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  • Writer's pictureElfreda Manahan-Vaughan

Does life happen to you or do you happen to life?

How an internal focus of control contributes to our happiness.


I often come across the saying ‘Happiness is an inside job’ and I find myself nodding in agreement as I ponder my own interpretation of happiness. For me being happy is not the same as pleasure which is short lived and transient, often coming from external pleasures such as a slice of cheesecake (one of my favourites) or from the rush of endorphins when you see something you love or the wonderful feeling of oxytocin you get when hugging a loved one or from the adoring gaze of your dog. For me happiness is a constant that flows underneath everything, it is a contentment and sense of surety, it is present regardless of the ups and downs of life. Happiness is like the rails of a rollercoaster, always underneath you no matter how high or low you go.


‘Happiness is like the rails of a rollercoaster, always underneath you no matter how high or low you go’.

I’ve always been an optimist so finding the good in things has come easily to me. I didn’t always believe I was happy though, because when I was younger I was more focused on getting things and having things to make me feel happy. My happiness was dependent on circumstance and I think because of that fact I felt like a victim for much of my life. In his book, Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Wellbeing, Brian R. Little discusses how having an internal or external focus can impact our happiness and sense of mental wellbeing. According to research, if you are externally focused you are more likely to feel like a victim of circumstance and feel you have little control over what is occurring in your life. If you believe that you have no control over what happens to you then, you feel helpless. Brian R. Little states that ‘control, challenge and commitment’ are essential for us to be able to manage our stress and to feel happy. So, what does and internally focused person do differently to an externally focused person?

An internally focused person believes that they are in control of what happens to them and that they determine how their life goes. When events occur in their life they look to problem solving and taking charge of events rather than feeling that they are helpless. This was the key change for me in my life when my locus-of-control shifted internally. I can remember it well, I was in my early twenties and I decided I was going to take full responsibility for everything that was occurring in my life and no longer blame anyone for what was happening to me. It was a little scary at first as I found myself apologising for all sorts of things past and present. I became much more aware of how others were feeling and explored why they may be behaving the way they were, when I was feeling hurt or angry. It was this decision that lead me to meditation and to NLP and, it is definitely the reason I do what I do now.

‘You always get to choose the metric by which to measure your experience’. Mark Manson

I think one of the biggest things we struggle with when it comes to taking responsibility is the difference between responsibility and fault. Mark Manson has a great explanation of this in his book, ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. Manson says that responsibility and fault are not the same thing. According to him, ‘with great responsibility comes great power’, a play on the famous saying ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. Events may happen in our life that are not our fault but how we react to them or what happens afterwards is our responsibility. Regardless of what occurs you must always choose how to respond and you can either choose to feel helpless and in turn feel sad or angry or you can take responsibility for how you feel and chose to be happy. As Mark Manson says, ‘you always get to choose the metric by which to measure your experience’.


When I read the above, I did some research into what the meaning of certain words are and how this influences the way feel. When I looked up ‘victim’ in the dictionary it says, ‘a person who is deceived or cheated by his or her own emotions or ignorance, by the dishonesty of others, or by some impersonal agency’. I was amazed to see that it referenced deceiving ourselves first. The antonym of victim is cognizant, ‘to have cognizance, awareness, realization of knowledge’. Of course, then you can argue if you are not the victim then perhaps you are the culprit, and the dictionary describes that as someone who is culpable, ‘responsible for an offence’ or to be answerable.


I think that knowing the difference between fault and responsibility is vital when it comes to choosing to be happy, the more you take charge of how you feel and become more internally referenced, the easier it is for you to find that constant which is happiness. Taking responsibility for your thinking, your actions, and acknowledging your impact on your experience through your thoughts, is the beginning of moving away from victimhood. It stops you feeling like a victim of circumstance and changes you to someone who is cognizant and in turn empowered. You can choose to believe you have no control and always focus outside yourself or, you can chose to take responsibility for what you experience and focus internally on your power and ability to make yourself happy. Happiness is an inside job so you have to decide does life happen to you, or do you happen to life?


Thanks for reading for more information on my one to one coaching or on my training for schools or business check out the rest of my website or my Facebook page. I am happy to answer any of your questions, Elfreda


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