When I was little and my still-developing brain could only think using black or white thinking, I didn’t think to question the concept of “happily ever after.”
So I truly believed that if I wasn’t happy yet, this meant I would be happy forever later.
I think this is why I spent the first three and a half decades becoming such a connoisseur of sadness.
Happiness wasn’t supposed to ebb and flow or come and go.
If I had it, it was supposed to last.
So when I would wake up and feel happy, I had all these expectations. And I had a really strong attachment to that happy-feeling. I didn’t want anyone or anything to take it from me.
Ergo, every time the happy-feeling would come, I would feel both happy (that it was there at all) and fearful (that it would go away, which it would always do of course).
It didn’t take long before I stopped paying any attention to the happy part and got fixated on the fearful going-away part.
You can probably already figure out what happened next.
Yup, I started to associate feeling happy with feeling afraid.
Soon, happily ever after became one of those enviable stretch goals that only really grown-up people ever pulled off. And even in my best of times (which these definitely weren’t) I have never viewed myself as a really grown-up person.
Then, after I passed my third and a half decade of life on this small round blue and green planet, something shifted and I started to revisit some of this.
Reason being, it suddenly dawned on me I was getting older and happily ever after was starting to feel both potentially much closer and mythically, tragically, ever further away.
So you could say I first started getting interested in happy right now because I became willing to settle. Some happiness was better than no happiness. Partial happiness was better than all-or-nothing happiness.
At some point I ran across the (at the time) esoteric-sounding work of Abraham Hicks, and specifically a book that was packed with techniques for how to feel less awful right away.
Since I felt awful so much of the time and I was getting (er) awfully tired of that, I decided to try some of the techniques out to see if they might work on me. While some of the techniques I never did really understand, there was one I just loved.
(I don’t know what happened to that book so I will paraphrase as best I can remember it.)
The technique focused on finding one thought, any thought, that felt even slightly less awful than the current thought. Once I had that new less-awful thought in mind and my state of feeling truly awful began to ease even slightly, I could then locate the next less-awful-feeling thought and focus in on that.
And so forth and so on.
If you are more of a visual person, you might envision this as climbing up a staircase where the lowest step is labeled “total misery” and the highest step is labeled “so happy.”
I still use this technique even today when I want or need to feel a little or a lot better as soon as possible. And it still works.
The reason I bring this up – other than simply wanting to share it in case it helps you too – is because I think this is the moment when my brain began to become less afraid of and more interested in happy right now.
Because suddenly I no longer saw happiness as something that was an all-or-nothing deal – something that once obtained was supposed to stay forever and once lost would stay lost forever. Thanks to my success using the stair step feel slightly better technique, I started to realize my emotional state was much more in my control than I had previously believed it to be.
This was pretty exciting, I have to tell you.
I decided my new goal would be to be happy right now.
Around the time I discovered the Abraham Hicks book and the stair step exercise, I had also started learning to meditate. And one day around this time my meditation teacher said something that has stayed with me ever since.
She said that while it did certainly take a lot of strength to hold sadness, what most people never realized is that it takes even more strength to hold joy.
She shared that even though there is always something in this world we can focus on that will make the sadness last and deepen, there is also always something in this world we can focus on that will make gratitude and happiness grow instead.
Her point wasn’t to imply that really strong people should never feel sad. Not even! But she wanted to teach us that if we desired to feel happier, we needed to work at it and make it a priority rather than expecting it to “just happen” to us, like good luck or something like that.
We needed to challenge ourselves to not just get stuck in sadness or other miserable-feeling emotions out of habit or peer pressure or whatever might be re-triggering those old auto-pilot neural pathways inside our mind.
She wanted us to start developing new neural pathways that would seek out joy with equal or greater ease and habit.
What a goal to have!
Suddenly “happy” was no longer a distant dream dependent on some specific set of circumstances (such as meeting “the one” or building the perfect business or reaching my ideal body shape or getting out of debt, etc, etc).
Rather, “happy” was a daily habit to cultivate – a new set of muscles to strengthen – a new path to explore during my next hike – an experience I could have any time I decided I wanted to have it.
The upshot of this practice has been profound, to the point where I can safely say it changed my life.
Today, my interest in happily ever after is kind of like my interest in unicorns.
If there happened to be a sighting and I happened to be in the area when this sighting occurred, I would probably pop on over to have a look.
But if I was halfway around the world, productively (and happily) doing whatever I was doing wherever I was doing it, I probably wouldn’t give a unicorn sighting, however rare, a second thought.
And I certainly wouldn’t drop my current activities to book a ticket to some far-away land where I might (or might not) be able to experience happily ever after.
I wouldn’t do it, because I would already be experiencing happy right now.
With great respect and love,