In the course of a lifetime, many experiences shape us. More specifically, certain experiences provide us with an opportunity to gain a new insight; a new idea or wisdom. Such an event occurred to me when I was in my early thirties. It was a difficult and challenging time in my life then. Due to declining enrollment in the school district that employed me as a high school teacher and coach, I continually was being “pink slipped.” I faced financial uncertainty, as did my wife Anita due to the same circumstances in her school district. We had a young son and our daughter was on the way.

By chance, a friend suggested that Anita and I try attending a new church at the time. The minister was an engaging personality and a charismatic speaker. My wife and I had grown up in a religious tradition where attendance was more obligation than enjoyment or enlightenment. The new minister was a refreshing source of both intellectual stimulation and, most importantly, optimistic thought. This contrasted with our previous spiritual orientation in which the focus was decidedly on the negative. An example of the negative focus of our previous church was the providing of ”examination of conscience” booklets. The pages provided a encyclopedic listing of sins, with minor moral offenses in standard type face and major indiscretions highlighted in bold face.

Looking back, this writer’s “snowman therapy” had its origins in the sanctuary of new, more enlightened and encouraging, church. Along with its supportive rather than accusatory orientation, the minister conveyed the importance of the concept of positive thought. More than any other idea or concept introduced to me in my lifetime, his observations led to a paradigm shift in my thought process.

Which takes us back to the title of this essay. What does it mean? It refers to the simple notion that human happiness is internally generated rather than as a result of our life situation. This simple concept is foreign to most people. Whether the average person realizes it or not, one’s train of thought is “outside in.” rather than “inside out.” To demonstrate that principle, consider the following statements:

“She made me mad when she made fun of my new haircut”
“I chose not to allow her remark about my haircut to upset me all day.”

I would suggest that the first quote has a very familiar ring to it. It sounds like the kind of remark that we hear in casual conversation. The second sentence does not have a familiar tone to it. Certainly, a cutting or rude remark hurts. How long it hurts is, I contend, a matter of choice. Let’s examine those two quotes about an insulting remark.

What do we know about the author of the putdown? Let’s suppose that the speaker is known for being rude and deprecating. Although the insult might hurt for a moment, further consideration would remind us that the speaker is often rude to many people. Let’s consider the opposite. Suppose the speaker of the insensitive remark is a friend who is typically kind and supportive. How do we account for her uncharacteristic slam? After getting past the initial shock, the receiver might wonder or speculate on why a typically positive person would make such a remark. Was she having a bad day? Was she pre-occupied with a personal problem? Who knows? We do know that such a train of thought allows us to get past our initial hurt and explore an explanation for this occurrence. Let’s suppose you get the feeling that no one likes your new “do.” Easy. Get a new stylist!

The overall point is that our happiness flows from within us. Not totally, but to a great extent, we control our moods with our thinking. Other people don’t “make us mad.” We let them. Happiness isn’t “out there.” It’s within us once we choose to recognize that fundamental principle.

Yesterday, the British Open was won by a golfer named Darren Clarke. At the age of 42, it was his first win in a major tournament. A talented golfer, obviously, but he was a man with a history of moods and temper on the golf course that often compromised his success. In acknowledging this success at a later stage for most pros, it was stated, “Darren used to allow his golf to dictate his mood. He’s learned to have his mood dictate his golf.” It was worthy of note that the Northern Irishman was smiling throughout his stressful, but successful, day.

The following is your homework assignment for the rest of your life: Stop talking and thinking like the speaker of the first quote above. Start talking and thinking like the creator of the second quote. It’s in there!

You can do it, if you choose to. It’s not out there!