What is it that we look for the most in life? On what do we place a higher value than love, money, health, sex, work and success? Above all else comes happiness. It is our No. 1 priority, although these many elements are clearly integrated in it. Happiness is the big umbrella that saves us from the rain.
So what is happiness? More important, how do you find it? Even more important, how do you hang onto it? It’s an age-old quest, as they say, and one that unconsciously drives most of us.
The first question may seem easy enough. Any thesaurus will throw up multiple synonyms – contentment, peace, gladness, bliss, joy and a plenty of variations on those themes. But happiness is, of course, quite individual and what fills one person with joy may send someone else into the pits.
It gets more complicated when we try to find it. Many of us believe that a person – a partner, lover or companion – is vital to our own well-being. A dog even. Events make us happy…the birth of a child, a trip to the country, an anniversary celebration, the local team winning after a deluge of poor results. We externalize it. We generally need our happiness to be created for us. It’s normal.
As for retaining the feel-good factor – well, the simple answer is that we don’t. It evaporates like mist under the morning sun. Very few people, even those who reside in Prozak happy land, can claim an ongoing sense of contentment in their lives. Because we have so much to worry about. And even if logic and our healers and analysts insist that these worries are unnecessary (they never seem to be), we can’t stop doing it. So we see happiness as a fleeting, elusive experience.
You may have read that happiness has to come from within. Well, that is basically true, but it depends on how you go about it. On that route there are detour signs all over the place and big holes in the road. It’s easy to go flying off into space and end up on Cloud Nine. And that’s not happiness, even if it appears to be.
From all of this, it might seem that happiness is virtually unobtainable on a long-term basis. Not at all, but it requires effort, often considerable effort, plus a willingness to look at areas of our lives that we would often prefer to avoid. Yet, we probably know people who go through life apparently unperturbed by its twists and turns. They are few, but they stand out.
The secret they have learned, if it can be called that, is simple but profound. Happiness comes from being able to live with your suffering. And if suffering seems too powerful a word, you can call it pain, stress, anxiety or any other that captures the difficulties of ordinary living.
Most of our suffering, indeed virtually all of it, originates in our childhood, usually in the early months or years. Just by being born into the physical, we encounter often minor events that generate fear. Although these fears are obviously wordless, they include rejection, abandonment, betrayal and others. And the wounds are inflicted unwittingly by parents who are generally doing the best they can. Simply, we cannot avoid being wounded.
We therefore guard against those wounds by building defenses that stay with us for the rest of our lives – if we don’t attempt to heal them. For example, a woman who suffered some form of abandonment in childhood will usually find it difficult to form relationships because she fears she will be abandoned again.
Unless we have a degree of awareness, all of us live our lives in ways that are determined by our defenses. There are people who have to be right all the time and in control. Some see themselves as perpetual victims. Others are completely self-absorbed or cannot cope with rejection. So we work hard to avoid putting ourselves in situations where the old wounds can be re-opened. We don’t take risks or want to change our life-long patterns.
Maintaining these defenses puts us under enormous pressure, leaving little room for pleasure and the enjoyment of simple things, the basic ingredients of happiness.
Suffering is never going to be totally eradicated. It is the human condition to suffer. How we deal with it is another matter. The first step is to recognize the old belief systems that cause us emotional pain. The second is to begin changing them, preferably with the support of a healer or therapist. Our energy fields can hold dark blocks where we store our grief, anger, shame and other negative emotions.
So deeply imprinted are our wounds that profound change can be long and arduous. The ego was created to protect us and it does this job only too well – in that it protects us from living our lives to the fullest.
But when we do set about healing ourselves, we begin to see the world from a whole new perspective. Old fears and anxieties diminish to the point where they no longer rule us – and happiness emerges.