Lilacs are in full bloom here in Denver. Light lavenders and dark purples are splashed everywhere, decorating the entire city. Every time I see lilac bushes my mind goes straight to childhood. In the early 90’s, my brother, my mom and I spent the majority of our warm summer afternoons on our patio eagerly awaiting the daily visit from the mailman. We would all sit on this swinging bench we had, my mom pushing us back and forth with her long legs, my brother and I, usually in our swimsuits, giggling the entire time. When the heat became unbearable my mom would get up, go grab the sea-foam, waxy hose and sprinkle us off. My brother and I would just shriek with joy, we thought it was the very best thing, these sun-drunk afternoons next to the lilac bushes. It was simple. It was genuine. It was true happiness.
As we get older, it gets a bit more difficult to find these little treasures, these authentic moments of pure happiness. The concept of true joy has always fascinated me, how could something that captivates nearly every human on this planet be anything less than fascinating? What is actual true joy? Where does it come from? Why do some people seem to grasp it so much easier and more naturally than others? Why do others find such struggle in finding happiness?
I still have a lifetime to learn, the following is what I have learned thus far. This is what I have learned about happiness, through my experience, the toughest lessons I’ve endured and the messages I have taken from them.
Maintain a Childlike Mind
I overcomplicate happiness. Plain and simple. Just like every other aspect of my life, which is pretty ironic being that my first main point is to simply the concept of happiness.
If you look around, you’ll see how infatuated our society is with the search for happiness. Spiritual Books, teachings, limitless podcasts, endless media outlets advertising blurts of inspiration on how to be happy, joyous and free. How do I know this you ask? Go into my YouTube browser or look at my Amazon history list, and you’ll see, I’m as guilty as the next…. I AM that consumer eating it all up, running with the masses in this endless search. I have read the plethora of books, viewed countless videos, and indulged in hours of podcasts. I don’t find anything wrong with this, I feel like there are many more destructive things I could be doing in my time than searching for happiness. However… what if we are all trying a little bit too hard? What if we are forcing that which cannot be forced? What if we are searching endlessly for something that doesn’t require a search at all?
Recently, while playing the consumer role to this pursuit of happiness, I was listening to a podcast produced by Eckhart Tolle, in which he compared our society’s search of happiness to that of a fish. This particular little fish spent its entire life searching for water, carrying an intense desire to “discover” water. It consumed his every waking moment, wrung out his mind and exhausted all his precious energy. This tiny fish didn’t realize that it was all around him, his entire life... what he was searching for was literally enclosing in on him.
What if happiness is submerging us entirely while we are too trapped within the search to realize it is right in front of our faces? What if happiness is much more simple than we are making it out to be?
A child’s happiness is genuine, simple and free. When we are children we aren’t caught up in the search, rather, we are experiencing it directly, actually living it.. We aren’t dwelling in the past or swimming in anxiety of the unknown future. We relish and celebrate past moments, and we are hopeful and excited for what for future might bring. Most importantly: we are in the now, enjoying all the simplicity and all the beauty for exactly what it’s worth.
Hold to the Lessons, Release the Residue
As we get older, we grow, we learn, we stretch, and we expand. Within this expansion some of the situations we face are very painful. Our trivial childhood problems evolve into more profound pains: heartbreak, rejection, loss. A fundamental building block to happiness is realizing that these events happen exactly, perfectly and as painfully as they need to. Let me repeat this again because I cannot stress how important this is: These events happen exactly, perfectly, and as painfully as they need to.
Accepting the cards you have been dealt is vital to conquering these situations, these experiences that have the power to completely destroy you or to catapult you into the transformation of being a stronger, better human being.
And don’t think you get to this space overnight. It’s natural to struggle, to fight, and to deny unpleasant experiences. Just remember, it’s part of the process. Be patient with yourself, you’ll get there exactly when you are ready, and not a second before. Often times, your mind, the logical side will understand that which you must accept, but your soul and heart usually take a minute to catch up. That’s okay, be patient.
