who doesn’t like the happy ever after at the end of a novel? who doesn’t celebrate when the movie’s main characters head off into the sunset? the idea that happiness can be found in two hours or less is an appealing one.
it’s satisfying to see things turn out well for other people. it warms the heart. it’s nice when everything is simple and tied up with a bow. i want to believe that things can go well. i want to believe that happiness is out there waiting for me. i want to believe that a good life is possible.
i daydream about happiness. it’s generally scheduled to arrive tomorrow. as in, tomorrow i will wake up and feel good. tomorrow, i won’t be anxious. tomorrow, i won’t be depressed. everything will go my way. there’s often a lottery win involved – happiness seems like it’s harder to achieve when the cash-flow is tight.
sometimes i daydream about being a better person but that’s less frequent. it’s harder to picture. it means i get less stuff. it’s internal but we get sold a different message. we get told over and over that happiness comes from without. that it can be bought online with your credit card.
we all want to be happy. figuring out what that actually looks like, that’s the challenge. things that i’ve chased that i thought would bring me happiness have often sent me in the wrong direction.
i’m not alone in trying to solve the “i want to be happy” problem. we’re all trying to get there. reading philosophy has been quite helpful, ironic considering how much energy i put into resisting the idea that perhaps my thoughts were problematic.
i’m quite fond of marcus aurelius. the quote, “the happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts” is a game changer. he doesn’t say, it depends on your thoughts but you’ll also need to have a really nice villa and lots and lots of sandals. for marcus, happiness didn’t come from what you had, it came from how you thought and lived. it came from the actions those thought inspired.
indeed, from what i’ve read, it seems that happiness for philosophers comes from how we think about and interact with the world. it comes from learning to accept what is in our control, and learning to let go of what is not. it’s learning how to think about things, and what kind of thinking we should aspire to. it’s not stuff that bring us joy, but how we live our lives.
acceptance, and contemplation, and thoughtfulness were not key players in my fantasies of a happily-ever-after. believing that how i think about things determines my happiness doesn’t let me make the cause of my unhappiness external. believing that i am in control of how and what i think about doesn’t let me abrogate responsibility when i’m unhappy. choosing to deal with only those things that are in my control means i don’t need money, or weight-loss, or a perfectly beautiful face, and life.
i’ve spent years chasing happiness differently. i knew if i was thinner, if i wasn’t scared and anxious, if i was perfect, i would be happy. i looked outside myself for the perfect fix, for that magical tool that would quiet my brain. i didn’t find it. there was no magic, and my prince didn’t show up to rescue me and take me away. so, nothing to lose by trying something new.
“Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things.” (Epictetus). i read that with a “wow” too.
i control what i choose to think. i choose how i think about things. such simple concepts yet so life-changing. believing them has made it easier to reject things that are libel to drag me down. it’s moving me away from “life happens to me” to owning my life.
it doesn’t lead to the kind of happiness sold by marketing boards and advertisers. i’m not dancing around in raptures of delight over a new (and probably unnecessary) coffee maker. i’m not in alt because i signed up for a service that delivers new shoes to my door every month. my razor does not make me celebrate in the shower. it’s a quieter kind of happiness. it isn’t frantic and acquisitive. it’s softer. it’s serene.
perhaps the problem remains one of definition. we are conditioned to believe happiness is big and celebratory and expansive. what if it is smaller than that? what if it’s quiet moments of contentment and joy, satisfactions felt because we are trying our best? what if my quest for the happy-ever-after depicted in novels and on-screen caused me to miss the subtle moments of true happiness because i was so enraptured by the gross?
“”Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.” Henry David Thoreau.
happiness is a choice. i’m trying every day to make it.
december 20, 2017 in search of the happily ever after