Happiness is often described as a will o’ the wisp, a ghostly, elusive sprite that will flit out of your life as quickly as it flits in. And when people can point to moments when it flits in and out of their lives, they call themselves happy. Happiness is seen as knowing that fickle feeling at all, to have found the odd smile this week, to have woken not discontent. Happiness is defined by being not sad, not unhappy, not frustrated.
I know many happy people who are also unhappy. They may be happy in action, holding down great jobs, relationships and health. Or they may be happy in words, sharing beautiful stories of wonderful moments. They may be happy in body, walking with ease and grace, confidence and comfort. And yet all can still be unhappy. The gap between the happiness they proclaim and that which they choose to give their daily focus is, simply, present. What they are is settled and we rightly see settled as a good thing. Stability is necessary, we can build success from settled. But it doesn’t serve everyone to stop their life force there.
My tipping point, if that’s what you want to call it, happened around 4 years ago. Sitting in the kitchen, I uttered words before they hit my usually stringent filter: ‘I know I appear happy but deep down, I know I am fundamentally unhappy’. And there it was. No one would have guessed, no one would have known, I’m not even sure I knew for sure until that moment. I suddenly became aware of a gentle lapping dark river underneath every step I had taken. I couldn’t point to its source but I know that I had slowly fed it with tears and tribulations over years and years, believing the little lies I told myself and building them into riverbanks which channeled emotions that I’d never confronted.
I uttered words and I suddenly saw the lay of the land in a way I had never seen before. But as much as I saw the darkness, I also knew there was so much more. That happiness wasn’t just a smile, a passing moment, a shared giggle. Happiness was to fundamentally transform that river that flowed through me, underfoot, before and ahead of me into shimmering, opalescent, reflections of the light above. I suddenly knew that happiness was something profound and something that carried a sense of internal permanence. Just as unhappiness only ever comes from within, I suddenly saw how nonsensical it was to believe that happiness would then come from without. Happiness is that glow, that irrepressible energy and luminescence from someone who is truly at home in themselves. It doesn’t mean immunity to sadness or to traumas. It doesn’t mean living in boundless joy. But it does mean a lighter hand deals with all things instead of shadow feeding shadow.
Transforming the very foundation of my assumptions, the stories I’ve told myself, the patterned reactions I have , is a slow and sometimes painful process. It is hard to stay true to the belief that my happiness is not dependent on loved ones or respectful colleagues, on the weather or the circumstance. But believe it I do, and the more I look, the more I see how I would muddy the waters with choosing to suffer. Unconsciously, I rippled shadows into the river with ‘why me’s and ‘who do they think they are’s. I sucked light out of it with ‘how could’s and ‘what’s wrong with me’s. I thought I was looking for answers with my questions, but I was only ever looking outward instead of in.
I don’t know that I laugh anymore than I used to, yet. But I do know that when I laugh now, I laugh with all of me. The river rises to the laughter instead of eeking out its volume. I know that the corners of my mouth rise more now, at anything, no longer so weighed down by gloomy tides. My ideas are more buoyant, my body rises with the sun better.
I certainly don’t have it down to an art yet, but I know I’m happiest working towards my own happiness.