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11 February 2012

Finding Happiness

One of the assignments I give my creative writing students is to write me letters each week. Often students will ask questions in these letters, and I'll usually attempt to answer them. Recently, I was moved by a letter a student wrote including many questions this individual was struggling with, mostly related to happiness and why it has proved so illusive in his twenty or so years on earth; and he understands how fortunate he is to have been born into a family of adequate (or even more than adequate) means, in the United States of America, in the 21st Century (realistically speaking, he's hit the jackpot considering the potential for randomness in any such equation), yet he's still feeling far from any real happiness.

Some of the questions/comments from the letter appear below:

"I just don't understand the [notion of] 'live life to the fullest' "

"Life is just so complex and vague."

"I just don't get why we are here."

"Please give me some advice on how to make me happy." 

Let's turn to one of the founders of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. He cared enough about happiness to include these lines in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." 

I wonder how many documents designed to set down laws for governing nations across the globe include the word "happiness" in their founding documents? I suspect not many. Why was it so important to Jefferson? Why would someone of his intellect purposely seek to include that concept in the document?
That "the pursuit of Happiness" is "endowed by [a] Creator" is powerful stuff. Was Jefferson acknowledging that deep within our being is the longing for happiness? Was Jefferson allowed a window into the mind of the Creator of the Universe? I think so.

I would like to look at the questions/statements raised above by my student a bit more closely.

"I just don't understand the [notion of] 'live life to the fullest' "  

This quote indicates that my student believes others are somehow exempt from his struggle--that they're enjoying life and wondering why he isn't, almost demanding that he get his act together and start living it up! But one should never try to judge someone else's happiness from external observations. Let's not measure our happiness (or our misery for that matter) against another's. These experiences and perceptions are inherently personal and subjective, and it is a great waste of time and huge cause of stress I might add to let the mind wander into those areas. The first thing I would tell this student is to forget what other people think he should be doing.

"Life is just so complex and vague."

I think my student is quite right about this, though we often (most of the time) make it way more complex than it really needs to be, especially regarding happiness. In all honestly, most of the experiences that have made me happy were rather simple. The summer sun on my face. Immersion in the ocean, allowing my body to float along with the rising and falling motion of the waves. Digging in the earth with my hands, harvesting herbs and playing with plants. Enjoying the company of animals and children, with their irrepressible enthusiasm for life, inherent optimism, and unconditional love. This is pretty simple stuff. I imagine whatever makes this letter writer happy might be in many ways equally simple; perhaps looking for happiness in huge, earth shattering moments is the first error in judgment. And waiting for happiness to grab you is probably not the surest way to enjoy similarly simple yet profound blessings that life has to offer, right here and right now.

"I just don't get why we are here."

This is another deep question--worthy of some deep thought and meditation for sure. But why not simplify this quest just a little. Let's just start from the notion that no matter what the reason, we are here. We have the present moment. Let that be enough. Let life exist for it's own sake. No one knows for sure what awaits us afterwards (or before?) we're born, live, and die, but we have some constants while we're here. We get to breathe. We get the opportunity to create our own meaning while we are, and I'll offer a simple strategy to find that path to happiness: Be of some use to others while you are here.  Helping others "get through" each minute, hour, day, year, decade, century, whatever is a noble pursuit in itself. Everyone has problems and needs and troubles. Strange and miraculous things happen when you help others, and, somehow, you feel better because you feel useful. You forget about your own problems when you help someone else with their problems.

"Please give me some advice on how to make me happy." 

Find something you're passionate about. Don't put any conditions upon this dream, just allow it to ferment in your brain. What does it look like? No matter how silly or frivolous or how impractical, what would you be doing right now that would really make you happy and who would you be doing it with? Give form and name to any random wish you've always harbored in your secret heart, especially one you've previously dismissed as unimportant enough to ponder except in the deepest recesses of your mind. Even better, acknowledge the void in your head and heart that you will at some point allow to be filled and bless that void and hold it close.

Eyes closed. Deep breath. Don't exhale just yet. OK, exhale. Eyes still closed. What word, wish, or image fills this void? Don't judge it--just hold it close and see what it reveals. You'll never go wrong following bliss or beauty.

Appreciate and hold dear your vague longings, your dissatisfaction with the "happiness" everyone else seems to be enjoying that you're not. Allow yourself to feel whatever you feel, and as my teacher Susun Weed would say, use this "enemy" of dissatisfaction as an "ally" to lead you toward wholeness, an integrated and a more complete state of consciousness. I can only guarantee you one thing: Life in this human form will fly by about as fast as a bolt of lightning on a warm summer night. Not to be a downer, but let's say you never find happiness. Take it from me, life goes by so fast that by the time you really recognize how miserable you've been, it'll be over anyway! (Now where did that come from?)

All right, if all the above fails, here are a few other sure fire strategies you can pursue:

Stop buying things you do not need. Live below your means and give away all the crap you don't need. Clear out all the unnecessary possessions that weigh you down--you'll experience an incredible rush of freedom and lightness in your heart that might just lead to happiness.

Disconnect from all media and electronic devices whenever possible. Stop taking information into your being 24/7. Turn-off the cell phone, put down the laptop, get away from the television and do something real--something outside, perhaps something with other human beings of similar mindset or just by yourself; meet new people and talk to them if you want to know what's going on in the world. Debug your brain because it's full of crap you didn't even put there. News/information, the kind you think you need to be kept up to date on will most assuredly squelch any opportunity for serenity or happiness. Strive at all costs to take in less information than you do at present. 

A few simple steps might include putting down the sunscreen and sunglasses and getting more sunlight on your face and skin so your body can produce that "happy" chemical called Vitamin D. Strive to eat more healthy fats, especially saturated fat from organic and wild animal sources.  Most humans in developed countries in this modern age are severely Vitamin D deficient and starved for healthy fat. The brain gets very down without those two substances.

Lastly, go find someone worse off than yourself and make her smile! Realize we're all just trying to get by and we desperately need each other. This longing is a good thing if it pushes you to connect with someone else. A moment shared in such a state of full and complete presence will capture an eternity of bliss within a nanosecond. The simplest way to be happy is to make someone else happy. Live in the present moment. When you're with someone, really be with them.

1 comment:

  1. Ooh! Thanks alot for the article, it's kind of very interesting and useful too... I'm loving it thank you alot.


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