with a client, he was blown away that the person in the first part of this story was the same person in the second. How could I have accomplished all those things while managing and overcoming significant demons in my life?

Despite my future with bipolar disorder and the issues that come with it (including mania, grandiosity, rage, irritability, depression, hopelessness and sometimes a genuine inability to read and understand the emotions of those around me), I am thriving. Despite by emotionally-charged past, I am thriving. While I draw inspiration from the past and the future, the present is where I find true happiness.

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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the NationalDomestic Violence Hotline.