“The U.S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.” ~Benjamin Franklin
It’s been a recurring theme in this Happiness Project: We have to choose happiness, to cultivate happiness habits, and to be mindful and in the present moment to recognize and enjoy it since NOW is all we have. As the Buddha said, with our thoughts we create our world – and I believe this couldn’t be more true when it comes to real internal happiness. I think we also have to decide that it’s okay to be happy, that we believe in happiness enough to let ourselves actually be happy.
As I browsed the bookstore for a few books on this subject, one caught my eye. It was a book called Addicted to Unhappiness. The title alone was jarring, and somehow really sad. Yet, haven’t we all known people who seem to actually want to be unhappy, who seem to thrive on the problems and drama and negativity? I had a friend like this, years ago, and eventually I let the friendship fade because this outlook really got to me. It was exhausting, and made me feel unhappy just being around her. I also had a relationship with a guy like this once – and I found myself being sucked right into his drama, toxicity and miserable internal life.
Are we sometimes afraid to be happy? Believe we aren’t good enough? Is this perhaps exactly where depression lies?
In his book Happiness Now, Robert Holden says that being happy is as natural to our existence as any other part of life, that we have a right to happiness and that choosing to be happy is the most important step in attaining it. He calls the fear “happychondria” – that feeling that when we do experience happiness we don’t trust it, we’re waiting for it to be taken away. Holden says that the most damaging beliefs about happiness are that it lies somewhere else (i.e. external, not within yourself) and that it has to be deserved.
“The moment you believe that happiness has to be deserved, you must toil forevermore to earn it. Ask yourself now: Do I deserve to be happy? Be careful how you answer this question, for there’s a catch. If you answer no, then no matter what you do, you will not accept much happiness. If you answer yes, you will have to fulfill all sorts of criteria (set by you) before you can be happy.
One of the greatest single steps you can take is to let go of the belief that happiness has to be deserved. You do not deserve happiness, you choose happiness. It is natural, unconditional, and freely available to all. Happiness happens, if you let it.“
As Holden points out, we are human beings – not human doings. We are so busy pursuing happiness that we don’t take the time to actually be happy now, in this moment. I think that we keep ourselves so busy, sometimes, so that we don’t have to slow down and face our true inner selves. It’s simply a distraction. You can’t run away from yourself – unresolved pain and fear will come with you, and wherever you go, you will keep showing up. The truth is that we experience as much happiness as we believe we’re worthy of; and we suffer as much pain as we believe we’re worthy of. Ultimately, we have to get to know, accept and love ourselves; we have to live with ourselves, after all, 24/7.
To be happy we must give up the role of victim, our story of being wronged, and stop labeling ourselves. We might have been abused, we might have battled depression, we might be dealing with illness – but those things are not who we ARE. We say “I am an alcoholic” or “I am bulimic” – but those are things that we experience – not who we are. Don’t let it define you, Holden advises.
Here are a few more dangerous myths about happiness:
- You have to resolve all your problems before you can be happy. If you’re operating this way, go ahead and kiss happiness goodbye. We might momentarily not have significant problems to deal with, but we will never “solve” all our problems. They are part of life, which isn’t perfect, and instead we have to learn to manage life’s struggles and suffering – and most importantly, our own attitudes and reactions to it.
- You can’t experience pain or sadness or suffering and still be happy. These things are part of life. We may not be wildly ecstatic every moment of life, especially when bad things happen. Allowing yourself to feel everything, even the bad feelings – being self-accepting – is necessary, but suffering and sacrifice don’t buy you later or greater happiness. We all have pain, but sometimes we keep ourselves suffering far longer than we have to. I have close friends who have experienced great tragedies such as surviving cancer, horrible divorces and even the death of a child – and still manage to be happy again.
- Being happy takes a lot of time and energy. The truth is that everything takes the same amount of time. The concept of time, in fact, is just a way to mark events in a linear way; the reality is that all anyone has is this instant. Therefore, life is really timeless. In this moment, it takes the same amount of time to be happy as it does to be miserable. It takes the same amount of energy to choose to feel peace or joy or contentment as it does to be angry, depressed or resentful – in fact, those things take much more energy in my opinion.
- Happiness must be worked for. This fallacy treats happiness like a paycheck you earn for putting in the hours. Sometimes our work ethic makes us try too hard to be happy; we are in too much hurry chasing things we think will someday make us happy. This goes from the short term – working all week at a job you hate so that you can be “happy” on the weekend (which just becomes an escape as Monday looms with dread) – to the long term: working for years and years for wealth or a certain job or marriage or whatever you are sure will make you happy when you get there. Happiness doesn’t have to be earned, or paid for – and only you can give the gift of happiness to yourself.
- Happiness is a destination you arrive at. Because now is all we have, as we’ve already discussed, then the future doesn’t really exist. If you’re waiting for something to happen, or to attain something, before you are happy then you will never arrive. In the Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama says that one big problem with this mindset is that by looking to arrive at or attain happiness with a specific goal (when I make X amount of money, when I have that job, when I get a Porsche, when I get married, etc) is that eventually, you will come up against something you want that you can’t attain. And if you’re basing your happiness on that, what happens then? A huge spiral into depression. Stop waiting to be happy!
- Happiness needs a reason. It doesn’t – it is its own reason. Joy and happiness are free, and they are available to us at all times.
Your happiness is your gift to the world