Tuesday, May 7, 2019

This Thing Called Happiness (Hint: It's not Social Media)

Ask any parent what she wants most for her child, and she'll say, "Happiness."

But happiness is confusing.

Am I happy? I look at my circumstances . . .  and see problems.    

I scan my feelings . . .   and they're not all "happy."

I remember the most honest prayer I ever heard from a pulpit. The minister paused as we bowed our heads. "Lord," she sighed. "We try so hard to be happy. It doesn't get us anywhere."

We don't know how to get this thing called happiness. 

Should we keep looking?

"There are good reasons that the whole notion of  'seeking happiness' is flawed to begin with." --Oliver Burkeman in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking

When I'm searching hard for happiness, I can hook into things that make me unhappy - without even realizing it.

Social media, for instance. In the past month, I've cut down ninety percent on my social media use. I thought I loved networking and was having fun.

In truth, it was becoming addicted.

In April, I served as a creative resident at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for this chance to dive deeply into my writing and bathe in nature's lush, green restorative harmonies.  I lingered for hours in the beautiful library. I noshed on the most delicious organic food on the planet. I deleted Instagram and Facebook from my phone.

One thing I discovered was that:

1) I had been posting photos as a distraction to avoid unhappy feelings throughout any given day.
2) The social media platform was eating up my time.
3) Networking was turning my mind into a freeway with countless exits and merging lanes, when what I needed was a slow country road where I could have sustained, quiet focus.

The thing is, I hadn't really noticed.

It sounds simple, so ridiculously simple, to ask the question, "What makes me happy?" And yet we don't know.  

To start with, when things go our way we should be happy, right? Yet we all know miserable millionaires, gorgeous people who feel ugly, successful folks who are lonely and lost. People we think should be happy aren't.

When we find our day in the sun, we fear the shadow.  

And there's the flip side. When things are going badly, sometimes the happiest feelings arise. My sweetest memories happened in two tiny rooms where I lived with my little girls after becoming single. We were broke, and heartbroken. Yet there was happiness, and much singing.

I can be happy and unhappy at the same time. I can be frustrated, yet content, discouraged and yet brave, frightened and yet at peace.

There is happy, and there is other-happy.

It's a deeper sense of well-being. It's when the search becomes a spiritual quest.

That quest starts with honesty.

What if we were totally honest with ourselves about unhappiness? When I get quiet and pay attention, I notice my hopelessness, even in good circumstances. I discover how clueless I am about creating happiness. 

I give up my designs.

I connect to the other-happy Presence.

I sense a happiness that is independent of . . . well, happiness!

Again, if this sounds confusing, it is!

This is something you can do with a pen in hand. When you catch yourself trying to be happy, take a mental step back. Notice what works and what doesn't. 

A place to start is with the question:

What makes me happy?