(December 20, 2017)
Who doesn’t like the happily ever after at the end of a novel? Who doesn’t celebrate when the 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 when things turn out well. It warms the heart. It’s nice when things are 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’ll feel good. Tomorrow, I won’t be anxious. Tomorrow, I won’t be depressed.
Tomorrow, everything will go my way. Tomorrow will be perfection. It will also be free from stress, helped by the imaginary lottery win involved – happiness seems 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 requires less stuff. We’re told over and over that happiness comes from without. You buy it online with a points-earning credit card.
We all want happiness. We have to figure out what that looks like before racing off in a wrong-headed fashion. Reading philosophy has been particularly helpful for me, ironic when you consider all the time I spent denying my thoughts held any sway.
I’m quite fond of Marcus Aurelius, in a “he died centuries ago” sort of way. “The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts” is profound and complete. He didn’t say happiness depends on your thoughts, a nice villa, and a selection of exotic footwear.
“Maybe Christmas, he thought…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps…means a little bit more!”
I spent years chasing happiness differently. I knew happiness was an external, a mere life change or purchase away. If I was thinner, if I was braver, if I was perfect, I could be happy. I looked outside myself for answers that come from the soul.
“Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things.” (Epictetus).
I control what I think. I choose what I think about, and I choose my opinions. Such a simple, life-changing concepts. Believing that my thoughts are in my control has made it easier to reject the thoughts trying to cause harm. Believing that I’m the locus of control helps me move from “life happens” to owning my life.
It doesn’t lead to the happiness one sees in commercials. I’m not dancing with the rapture that comes from a new coffee maker. It’s a quieter kind of happiness. It’s serene as opposed to frantic.
We’ve been acclimated to the spectacle. Happiness, we’re told, is big, bold, and expensive. The philosopher’s truth about life, on the other hand, is that happiness can be found in the small, quiet, and free.
“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, and I try every day to make it. Sometimes I even succeed.
photo credit: inspower