This is the 14th quote of 16 in a series called, 16 Principles of Happiness from the 16th President.
“You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.”
~ Abraham Lincoln
Do you know your family line? Do you have someone famous perched in your family tree? Do you come from colonial stock? Did your ancestors hobnob with kings and queens or rock stars and movie stars? Do you have a rich uncle? A dad who is regularly featured on the cover of Fortune 5oo? If so, well, I guess that’s wonderful.
I have to admit to getting some satisfaction knowing that I have an ancestor who was part of the Underground Railroad in the U.S., helping to shuttle runaway slaves to northern Free states prior to the Civil War.
But here’s the question: Just how does this ancestral bit of inspiration serve me? Let me put it another way: Do my ancestors (or parent’s) greatness (or depravity, as the case may be – I mean, someone, is related to historical thugs like Stalin and Hitler) add or detract from my personal character or purpose or happiness?
I hope you don’t think so.
Genetics, family dynamics and family culture, even ethnic or national identity are not permanently defining. There is some evidence that genetics may set a range of happiness, but even if true, it doesn’t peg us at a particular level of joy. Still, family and culture are often quite branding. But here’s the point: They don’t have to be.
We allow the past to define the present by choosing to live by default.
Living by Default
When we coast through life on automatic pilot, resting on the laurels (or excusing ourselves for the ugliness) of those we’re genetically linked to, we miss opportunities to grow and develop and create a self-identity different from the one we were raised with.
Genetic association is a poor basis for constructing a life.
We also miss out on opportunities to increase the joy we can feel from a happy life that is the result of people turning off cruise control and gripping the steering wheel of their lives with both hands and giving life a little gas!
Who your grandparent was, or who your father or mother are, or who they failed to be, or how they raised you, or treated you, or that they may not have raised you at all, can have tremendous pull in our lives. Deep scars and wounds and imprints are left. Dirty parental hands leave finger prints everywhere on our hearts and minds and character. They set the stage upon which we live our lives and build our relationships and work and play and laugh and cry.
Often the image we see in the mirror when we look deeply enough is the image they cast us in. They painted the background and colored (or discolored) the glass so that we see ourselves only indistinctly.
But it doesn’t have to be this way!
We can re-script our lives, rewrite the ending to the play, ad lib the music that is the soundtrack to our lives as it plays in the background of what we think, what we value, how we live.
Re-writing and re-scripting requires that we delve deeply into the inner workings of our hearts and souls, discovering what’s there and where it comes from. Only then can we begin the process of deeply rewriting the content of our souls so that it becomes more than surface graffiti.
Then we can overlay a new set of values, a new set of priorities, a new set of realities and interpretations on life, erasing the garbage underneath at the same time. “Overlay” is really the wrong word here, I suppose. You might call it Identity Replacement Therapy. The old way of seeing the world can be replaced by the way you choose to see it, to interpret what others say and do.
But remember, these kinds of internal replacements can take time and lots of work reprogramming how we habitually think.
The past has tremendous pull. It will take consistent practice and honest appraisal to fully rewrite what has been scripted for us.
5 Steps to Rewriting Your Inner Dialogue
1. Write your eulogy (I first came across this concept in Stephen R. Convey’s writings). How would you want others to remember you? What traits and characteristics would you want eulogized at your funeral.
2. Rate yourself. How do you stack up to the ideal. Self awareness is important in this process.
3. Read deeply from wisdom literature. The Bible, the Torah, Buddha’s Dhammapada, the Upanishads, the Book of Mormon, the Quran, and so forth. Drinking deeply from such literature can help you begin to see yourself through more spiritual or enlightened eyes.
You can then begin to awaken something inside that recognizes itself as partly divine, as part of something much larger than the flesh and the past and your history in an imperfect family. You can begin to see something very different reflecting back at you when you look deeply in the mirror. The shades and hues that discolor your self-image can start to fall away, burned off by the new light you begin to discover softly glowing somewhere inside you soul.
4. Write out a new self-identity based on what you wrote in the eulogy. See this part as a sacred ceremony of sorts, a sacrament or rite of passage. Take it seriously and think deeply about who you will be. Draw from your “eulogy.” Speak in the present tense. This is something you ARE.
5. Read it daily, hourly if needed. Remember, you are re-scripting your role, your identity, who you are and what makes you tick. That is the eternal beauty of life. We are the masters of our own souls. We choose what we will be, who we are inside, what will motivate us, what will impassion our lives.
But remember, we all fall short of our ideals. We are flawed and imperfect. It is expected that old habits will rear their ugly heads from time to time. That’s okay. Just get back up, regroup, refocus, make whatever amends need to be made, and shove off, keep going, course correct as needed.
In the end, it really doesn’t matter how noble or ignoble your ancestry was. It doesn’t matter where you come from, on what side of the tracks you were born.
You see, what your past is all about is not what life is all about. Your happiness is not tied with unbreakable bands to yesterday.
What matters, what really matters, is where you are going. I don’t care so much about where you’ve been as much as where you plan to go, who you are and who you are evolving into. Who your parents are is of little consequence. But who you choose to make yourself into, well, that is the key.
Are you sitting in stagnant waters, in the dark pools of liquid memory? Or are you swimming in the vibrant river of hope and faith and possibility? Are you actively climbing to new heights, filling life with imagination and creativity and activity? That, my friend, is the secret to a happy life.
So break the pull of yesterday by living and doing today what will create an amazing tomorrow!
I hope M2bH and this post can serve you in that process!
What Do You Think?
- If you like this post, don’t forget to share. Sharing is caring! See the social media buttons below!
- But most importantly, please share your thoughts in the comments below.
- Have you had to do much re-scripting yourself?
- What helped you rewrite your self-image?
- Share your story and the secrets you’ve discovered or the thoughts you have to living the life you were meant to live!
Click on any of the posts in this series for further reading:
- 16 Principles of Happiness from the 16th President
- We’ve Seen Lincoln on the Penny; Now let’s hear him on Happiness!
- Tearing Down and Building Up: Envy and Success
- There’s More than One Way to Live Forever … Leaving a Legacy
- 5 Enslaving Habits We Must Avoid
- 10 Practical Ways to Develop Self-mastery
- You Have To Do Your Own Growing No Matter how Tall Your Grandfather Was
- 10 Ways You Too Can Stop Being So EASILY Offended
- A House Divided is Happiness Diminished