It came as huge news to me that it isn't actually possible to be happy ALL the time.
I'd like to give a special shout-out to Hannah Marcotti and her amaaazing program The Joy Up which was the inspiration for this post. If she offers The Joy Up again......y'all should get in on it.
It came as huge news to me a few years ago when I learned that it isn't actually possible to be happy all the time.
I was stunned. And confused.
Don't people always wish me, "a lifetime of happiness"? Aren't I supposed to live "happily ever after"? Don't I actually have a RIGHT to the "pursuit of happiness"?
For years, with those messages in my head, I had been constantly scrutinizing my happiness. In an effort to 'stay happy', I would cling to every happy feeling I had. I would try to wring out my happiness and make it last as long as possible - even faking it, long after it had died.
Because I was supposed to be 'happy'. Wasn't 'happiness' the goal?
And yet there I was a few years ago, listening to one of my favorite yoga teachers tell me that constant happiness was a foolish pursuit.
I was flabbergasted. It was just like when I learned that my Barbie doll's measurements were not physically possible. I felt lied to. And ticked off!
I had been making myself crazy all these years trying to stay 'happy' (and have smaller feet) and it wasn't even attainable.
When I got over my shock, I have to admit that this discovery about happiness was a big, fat relief. Because I had NOT been happy all the time (nor do I have a teeny-weeny waist and colossal boobs and itty-bitty Barbie feet) - but the 'ideal' that had been foisted upon me was making me feel like I was doing something WRONG.
I had been feeling so BAD whenever my happiness would dissipate, or whenever I would find myself feeling disappointed or blue. I would ask myself, "Why is it so hard for me to STAY happy? What am I doing wrong? How come it always goes away?".
The answer is: Because happiness is not meant to last.
Now, before you go drown your sorrows, hear me out!
Happiness is a feeling.
Happiness is simply a response.
Happiness comes and goes, based on what life has put in front of you. If something good happens, you will feel happy. If, in the next moment, something craptastic happens....you will feel something else.
Feelings are fluid - they ebb and flow - and happiness is a feeling.
Sadness is also a feeling - as is surprise, disappointment, anger - and nausea.
You cannot hold on to nausea any more than you can hold on to happiness. You just...can't.
Go ahead. Try to stay nauseous.
How's it going?
So, if you cannot hold on to happiness, what might you do instead?
Well, first of all, you must accept that your feelings are fluid and will change - sometimes rapidly. This is how it's meant to be.
If this idea trips you up, think of what it's like to console a teenager on her first break-up with a boy. You have the perspective and the wisdom that she does not, when you assure her that her feelings will change and she WILL get over feeling sad. You know this, because it's true.
Feelings change. Feelings pass. Everything shifts.
Secondly, I would like to encourage you to strive - not for a constant state of happiness (which we now understand is not possible) - but rather...
Strive for a constant state of JOY.
Happiness is a feeling - but joy is a state of being. Joy is an outlook, an approach, a way of interacting with your life. Joy is sustainable, because it comes from within you. Joy creates the space in your life for more happy feelings.
So how do you create a constant state of joy?
Well, first you have to choose it.
And it IS that simple.
You may not be able to choose your feelings (or no one would ever feel sad - or nauseous) - but you can choose your outlook and your approach to living your life. So, choose joy.
Once you've chosen joy as your default setting, I invite you to shift your attention to gratitude.
To my way of thinking, the root of all good things is gratitude. Deep, deep, humble and specific gratitude.
Find gratitude for the sun rising, the breeze blowing, the bus driver who shows up for work every day, the people who built your apartment building, the barrista who knows how to make your coffee, the workers who keep the city parks clean and well-gardened, the engineer who designed the bridges you drive over every day, the person who first figured out how to make peanutbutter.
There is so much that goes into the life you are living that is worth acknowledging and which inspires deep gratitude and sustains JOY. If you can stop and take notice of all the miracles in your life that exist in every single, solitary moment, it's hard NOT to be catapulted into a glorious place of ongoing joy - and even bliss.
What do you think? Is this all a bunch of hooey? Would you rather strive for happiness or joy? How would YOU go about living in joy?