This will be short and sweet. We all want to be happy, so we say. We even have a movie “The Pursuit of Happiness”. In the end there are two types of happiness or two ways to reach it. Or three? We shall see.
I came to the conclusion that most of us are not in pursuit of happiness, but in pursuit of feeling good. We just want to feel good. Either loved, touched (wanted), feel the thrill of achievement, of a runner’s high… And in that pursuit some reach out for the shortcuts like a drink or drugs or food. I’m the one reaching out for food.
But I’m mostly still happy. How come?
Of course everything can be a matter of perspective and it’s important to develop that sense of humility and gratitude.
Here it comes. One way I ever feel happy is when I feel proud of myself. I feel proud of myself when I managed to accept a challenge, something I’m perhaps a bit afraid to do, something which demands either courage or perseverance or both. For example.
Years ago when I was stuck in the rut of office work, I asked myself what scares me. The answer was, wedding photography. I was reading up on it and preparing my skills for three years and yet I didn’t dare to do a wedding, because I knew what a great responsibility it was. Thinking back on the crazy challenges I’ve accepted in my life makes me proud, makes me happy.
Second. Taking over responsibility. Now this one is linked with the first one but not necessarily. The first one is about MY own challenges, for my amusement at the end of the day. But what I mean by ‘taking over responsibility’ is for someone else. For your partner, for your children. In my case, it was really scary to take over responsibility for my step children. As a step mom, I’m in a tricky situation and yet also a great one. I can’t bitch and moan at the kids, that would only make me seem like the evil step mom. So I’m forced to find other ways. Like simply singing to myself every time I’m cleaning after them, it’s only for a couple of years.
Meanwhile I got used to the effort. I try to teach them how they can do things better, and I try to live by example which I know is the biggest influencer down the road. They always find me kind, in a good mood and if I can’t be in a good mood, I at least explain that it has nothing to do with them and I apologise for not being all smiles. But that’s rare these days.
Cooking every day, cleaning every day on the go without being able to moan about it reminds me that I chose this role, this life and I better step up to it and do it with some dignity and grace and without any martyrdom.
And then there is the other kind of happiness.
While the first two are about taking on a challenge or responsibility, for yourself, for others, the third one is simply about learning to stay in the moment. This is more than just the buddhist view of life.
You’ve heard this often I’m sure “It’s not about the goal, it’s about the journey.” But actually it’s not even about the journey in this case. OK, wait a second. I think I need to split this one in two.
When it comes to taking on a challenge or responsibility, applying this view is indeed about the journey, to simply enjoy the chores, enjoy the effort that goes into the challenge, or the overcoming of your fear and finding yourself in the middle of a wedding, not thinking and being totally in the zone of trying to capture those magical moments. So it’s action taken, in combination with enjoying the journey of it, the effort.
The thing that reminds me best of that is sports. I did a lot of sports as a kid and I LOVED the effort. Not many people do any more.
And then there is the other kind of staying in the moment, which has nothing to do with action or movement, and everything to do with simply being present.
Some people find it in meditation and that’s one way, a good one really. I remember, I was sitting in my simple room in Mexico, sitting at the edge of the bed, hands on my thighs, eyes closed, trying to clear my mind, hearing the birds outside, or the heavy rain, the fan on the ceiling… Then I would go down, make myself a herb tea and drink it very slowly, feeling the heat of the cup on my hands and pressed against my chest when it wasn’t too hot any longer. It took some practice, staying in the moment.
