When I was in high school I had an amazing history teacher/yearbook adviser. Sometime during my junior year she hung a sign in her room that said, “HIAD.” After asking her several times what HIAD meant, she finally told my history class this story:
“When I was at Ricks College in 1978-1979, I worked part-time on campus for two professors. One of them was an amazing woman who probably taught me more than any single person, with the exception of my parents. On her office door were the letters HIAD. I walked in and out of this office for the better part of two semesters before I bothered to ask her what it meant. She was very pleased when I finally did ask, and told me she never shares the story unless someone wants to know.
“This professor had a brother who was a doctor. He became involved in something he shouldn’t have and with people he should have stayed away from. I was never sure exactly what the deal was there, but guessed it had something to do with illegal prescription drugs or bad adoptions. He came to her one night and told her that there was a contract out for his murder and he knew that it was just a matter of time. He asked a favor of her. He wanted her to put the letters HIAD on her office door so students coming and going through the years would see them. It stands for “happiness is a decision.”
“The brother was dead in less than a week, and the letters went up on the office door where they remained until her retirement from Ricks College. The professor’s brother had made some bad choices, but wanted us to know that if we want to be happy in life, we make the decision and then work toward that goal. It is an important lesson for each of us, and has become a guiding thought in my own life. Without a doubt, I know that happiness truly is a decision each of us can make.”
I have my own HIAD sign hanging in my bedroom and another smaller one on the dashboard of my car. Like these two women, I only tell people what it means if they ask; this post is the only exception I am willing to make in that matter. But regardless of how prominently the letters are placed throughout my life, I only very rarely consider the meaning behind HIAD.
Just an hour ago I sat on my bed with my back to the wall where my HIAD sign hangs thinking about a few things in my life that leave me feeling discouraged. After I had exhausted every negative thought in my brain on those matters I thought to myself, “Well. I guess I’ll just deal with it.” Had I turned around while I was sitting there on my bed maybe I would have remembered that happiness is a decision.
The attitude of “powering through” the tough stuff isn’t necessarily a bad outlook to have. As human beings, we are by nature resilient. We are built to work through difficult things. But is that really what my life is about? Am I here to simply put up with every discouraging thing that happens to me? I think the answer is no. Life isn’t all hearts and flowers, but I believe it is meant to be enjoyed. But before I (or anyone else) can truly enjoy life, I have to first decide to enjoy it.
Deciding to be happy is an awesome idea, but how does one put that into practice? Happiness isn’t something you pick up at the store. Happiness is an incredibly elusive goal, because it’s one that cannot be obtained directly. It’s much like the goal of having good health. You can’t become healthy by just wanting good health. You must exercise, eat right, and take care of your body first, and then a healthier body will be a natural result of those actions.
Aristotle said that happiness is “an activity of soul in accordance with virtue.” Much like good health is the natural result of healthy habits, happiness is the natural result of virtuous actions. These virtuous actions can be religious, but do not have to be. Virtues like honesty, respect, generosity, loyalty, and patience are valued by a vast majority of the world.
The challenge is to decide whether or not to act upon these virtues. In deciding this, you indirectly decide to be happy or unhappy. But it’s a decision only you can make.