Do External Factors Control Your Happiness?

Somehow a tree has started controlling my moods. Every morning from my second story bedroom, I peer through the slats of my cheap rental blinds at the majestic tree across the street. It is old and beautiful and huge, towering at least four stories high.

When we moved in, it was lushly green. A month or so ago, it turned gold. Even now with the increasing cold, when the sun shines upon those quickly drying up leaves, they glow like melted copper against the clear blue sky. 

No matter how tired I am when the alarm goes off, the sight of that tree on a sunny morning fills me with happiness.

Earlier this week, though, clouds filled the sky for three days straight. Outside the window, the tree didn’t shine. Its brown leaves, clinging for life, only served to remind me that winter’s bitter cold is coming and with it endless cloudy Midwestern days. On those mornings, the tree didn’t fill me with joy. I saw only dead leaves that would crumple if I touched them. The thought left me feeling gloomy.

I found myself turning on every light in the house just so the day felt brighter. I ran my light therapy lamp so much, I got nearly blinding headaches every afternoon.

So when the sunshine returned this morning, I felt a huge sigh of relief. It seems silly that a tree could hold so much pull over my daily moods. After all, the tree hadn’t changed, other than it losing a few more leaves. It is only the light that altered my perspective each day.

Theoretically, I buy into the idea that—barring clinical depression or true tragedy—happiness is a choice. But in reality, some days happiness doesn't feel like a choice. Some days whether we are happy may depend on something as uncontrollable as the sun. It doesn't seem like a very smart (or happy) way to live.

Perhaps the lesson we are meant to learn as we age is that we can’t let external factors cloud our vision. They can enhance our lives, but true happiness must begin with a light that shines from within. 

Then again, what do I know? I'm just a lunatic with a strange tree obsession.

 

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