“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery — air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, This is what it is to be happy.” — Sylvia Plath
Lately I have been thinking a lot about how it doesn’t take much for us to be happy. And how easily and often we fall into the trap of thinking that happiness comes from external factors: money, relationship status, professional achievement, or any kind of achievement for that matter.
I know that the most pure, real, and deeply satisfying form of happiness is not something to be attained. It is something that washes over us like rain washes over and runs through grates in the sidewalk — not because the grates willed it to do so, but simply because the rain is abundant, and a great force to behold. I believe that happiness is like this — it is all around us, we choose whether or not to take notice.
For instance, have you ever experienced a moment when you felt truly in awe of life? Maybe looking up at the stars? Or laying eyes on your newborn baby? And in that moment you had the sense that just by being alive you were participating in something truly miraculous. To me, this is what happiness really is: taking the time to recognize and appreciate this miraculous thing we participate in called life.
Racing around trying to prove our worthiness of this gift is not our job. There is nothing to prove. The value of our life is innate and immeasurable and our worthiness is irrelevant (we are all equally worthy, or unworthy as it were).
Here’s the raw truth: everything that we’re trained to believe will make us happy is crap, and has no bearing on our happiness. The messages we receive about needing to create an ideal type of lifestyle, status, and level of accomplishment for ourselves can be devastating. Life can end up passing us by if we only expect to experience happiness under ideal circumstances, happiness lives all around us.
The other day, for instance, I was stressed about so many things: my taxes, my broken website, clients cancelling their appointments, the amount of students who showed up to my class, my exercise performance, and how in the hell I will ever be able to afford a home or save for retirement. These are the kinds of worries that keep me distracted from the joy I already have access to right here, right now. What can I do about it? I can start by acknowledging the truth.
The truth is that the joy in my life will not increase one iota when I have my taxes perfectly in order, the best website, the most packed class in town, am able to lift a million pounds, or even when I buy a house and start saving for retirement! The truth is that I already have access to all of the happiness and joy that I will ever have access to. So, the best I can do on those days when I feel unpopular, unsuccessful, unfit, and have a million worries is to remind myself of the truth: those things only take away from my happiness if I allow them to distract me from what is right in front of me.
What I have learned from my own experience is that happiness is not some grand pursuit. It is something that we either have time and attention to enjoy — or do not. It is not a result of any particular achievement. It is a result of a particular attentiveness, and when I pay attention to what is right in front of me instead of paying attention to my worries or lack of accomplishments, so many opportunities for happiness show up: I enjoy the friendly strangers that I pass on my walk to work, I resonate with the beautiful guitar solo in a song, I notice that my life is full of loving relationships, I can even appreciate the feelings of anxiousness that
sometimes result from doing work that is deeply important to me.
What else can I do? On a grander scale I can organize my life in a way that honors and revolves around the following truth, happiness is constantly available to us and we just need to make space for it. Instead of prioritizing building a lucrative business, being the best, or being the most popular, I can prioritize the feelings associated with happiness. I can place my own ease, enjoyment, love, and fun above my need to achieve.
At work I can build my business around deep-seated beliefs rather than promoting gimmicks that could attract clients, but ultimately reinforce precisely the things I stand against. On weekends I can spend time with my fiancé instead of going to networking events. I can refuse early morning appointments and guard my exercise time as preciously as a meeting with the president.
Making these adjustments means that I don’t have lots of money, I don’t see most friends incredibly often, I am not well-connected, I am not the most popular, and I am not the highest performer professionally or athletically. However, it also means that I usually have time and energy to notice the happiness in my life.
On the days when I remain undistracted from the truth, I feel that “this is as good as it gets” and I am so proud to have noticed that. That is my best accomplishment.
I think it’s possible for anyone to access the happiness I’m referring to, and I think the best way to access it is by wholeheartedly opening up to noticing what is already miraculous in your life. That feeling when you are walking to work on an especially nice day and just enjoying the feeling of moving your feet, and feeling the sun on your face? That is happiness. Or on a cold, windy day, that moment when you arrive someplace warm where you can finally sit down and warm up your hands — that is happiness. Or when you are going through a difficult time and you give yourself permission to just cry, even sob, and as you cry you feel sad, but you also feel alive, honest, and real — like the velveteen rabbit — that, too, is happiness.
We can start by savoring these moments of being alive. They are happiness. They are the most magical and miraculous opportunities available to us. All we need to do is notice them.
Finally, if you feel your life is so draining that you have no space or inspiration to notice these things, consider what it would take to change that. You may have to give up a lot to create that space: money, status, power, even some relationships. In the end, I cannot think of anything that could be better than being able to truly appreciate the things in life right now that bring you joy.
Noticing and savoring these everyday opportunities for magic and joy is sometimes easier said than done. If you would like to learn more about life coaching you can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sara coaches people to live happier lives and to operate happier organizations. She is a life coach & speaker based in Washington, D.C. and one of fewer than 300 people in the world to earn her master’s degree in positive psychology. www.saraoliveri.com