It is an expectation. It is what we strive for. It is our greatest wish for our lives, for our children’s lives. “I just want you to be happy,” we say to those we love. And yet all around us are messages that have, consciously and unconsciously, told us we can’t be happy, shouldn’t be happy, it’s impossible to be happy, how can you be happy? We put contingencies on our happiness with these two words: unless and if.
There is so much more we need to do and achieve before we can be happy, right? I’ll be happy when (fill in the blank). In the meantime, we spend the bulk of our day working at jobs that don’t fulfill us. Our dream house remains a seemingly elusive dream. Our bodies aren’t healthy. We need to lose weight. We want more money. And we want more stuff because somewhere along the way we started to believe that stuff will actually make us happy.
We are surrounded by images of what happiness looks like, and it looks a lot like “having it all.” The images smile down at us from billboards, through the TV and on our personal Instagram feed. We worship the false god of money and youth and beauty; and anything less than is simply not good enough. Is it any wonder why so many are secretly miserable?
For many, there’s a hole inside of us. It looks and feels like discontent, but it can have many faces: anger, bitterness, jealousy, envy, guilt, shame. Chances are you’ve been carrying it around for a while, maybe even since childhood. We know it’s there. We are uncomfortable with its presence, yet we refuse to take a closer look because it’s easier to bury it. We tend not to want to examine the source of our frustration. Instead we fill up the hole with shopping, food, alcohol, stuff — anything to pretend it isn’t there.
Until you decide — with intention — to change, nothing will change.
When you finally awaken to the fact that you are living in a way that doesn’t bring you absolute joy; when you become completely sick and tired of living this way; when you stop looking for things and people to blame and start genuinely looking for answers? This is when your journey will begin.
For me it took my father’s death to open up my eyes and realize I was merely going through the motions. For the first time I began to contemplate just how I wanted to live this one precious life of mine. Realizing the brevity of life is exactly what I needed to appreciate that satisfaction, in all aspects of my life, is not something that is a given. I had to demand it. And then I had to create it.
My grief swept me off my feet for an entire year. Becoming happy again was a concentrated effort on my best of days and completely impossible on my worst. But once I walked through my grief and came out the other side, I found clarity for my journey with this simple decision: I will find work that brings me happiness, that is so thoroughly fulfilling it is not actually “work” at all. Like the creative who spends their entire life creating and couldn’t even begin to consider retiring because it would mean they would stop creating and what fun would that be?
One of the first things I did was print out this quote from Emerson and place it above my desk so I could look at it every day:
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition, to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
It became my mantra. And most especially in the early days of building kindred, it proved to be a lovely reminder that yes, indeed, see? You are feeding a family of three siblings for an entire year! You already are a success! Shifting from my innate belief that success is directly proportionate to how much money I’m making to Emerson’s list of achievements always made me happy in a deep, feeling-it-in-my-soul kind of way. As if my spirit was saying to me: Welcome home. Now you are getting it, kiddo.
My thirst for learning from those who have gone before me — indeed from some of our greatest teachers — was fed by so many great books that it is impossible to point to any one and say yes, that’s the one that made all the difference. They all made a difference. They all changed me. They all set me on the course to living a genuinely happy life. (A list of those that moved me the most follows this post.)
Another simple change that made a fast and lasting difference in my life was practicing the art of gratitude. Taking the time every day to think about or write about that which I am most grateful for shifts my energetic vibration immediately. I look for and seize every opportunity to tell someone (anyone) I am grateful for them, too. Whether that is the Farmer who delivers fresh produce to our neighborhood or the stranger who waves me into the parking space they are leaving. Gratitude has become a daily habit that intersects my day at multiple points, reminding me how important it is to enjoy the ride.
We all came here to live a happy life. It is indeed our birth right. We just got a little lost along the way. We found out the hard way that money can’t buy it for you. Happiness doesn’t reside in “stuff.” It lives within.
So take the time to declutter. Rid your mind and body and psyche and spirit of your shame and guilt and unmet expectations. Don’t put your happiness off until the future. Don’t look for your happiness in someone else. Just make the decision to be happy, now. Because once you’ve done that, you have taken the first step. And that is a great place to start.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Untethered Soul, The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer
I Can See Clearly Now by Wayne Dyer
A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams
Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Co-Creating at Its Best by Esther Hicks, Wayne Dyer
Being You, Changing the World by Dain Heer
I held onto my secrets for years. Decades, actually. And there are many reasons why. Reasons that anyone who has endured it — lived it — will understand. But only those who have endured it — lived it — will.
I’m writing this for everyone else.
I love you, but I’ve got to let you go.
Each time our paths cross I open my heart with renewed hope that it will be different somehow. And each time I walk away feeling empty.
My dear (____________), I realize now that at some point, I gave away my power to you. I was rebuilding my life, creating it piece by piece, and in all of its uncertainty and tender roots, I shyly let a chosen few in to tread softly and take a peek. I wanted to share my trepidation and fear and doubt and exhilaration and sheer anticipation with you. So I gave you permission to validate me. In no small way I longed for it. But it never came.