IX. Holding tight to the goal of happiness can keep you stuck.
Sometimes you look at someone you’ve known for a long time and notice that they look a lot happier than they used to. You wonder what it is that they did for themselves. And I’m here to say, just because someone did their journey to greater wholeness in a particular way and got deeply in touch with their own juicy life doesn’t mean that that journey will be the right one for you.
There is a way forward for you. There is a journey that will be right for you. Find help. Ask questions. But don’t get too hung up on your perception of someone else’s happiness or how, exactly, they got there.
We sometimes think that if we could just get the perfect combination of things into our life - work, stuff, relationship, activities, home - that life would be miraculously perfect and could then continue to be so. Maybe we think that this sweet spot of happiness is continuous once we have achieved that right balance of elements. We see it like alchemy: get the balance right and the gold (happiness) is created.
I’ve read in many places, and then experienced the truth of it, that happiness is a transitory emotion, just like all the other ones. The thing that we are actually seeking so hard is this state of joy that I read of in Danielle Laporte’s work: where joy is this deep, enduring sense that we are in the right place in our life and in our body, and, even more basic than that, it is this daily, hourly, moment-to-moment knowledge that we are alive and the everlasting awe that this is actually so.
So to be rooted in this joy of life is to not be searching for happiness, but to be in the happiness while the happiness is happening, and be in the sadness when that is what is happening, and be on our own particular path whatever the emotional state is. This is what buddhism, mindfulness, The Work of Byron Katie, and therapies like Somatic Experiencing all point to.
A colleague sent me this upon reading an earlier version of this section:
The devotion to personal contentment is the depression machine, it generates the depression. It makes the depression inevitable which of course obliges you to work harder to be happy and there we are. But how does it do that? Because it whispers to you that happiness should be the discernible consequence of you winning, of you trying hard, of your best intent being in the forefront of all your design.
And a lot of people in the world, ancestrally, knew long ago that being content or that sense of well-being, that’s a consequence of your willingness to help the world live. That your happiness is actually a corollary—let me change “happiness"—that your “health" is a corollary of the health of everything around you." Stephen Jenkinson
We cannot freeze time and hold on to this happy moment as the perfect one and encapsulate ourselves in one chunk of happiness forever.
Happiness is not actually a workable goal.