The pursuit of happiness can leave us feeling miserable. This sounds a little odd given I’m posting on Independence Day, but hear me out.
Our right to happiness is so engrained in our psyches, it’s the basis of our Declaration of Independence: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. It’s the theme of our life’s purpose. It’s the right we own as Americans. Happiness, happiness, happiness. It’s the 21st century zeitgeist. Type the word into Amazon.com and you’ll get 20 pages of recently published books about “obtaining” this emotion. These books tell us we can earn happiness through business success, wealth, meditation, life coaching, positive thinking, changing our lives, having more money, having less money, on and on.
Take a moment and ask yourself, what happiness means to you. Formulate it in one sentence (go ahead, I’ll wait). Can you do it?
Happiness is not a bad thing. It’s the working hard to obtain happiness that creates confusion. Like gerbils running on a wheel to “catch” happiness, we’re condemning any other feelings. We see those emotions as getting in the way of our one-size-fits-all happiness that will solve all problems. We cannot heal when happiness is a goal. We cannot see what’s in front of us when we refuse to look away from our quest for bliss.
Every single day, people walk into my office suffering from anxiety. At the core of this state of being is avoidance of feeling more difficult emotions. They’ll do whatever it takes to keep from the discomfort of sadness or anger; staying too busy, dissociating, drinking heavily, complaining about others, binge eating. They say, “I just want to be happy.”
But, we can’t just be happy. We’re complex beings. Our emotions are our soul’s response to life’s situations. Sadness tells us we’ve lost something. Anger charges us to set boundaries. Fear sends signals we’re vulnerable. If we ignore these, we create despair that sits in our psyches and – one way or another – will demand attention.
How do we pull from other internal resources if we refuse to notice what’s occurring within ourselves? Our wakefulness, our willingness to be present to what’s happening in the moment helps us be whole. Psychologist and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction pioneer, Jon Kabat-Zinn, refers to this as living our full dimensionality. In his book, FULL CATASTROPHE LIVING, Kabat-Zinn states:
Since no map completely describes a territory, ultimately it has to be experienced for us to know it, navigate within it and, benefit from its unique gifts. It has to be inhabited or, at the very least, visited from time to time, so we can experience directly, firsthand, for ourselves.
If we let go of and become present to what’s within us, we release the exhaustion of pursuit. One of the main principles of Mindfulness is acceptance. If we’re sad, we’re sad. If we’re tired, we’re tired. It’s then we develop self-compassion because we know how to meet our needs.
Allowing this full dimensionality is how we create our new reality. it is not a feel good pursuit as much as it is noticing and making space for the “negative” feelings without them dominating our every thought. It’s awareness without pursuit.
Artwork courtesy: Tinybuddha.com