Five steps are too long. One is enough.

One thing I learned about happiness is that I can anticipate it. Once I apply a set of “seed” conditions and continue them on daily basis, such as waking up early, say I love you to people I care, write during the morning, or eat at my favorite café, happiness grows on a daily basis as if an elementary school student grows sunflower. All I have to do is to water my seed and the rest flourishes automatically.

Tragedy, on the other hand, cannot be anticipated. It always arrives as an un-welcomed guest. It does not even knock on my life’s door. One moment I am a happy person, and the next I am no longer someone whom I knew. Car accident, death of a relative, a breakup, loss of a job, they all come out of the blue and knocks me down. To be honest, sometimes we receive small “clues” but we have an uncanny ability to suppress its significance until the last moment.

(I wish I had their ability—but not their fate.)

Knowing that bad things can happen anytime to anybody, we might all be living under depression and desperation, aware that we are always at the edge of darkness.

But we aren’t. Most of us possess the ability to live in a cheerful mood, pushing the idea of sudden fatality out of our head. When we feel gloomy, it is usually because of the same ability to create our happiness: the anticipation (that bad things may happen). We are more or less happy because we can easily forget inconvenient truths.

But that’s not enough, isn’t it? We can’t be living on eggshells and pretend the world is perfect. In order to be truly happy no matter what, we got to go a bit further in our mental framework.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, a psychiatrist who pioneered near-death studies, created a model describing the five stages we go through when we face our death. From Wikipedia

  1. Denial — “I feel fine.”; “This can’t be happening, not to me.”
  2. Anger — “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; ‘”Who is to blame?”
  3. Bargaining — “I’ll do anything for a few more years.”; “I will give my life savings if…”
  4. Depression — “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die soon so what’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?”
  5. Acceptance — “It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”

I think what we go through during our deathbed can be applied to our daily ups and downs, although on a much less serious tone.

Following this time-tested model, I might say that our daily happiness based on blissful ignorance belongs to the first step, denial. And our sudden plunge into tragedy is at the second step, anger. From then on, we might need to go through the other three steps. We try to bargain by searching for an escape route, fall into depression after finding none, and reach acceptance when we hit the ground and start to face reality.

Five steps are too long and boring. Can’t we make them shorter?

Taking a close look at the model, the first four steps—Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression—are all about escaping from reality in one way or other.

Therefore, the model can be shortened into two steps instead of five:

  1. Escape.
  2. Accept.

That’s it, except it isn’t.

Can’t we shorten the steps even more aggressively, say, into just one step? Now that’s really a challenge, but as we look at the above two steps, we all know the answer.

  1. Accept.

Whatever salvation or hope we are looking for goes down to one word: Accept. Note that it shouldn’t be taken in the context of “give up,” such as an overbearing parent squashing his or her child’s ambition by telling him how the real world works. Acceptance in this context means more like embracing.

Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, we now have a magical keyword that can rid of all our complicated religious affairs, therapies, self-improvements, coaching. I suspect whatever life-improvement technique or teaching we might be learning, we are all just using different Hows, but the same What.

Isn’t it?