If I give myself permission to be happy then……
Then what happens? Does the sky fall? Does everyone get pissed at you? Do the bills not get paid and you fall into a dismal pool of defeat? Well I had all of my excuses as to why happiness was for other people but not for me. Earlier this year I had plenty of the “but you don’t understand” responses to the people who were pushing me…no gently shoving me…towards my happiness. Now just over three months into the change I can say most of the fearful thoughts haven’t come true at all. We all love Bob Marley’s song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” because it makes happiness seem so easy and accessible. But the version of happiness he sings seems to get ignited when Americans take vacations yearly or maybe not even that often. That version of happiness fades quickly. Research shows that people go back to what was their baseline shortly after returning from vacation. The Dali Lama discusses in his book “The Art of Happiness” that there is a difference between pleasure and happiness. Pleasure is fleeting like the feeling we have on vacation. Happiness is based more on internal feelings rather than emotion that is derived from something external. Think babies, giggly goofy little things. You rarely come across a pissed off baby. Right, they are a little young and underdeveloped to create resentments. It’s the things that happen to us and by us that change this giggly state to bitterness, frustration and resentment. While we can’t control things that happened to us, we do have control over our decisions. Happiness is an action; a verb not an adjective. Happy people aren’t the lucky ones. they are people who have made decisions to live in line with what brings them joy. They are people who, despite what might have happened to them, have found a way to embrace joy in the present moment. So how do we deal with all the crap that arises when we try to challenge our own ability to be happy?
My friend Pema Chodren (well to be honest she doesn’t really know we are friends) has an amazing ability to calm my nerves like no body’s business. I have always joked that if I could have Pema’s voice, yes we are on a first name basis, in my ear like Steve Martin’s Cyrano de Bergerac character CD in Roxanne, I would be golden. With Pema whispering into my ear, I would deal with every situation that life threw my way skillfully and respectfully. But until this occurs, I will deal with life’s ups and downs to the best of ability in the moment as we all do. Chodren writes in her book “The Places that Scare You,” “Trying to change ourselves doesn’t work in the long run because we’re resisting our own energy. Self improvement can have temporary results, but lasting transformation occurs only when we honor ourselves as the source of wisdom and compassion. It is only when we begin to relax with ourselves that meditation becomes a transformative process.” Wow, huh? Happiness is an action but what if the action that is needed to become happy is actually the process of becoming aware and comfortable with what is within? Interesting concept. Rather than trying to “work” towards changing who we are, we get to rest and listen to the whispers of our soul. This is definitely a different concept for Americans. We spend a lot of time in therapy and money on self help books trying to improve ourselves. But all the while happiness is within trapped inside beneath all of your fears, doubts, responsibilities and stressors. Part of the journey is to allow those fears to rise up to the surface and clear away like a rough storm. Rather than living our life in service of the fearful story, we see the fear, listen to the fear, but take steps forward anyway.
Chodren suggests that we “always keep a joyful mindful.” ALWAYS? When I first read this my first thought is “that is a lot of bs.” If I’m not feeling joyful, I don’t need to be joyful. Oooo there’s my resistance to happiness rising up to say “hello in case you didn’t know I’m here, I am.” But then after that emotional reaction calmed down I thought, “Hmm how many times have you continued to think pissed off thoughts in service of being more pissed off? huh?” That’s right we are perfectly willing to continue to wrestle with negative thoughts but the idea of only thinking joyful thoughts seems absurd! Curious. Howard C. Cutler wrote in his book “The Art of Happiness” with the Dali Lama that happiness requires a training of the mind. Within these suggestions are the combination of doing and being. In order for happiness to occur we have to both take skillful action and relax into our soul. Listen and do equally. Observing how being positive feels and how being negative feels. Therefore our life becomes a landscape of learning about what works and what doesn’t. In this way, we allow ourselves not only to be lead towards our heart but to actively explore our unique path back to it. In doing so we become like that giggly baby all over again. I used to see happy people and think “what the hell are they on. Give me some of that.” Now I know what they are on is their truth. i know that because it’s the path I am on. Sometimes I too feel and look like that giggly baby. And so can you. By shifting your thinking towards joyful thoughts, listening to your soul’s whisper and actively taking part in joyful activities, you can begin to overcome your fear of being happy. We all have the capability of being happy; all of us. The happiest people I have met over time did not come from a privileged place. Their life’s journey took them through the mud so that their lotus could grow. Happiness is not for THOSE people, it is for YOU. Plain and simple, you just have to choose it.