Today I did it differently. We had two days of snow (very rare in England) and it was a sunny day, so I finally went for a walk. And it was a glorious walk! I stopped at branches, really looking at the snow glittering in the sun. Then I took some between my fingers, felt the cold, and then put it in my mouth. I haven’t eaten snow in ages! I used to do it as a kid. But I didn’t rush to those memories, I stayed in my moment, I enjoyed it today. I kept walking, enjoying the sound of the snow crunching under my feed. What a delight! And then I found some fields and I stood alone in the middle of snowy fields. On my way back home I discovered a new beautiful path with trees on both sides reaching over on the top, forming an arcade almost. The sun was melting the snow off the branches, so glittery droplets would be falling sideways, carried by the light wind…
These are just ways how to pull yourself into the present. The art is staying in the present, not wishing for anything else. Not for a goal, not pursuing anything. I know that when I’ve reached a goal, I might get a slight rush of endorphins, sure, but it’s over in a blink of an eye. It’s not worth it. That’s why I don’t care much for reaching a goal. Sure, I will try to complete it, like publishing my book would be a good example. What makes me happy is looking back and being proud of myself that I was able to finish something. The work itself was often tedious. The day I published my book I felt more relief that it was over than a thrill.
I don’t need goals to be happy in my basic self. I’ve learned in Mexico (because I was reading certain books, not so much because of Mexico, but the surrounding helped), that happiness is already in me. I know, I know, it sounds so cheesy. “Love is already in you, happiness is already in you.” But it is! Look. A simple example. Where do we take our capacity for love from? Does it need to be inspired from outside? No. You know that, I know that. We don’t act like it, but on some level we realise that.
I… I can choose to love. My capacity for love is already there. For myself, for a partner, for the whole world if I like. Most of us are trying to reserve love only for the one person who impresses us enough, perhaps for some friends or family. I find we’ve become very afraid of love and kind of scarce with it.
No, it’s not easy to love the whole world. It’s scary and why would I, right? Well, I chose to. What was the alternative? To hate everyone? What kind of existence would that be? A bitter and lonely one.
So I learned what my boundaries are and I chose to find a deep understanding and compassion for people in general. For men in general. It wasn’t a blind decision, it was an informed one. I learned about men, I learned about women, about our pain and how to deal with it. To open your heart outwards as well as inwards (letting yourself be loved) is truly scary, yes. Hence – boundaries (and confidence) and then it’s much easier and not that scary at all any more.
Happiness works in the same way as love. I can choose to be happy, no matter what circumstances I’m in. It’s a very quiet happiness. It feels more like eternal calm.
If I want some extra happiness, I take on a challenge so I can feel proud. I don’t need the validation from others, just from myself.
Everything else are extras, wonderful extras! If you have lovely people around you that you can trust and who love you, that’s amazing! If you are surrounded by beautiful nature, a beautiful home – extras. Anything outside you which makes you feel good is an extra and it’s welcome.
But what do you do when you can’t choose your surroundings like for example we’re in this lockdown and because the children have moved in, I don’t have a room of my own any longer (which is the fate of most women I suppose). And that’s not easy to bare and it could drive me mad or crazy, but it does’t any more. I can’t change this right now, perhaps one day. So I focus on how I can make others happy and also myself. I can cook for my family (love indeed goes through our stomach) and it makes me happy to see them happy. And then there is my writing or other little things I can do myself, for myself, and redirect my focus on what I CAN do, instead of what I can’t change right now.
Being happy is an art.
Feeling good, chasing the feeling of feeling good is a nice chase and can be fun and there is nothing wrong with it (like having good sex for example), as long as it’s not lazy and destructive.
I like to use the saying ‘The soul will always do what it needs to do” but that doesn’t mean I will ever stop trying to force my thoughts and with it my soul in the right direction, a healthy and useful one. Because if I had always followed my destructive instincts, I would have successfully killed myself long ago, weigh 600 pounds or try to ruin other people’s lives.
I know that sometimes it seems impossible to prevent being self-destructive and we need to hit rock bottom before we can get up again. It’s only human, it’s how we are built and it’s one of the things which frustrate me the most.
But there is the hope that we will always find the strength to at least TRY to go against our destructive instincts, to fight that inner fight, even when we are losing – until one day the fight pays off.
Of course there are great tools that can help us inspire being in a good mood if that’s what we want, like music, laughter… But while my husband will use music every day to get himself moving and be joyful (annoyingly so at times, LOL), I find myself mostly enjoying the quietness. What I need is the sun but for that I live in the wrong country :). Hence why you hear me dreaming of Mexico so often.