This past October, Katy Khaos, her husband, and I made the trek from the suburbs of Philadelphia to Brooklyn to attend LibertyFest 2014.  This was the first libertarian event of any significance that I had ever attended, so I was excited to have the opportunity to meet many of the people I’ve come to admire.  I left LibertyFest with some new friends, knowledge, and plenty of great memories, which is exactly what I expected to leave with.  There was one thing, however, that I received that I did not expect.

The Monday after LibertyFest, I sent Katy this text: “I was in such a good mood yesterday because of Saturday.”

In reality, I was still in a good mood, but it took me a few days to realize why.  I had to let the experiences of the day settle in my mind.  I gained an insight into myself—or maybe I just finally admitted to myself that I needed to make a change in my life.  I realized that I was preventing myself from being happy and having a sense of peace.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a depressed person and I’m generally in a pleasant mood.  There are plenty of times, however, where I dwell on the various negatives of life, which not surprisingly have considerable effects on my state of mind.

Everyone likes the underdog—they like it so much that people tend to go out of their way to be the underdog.  Or at least I did that, and considering the results, I look back and feel stupid about it.  Life didn’t always work out the way I had wanted it to, but instead of saying, “I’m going to do what I have to do to change things” or “Sometimes there are just things that you have no control over, so I’m going to accept it and move on,” I would sulk on the inside, thinking how unfair things were.

Even then I knew it was a bit ridiculous for me to get upset over such small things and it’s not as though I never put any blame on myself.  I knew I had a good life and I tried to keep myself grounded at times by thinking that some people have a lot more than I but are much less happy and how some others have a lot less but are much happier.  It wasn’t until I attended LibertyFest and had time to digest my experience did I finally bring that thought to its logical conclusion: people create their own happiness.  My own personal feelings of frustration and negativity were the result of my decision to feel that way.

It seems so obvious now and maybe even silly to some, but as I touched on earlier, it is very difficult to admit that it is yourself that is the problem.  Until you can admit that, you are a slave to your negative emotions.  What are you going to do about it?  There is no “There’s nothing I can do about it.”  The feeling of helplessness is self-imposed and is only useful for making you feel sorry for yourself.  Not surprisingly, feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t lead to happiness.  Even when something is out of your control, what is in your control is how you deal with that.  This is how many of the people at LibertyFest carried seemed to carry themselves and exuded though no one was walking around saying any of this.  You could almost just feel it off them.

I’m not suggesting that there is never a time to be sad, angry, frustrated, etc.  The day before attending LibertyFest, I had a very stressful day at work.  If I had felt anything other than stress and frustration over what was happening, then something surely would have been wrong with me!  There is a time and a place for all emotions, but when you dwell on the negative ones, what should you expect to become of it other than negativity?  Identify what is causing you to feel upset and work on correcting it.

We have all dealt with the loss of a loved one in our lives.  This is a good example of when the feelings of sadness and pain are appropriate.  The healing process takes some people longer than others but never overcoming that pain isn’t healthy.  No one lives a life free from pain.  Sorrow and suffering are inevitable aspects of life.  What matters is how you let it affect you.  Do you put your head down and resign yourself to feelings of negativity or do you choose to overcome them and embark on a struggle to fight against them to find contentment?

Adam Kokesh gave a speech at LibertyFest spending a good deal of time talking about his new book, Freedom.  He explained how surprised he was that so few people talked about where freedom came from.  To Kokesh, freedom doesn’t just happen to you; you need to find it within yourself.  Even in a society without the state, not everyone would be free.  Money, drugs, alcohol, sex, pride, possessions, etc. are all things that can enslave us if we let them.  Like negative emotions, they are not necessarily bad at certain levels but each one has the ability to lead to personal destruction.

If you believe that you are the owner of your own body, then do just that: take ownership of yourself.  Coming to this realization can be unpleasant and uncomfortable, which is why we often trade long-term emotional wellbeing for short-term soothing.  If you want to experience growth as an individual, you cannot expect it happen without some degree of pain.  But don’t worry, that pain soon gives way to the satisfaction of knowing that you’re not powerless.

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