Do I have the right to be happy? That was a question I asked myself several years ago, on one of those days when nothing I did seemed to make me happy and I felt empty and unfulfilled. I had worked so hard to be a “good” person and not follow the negative patterns I observed as a child. I had embarked on this self-improvement journey which had helped me to overcome many negative tendencies. I was married to a wonderful, supporting wife and was blessed with 3 beautiful children. Yet, I always felt like something was missing in my life.
You see, before I got married I used to think, “Maybe when I get married I’ll be truly happy.” And when I got married I thought, “Maybe when I have kids I’ll be truly happy.” But don’t misunderstand; of course I was happily married, but I’m talking about lacking that deep sense of well-being that seemed to be missing within me. When my first child came I thought, “Maybe when I have more money I’ll be happy,” and on and one the cycle went, and each time that the desire was fulfilled, the deep sense of well-being I craved kept eluding me and seemed unreachable.
But it wasn’t until later in my journey that I discovered that the things and people on whom I placed the expectation to make me happy were not to blame for my not attaining my happiness. That was an unfair and irrational expectation placed on them, because it was not their job to make me happy. I realized that I was not attaining the level of happiness I was looking for because I was looking for it in the wrong place.
You see, I had learned very early on – when I was a baby, in fact – to connect my source of happiness to the people and things that I believed were the cause of it, whether it was my parents or siblings, my toys, my activities, etc. It’s the most natural thing in the world for all of us to do when we’re growing up, because those things do seem to help bring us back to the state of bliss in which we’re born.
As we grow older it becomes second nature for us to continue attributing the source of our happiness to those things outside of us; we place expectations on people around us such as our spouse, our children or our friends; we spend much time and energy trying to obtain the material things that we believe will make us happy such as the new car or latest gadget; we invest so much of ourselves on the activities we engage in such as our jobs or our hobbies.
As Michael Neill puts it in his book Supercoach, if we believe that our happiness comes from a particular person, we’ll put up with all kinds of nonsense we wouldn’t ordinarily put up with just to keep that person around; if we believe it comes from our work, we’ll invest more time and energy in that job at the expense of our health or even our principles. In other words, whatever it is that we attribute our happiness to will determine how far we’re willing to go to get it.
This approach seems to work, and that’s the primary reason we keep trying it. However we soon find that the results are only temporary and the happiness is short-lived. As the novelty wears off and we lose that temporary state of happiness, we begin craving it once again and, just like an alcoholic or a drug addict, we search anxiously for our next “fix” to bring it back. Because it did work, if only temporarily, we believe that this is the right approach; we just haven’t found the thing, the real thing that will make us happy. So we try it again and again whatever the cost may be for the sole purpose of finding that happiness.
But the problem is that we’re going about it the wrong way to begin with, because we can never find something that was never lost. We are born in a natural state of bliss, and the real source of happiness is within us at every moment. Therefore, when we feel like we’ve disconnected from that state of bliss, we do not need to look outside of ourselves for something to bring us back to it. What we need to do is look within, and focus our attention and energy in realizing our highest and truest self. Michael Neill puts it beautifully:
“Well- being is not the fruit of something you do; it is the essence of who you are. There is nothing you need to do, be or have in order to be happy.”
This is not to say that we should not engage in activities that bring us pleasure, or spend time cultivating friendships with pleasant people, or do things to please our spouse, or buy that new car or that new gadget, or go after whatever goal we want to accomplish. But as Michael Neill puts it, we should focus our energy in being happy going for what we want, rather than going for what we want in the hopes that one day it will make us happy.
I believe that this is something we are meant to discover on our own at one point or another in our lives, when we are ready. And when we do, it’s like an awakening, an aha! moment that causes us to truly assimilate this truth in a way that no amount of teaching or preaching can.
I will close with an Old Sioux Legend that seems to fit here:
In ancient times, the Creator wanted to hide something from humans until they were ready to see it. The Creator gathered all the animals and sought their advice.
The Eagle said, “Give it to me. I will take it to the highest mountain and keep it there.” The Creator replied, “One day, the humans will conquer the highest mountain, and find I, but they may not be ready for it.”
The Salmon said, “Give it to me. I will take it to the deepest ocean and keep it there.” The Creator replied, “One day, the humans will explore the deepest depths of the ocean, and find it, but they may not be ready for it.”
The Buffalo said, “Give it to me. I will bury it in the heart of the great plains, and keep it there.” The Creator replied, “One day, humans will rip open the earth and find it there, but they may not be ready for it.”
The creatures were stumped, until an old blind mole spoke up and said: “Why don’t you hide it inside them? That is the very last place they will look.” The Creator said, “It is done.”
Do you have an aha! moment related to happiness that you’d like to share? Drop me a line in the comment box below.
I’d love to hear from you!