Authenticity is never rushed, and it does no good whatsoever to put a mask on to the world that you’re in a spot that you are not really at. Be okay with being in between. The sticky, mucky, murky totally unknown in-between; she’s a bitch to get through, but she’ll make you a warrior without a doubt. It’s in this gray area where your faith is put to test, and your character is strengthened. And when you sincerely reach the surrender state, of fully understanding the experience had to happen for your personal growth, you must hold tight to an important reminder. We must hold to the lesson of the experience without the residue. So often, we undergo enormous transformations through painful moments, but we unintentionally and unknowingly hold to the residue that is left behind.
This residue is compromised of two main ingredients: anger and hurt. It expresses itself as fear, anxiety, doubt, regret and remorse. It deceptively causes us to close us to back down, and to ultimately not experience full happiness. It is a colossal blockage, overcasting a dark shadow onto the light. The key to growth it to hold tight to those lessons, but make sure there is absolutely no residue left behind. Your well-being, your personal progress, and your happiness depends on it.
Don’t Fear Joy
I recently became intrigued with an interview I watched that focused on the fear of joy. Brene Brown, a bestselling author and a research professor at University of Houston stresses her important discovery among her patients . In this interview, Brown states that through her years and years of research she has revealed the single, most feared emotion on the planet: Joy.
Sounds absurd, right? But think about it; how often have you been in the midst of happiness and had fear creep up that it was going to end? Or, furthermore, feared full joy before you have even experienced it. I will be the first to say I have done this not a few, but countless times in my life. Having a taste of a situation and fearing the loss of it before it has even taken form. Our minds have a defense mechanism of convoluting that residue I was speaking of prior (the fear, anger, regret, and doubt), and convert it from something in the past, molding it into fear of the future, fear of true joy. We think if we hold back, don’t give into the bliss with arms open wide, if we guard ourselves, the fall with leave less damage on our hearts... Assuming a “fall” is even existent. Our minds are powerful organisms, but only when directed correctly, and healthily. Sometimes, we pick up on unhealthy, pesky little habits, and it is necessary to go inside and actually rewire our way of thinking. It is crucial to understand that we gain nothing from playing small. We gain nothing in holding back or closing up. Fearing joy only robs us from genuine happiness. Welcome true joy openly, so you can receive as much a you possibly can.
Don’t Wait For Happiness
Another trap that prevents happiness is the belief that it is not in this present moment. I will be happy when… I loose the weight, when… I earn the money, when… I get the guy/girl, in the next year, the next month, the next hour, the next moment. Many of us have an unhealthy mindset that happiness is anything and anywhere but here and now. We hold tight to this belief and continue believing that somehow the next moment or a different place, different situation, anything but the present holds something better. We don’t allow our happiness to come from within, or from this moment. We’re all searching outside, elsewhere, instead of right here, within. Banish the idea that somehow the next moment has something better to offer, it might, but don’t use that to escape now. Be here, and allow yourself the happiness in whatever form this moment takes.
The last note I have on happiness is more of a “what-not-to-do.”
I have reached an age where everyone I know is at such starkly different points in their journeys. Some friends are getting married and starting families, others are out traveling. Some are building businesses while others are grinding on their 9-5. Some are thriving, while others are struggling. Not one path is correct, and not one way guarantees a higher level of happiness. The only reality I’ve discovered is that it truly doesn’t matter what you are doing- but that it is parallel to your truth, and within that, bringing you true joy. What brings me true fulfillment may mean absolutely nothing to another, and vice versa.
When I advise against making comparisons, I not only am referencing to others and their lives, but also, don’t make comparisons against yourself. We are our biggest critics, our hardest judgments come from within, and ironically we destroy our plans and dreams before anyone else event has the chance to. Whether it is society, or our parents, friends, whatever it may be, our pseudo images and standards we have created for ourselves pile on more pressure than any outside voice. If we aren’t in line with where we think we ought to be at in our life, doing what we should be doing, it creates a mental tug of war: the end game being a multitude of emotions, not one of them happiness. Find your truth and live it. Not matter what package your truth comes in, whatever form, shape or size….be loyal to that. Be proud of that. Believe in that. Happiness is just one step behind living your truth.
This life is too short to be anything but happy so find your truth and dive in.