When French gymnast Samir Alt Said broke his leg on Saturday, a few things happened.
The crowd allegedly heard the gut-wrenching crunch echo across the arena. The internet, as you might expect, went crazy. And though few probably had ever heard of Said before, everyone’s heart broke a little.
It was heartbreaking because getting to the Olympics is an incredible thing. It’s an amazing feat of talent, hard work, and perseverance. It’s the culmination of hours and hours of practice, of years and years of dedication, of blood, sweat, and tears. It is every athlete’s dream, and in the blink of an eye, we watched it become a nightmare.
Why the break is a lesson in happiness
What the incident makes clear is that life doesn’t always go the way you want. Even when you work hard and remain dedicated, even when you do everything you can to succeed, sometimes it can all go horribly wrong. Sometimes one misstep is all it takes.
And when that happens, it’s easy to get angry. I don’t know what Said is thinking right now, but I bet he’s friggen mad. I bet he’s frustrated and disappointed and cursing his bad luck. Or, even worse, blaming himself.
That’s reasonable. That’s how we would all feel in the same situation.
But in time, will he come to be proud of the fact that he made it to the Olympics? Will he look back on the experience fondly, as a testament to what hard work and dedication can achieve? Or it will it forever be a bad memory? Something that he wished never happened? Something that he blames himself for? Something that he regrets?
A lot depends on perspective.
I’ll be happy when…
I usually don’t like it when people post quotes about happiness being a choice, or that it’s just a mindset. Not because I don’t agree – I do to some extent – but because I think what happens in life matters too.
I know that perspective has the power to turn a heartbreakingly negative experience into a positive source of strength. I know that my happiness depends a great deal on how I perceive my life. In fact, I take great pride in approaching each day with a mindset that lends itself to happiness and laughter and enjoyment. A happy mindset is my jam.
But I also believe that what happens in life matters. That what I do on a daily basis, that what I achieve, is a factor in how happy I am. Otherwise there would be no reason to be dedicated and work hard. If I’m not trying to be happier, why try at all?
What this whole broken leg incident illustrates, however, is the problem with the “I’ll be happy when…” mindset.
It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially for a high achieving, competitive athlete. I’ll be happy when I win a national title. When I finish in the top 20. The top 8. When I medal at a top level competition. When I qualify for the Olympics. When I score over 14 on my first vault…
You see if your happiness depends entirely on what happens in life, sooner or later, you’re going to be disappointed. At some point you’re going to wind up frustrated and angry, because eventually we all break our legs. Metaphorically at least.
Something goes horribly wrong. We don’t get into the school we wanted. We don’t land our dream job. We date and date and date and fail to find the one. The condo that was perfect gets snapped up by someone else. Whatever it is, sooner or later, your happy when…never happens.
How to be happy now and happy when
For me, life is all about striking that perfect balance between being happy now and also being ambitious and motivated to make life better. Here some of my best tips:
1. Enjoy the work
Whether it’s your job, working out, or getting out of the bed in the morning, enjoy it. Enjoy as much as you can, whenever you can. Because if you enjoy the work, the result doesn’t matter.
That’s why I don’t believe in diets that make you miserable. It’s no way to live, no way to lose weight, and certainly not a good path toward happiness. If you hate your life while you’re doing it, you’re never going to love the end result.
2. Set goals that are actually under your control
In life it’s often impossible to guarantee results. You can do everything right and still end up with a broken leg.
It’s the same reason comparing yourself to other people is almost always a bad call. Watching gymnastics proves that point well. Sooner or later some random 16-year-old comes along and makes you look like a fool. Comparing yourself to others is not a recipe for success.
Instead, I focus my efforts on things that I can control. What I eat. How I spend my time. How often I exercise. How many words I write every day.
When I’m reaching my daily goals, eating what I want to eat, spending my time the way I want to spend my time, I’m happy. And that happiness depends solely on me. It’s in my hands and my hands only.
3. Always be solving problems
I am at my happiest when the time between something going wrong and having a solution is almost zero. I try to always be in a forward-looking mindset. Dwelling makes problems worse, so I refuse to spend time in negativity town.
I don’t like to feel frustrated. I don’t like feeling helpless. I like solutions. And the quicker I move from problem to solution, the better my life seems to go.
4. Be who you want to be
Alright, this one is a tad cliché, but it couldn’t be more true.
There is nothing better than the feeling that you’re doing what you want to be doing, when you want to be doing it. And maybe that sounds obvious, but a lot of people spend a lot of their lives doing less.
Somehow it’s easy to fall into a routine where you’re constantly doing things you don’t really want to be doing. You eat food you don’t really want to be eating, because it’s cheap and you’re on a budget, or because it’s convenient and you’re busy.
You spend your time working a job you hate because you need to pay the bills. You spend your free time watching TV, not because it’s what you want to be doing, but because it’s all you have energy for.
At worst, you spend your life chasing other people’s expectations. Doing what you think you should be doing. Working for some future happiness. Waiting for that day when…
That’s what makes the broken leg so heartbreaking. Because you just assume Said’s happiness depended on how he did at the Olympics.
You assume he’s feeling sad and frustrated and disappointed, and that it’s reasonable for him to feel that way.
And it is.
But at the end of the day, his happiness will depend on how he got there and how he sees the experience. On whether he was living for the day when he landed that vault at the Olympics, or if he was enjoying the work he put it, feeling satisfied about meeting his daily goals and being the person he wanted to be.
That broken leg was so heartbreaking because at some point in our lives, we’ve been there. I know I have. I’ve broken my leg in the worst way.
And for a really long time, I had all those negative emotions. I was frustrated. I was angry. I was filled with regret.
But today, I can honestly say that I’m not. I’ve changed the way I approach my life. I’ve learned to enjoy each day, while working toward my goals. To constantly be solving problems, remaining optimistic, and being the person who I want to be.
At the end of the day, breaking your leg is always going to suck, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It is clearly worse than not breaking your leg, no matter which way you slice it.
But it is possible to break your leg and still be happy.
And I know that’s not what you’ve been told your entire life. Success and happiness are supposed to go hand-in-hand. Failure is supposed to be sad.
But when that failure isn’t your fault. When you did everything you could. When you lived your life the way you wanted, to the best of your ability, you should have every reason to be happy, regardless of what went down.
Win or lose. Success or failure. Broken leg or perfect vault.
With the right mindset, it’s all irrelevant. It doesn’t matter.
That’s what being happy is all about. Don’t give people, or life, or your legs, the power to control your happiness.
Put your happiness in your hands and then do everything in your power to never let it go.
For more tips on how to do just that, like my Facebook page!