Thursday, February 26, 2009
The Pursuit of Happiness
Happiness. What is it? How do we get it? Why is it so elusive? Why do some people seem happy while others seem perpetually troubled and unhappy? Why do we look at some people who have been through terrible hardship that makes you think they couldn't possibly be happy yet find that, somehow,they are.
Most of us spend our lives in the pursuit of happiness. As a younger woman I searched for it at parties and bars. What I often found was just a lot of beer. I met a lot of cool people, I don't regret one single solitary drunk or sober moment spent at a bar or house party. Was I happy then? Relatively so. But not like I am now. I think I experienced happiness but mostly I was confusing happiness with fun. Fun is good. Fun can make you happy, as long as you are having fun. I think that's why some people keep looking for fun, they confuse it with happiness because, for that brief time while they are at the bar having a great time, they feel as though they are happy. Overall though, the pursuit of fun is not necessarily the same as the pursuit of happiness. I have, at times, gone out and had a whole lot of fun while my underlying emotional status was definitely not happy.
What we need to be searching for is a general happiness. An underlying satisfaction, a daily feeling that there is every reason to have a smile on my face.
And I think I've found it.
To some extent, if you look at my life now, you would see lots of reasons why I should be unhappy. Financial setbacks, I'm home alone almost all the time with three children, a house to maintain while my partner is off trying to get us back on our feet from a period without work. There is the chance that we'll have to leave this nice town we live in, our home we had custom built to move to a new place where we can find a better job that is more family-friendly for my husband. All of that should make me unhappy. I really should be stressed. I love it here and I don't want to leave. I love my home. And I do have moments where I am stressed. But I don't spend to much time worrying about it. It may never happen. It might. Worrying about it won't change the outcome.
With all that though, still the underlying emotion of my life is happiness. I am healthy, I have a healthy family. In fact, this is the single thing that brings me back to gratefulness and happiness whenever I'm tempted to drift to self-pity or sadness. I have 4 daughters who are, at this very moment, safe and healthy. How can I be anything other than happy?
I have a husband, who, while at the other end of the country, is safe, doing the best he can to earn a living for us, and who had me howling with laughter a while ago on the phone. I have time to write, something I didn't have not that long ago. The lights are on, the computer is running, my dog sleeps at my feet, warming my toes, the cat is curled in a tortoiseshell ball of fuzz on the stairs. There is food in the pantry and we're good for now. It is very unlikely, living in this wonderful, peaceful country, that my family and I will ever go hungry or be without a home. We might have change, we might have upheaval but we'll be fine.
What brought me this happiness? A long and complicated journey that led to one single and simple thing. I decided to be. Someone asked Robert Downey Jr." What was different this time that led to your recovery from drug addiction" and he said "I decided to be". How very profound. And applicable to almost any aspect of life including happines. Decide to be, the take the steps to ensure you are successful at it.
My happiness is not dependant on some outside force, someone is not going to come along and make me happy. More money would ease the burden a bit but it alone won't provide happiness. I also, a few years back, decided to let go of those people in my life who created disharmony and disruption and I replaced them with those who only have love to offer. And I let go of any guilt I had from doing so. The journey through that was hard, the other side of the journey was worth the work.
I let go of my need to go out and have fun and instead cultivated a home that is peaceful, funny and happy. I let go of my need to control my family, particularly my children and instead work on my relationships with them. I don't punish my children when they do something I feel is not a positive choice, instead I talk to them and work through things with them. In the long run I think we'll all be better off. I kiss and hug them daily and tell them that I'm glad I'm their mom. I work hard at making them laugh and giggle a lot during the day because their happiness makes me happier.
I miss my husband when he's gone, but I'm grateful I have a partner who is wonderful, supportive and loving. I can't help but be happy when I'm loved by such a man.
And the single most important thing I've done is commit to living each day looking for ways to serve others. Right now a great portion of that is in serving my younger children and to a lesser extent my older ones. But I also look for ways in daily life to do so even if it's just a kind word, a happy smile, or a wave to a neighbour.
It's taken some time, but once I decided to give up the pursuit of happiness and replace it with happiness it became easier. And while there are moments of frustration, times of sadness, times of anger and despair, underneath it all, I'm fundamentally happy.
And that's all because, I decided to be.
"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion". His Holiness the Dalai Lama