I want to be happy already. Twenty-four-seven, all the time. Day and night.
I want to be contented in my dreams (not just my daydreams), but misery creepily pursues me everywhere unconsciously. I want no more shadowy Freddie Kruger characters popping up mid-ecstasy while wet dreaming, winking his knowing grin at my shame. I definitely want no more self-doubt during the constant daytime conspiring with my ambitions.
Unfortunately for me (and maybe those closest to me), trauma, or sour memories, or self-skepticism make the journey to continual self-gratitude difficult — even impossible. I must be doing something wrong.
I’ve read hundreds of spiritual-heavy books on finding the path, spent long periods meditating at ashrams in the rocky peaks of the California high Sierras, participated soul-first in long retreats, listening to my teachers give mind-exploding discourses on dharma. I’ve been tranced by the joy of stillness and weeded my samskaras by their seemingly pitless dandelion roots. Despite, each Spring the golden head of another dandelion patch rears it’s beautifully ugly face.
I’ve also done the opposite — endless sexing, drugging, binging, saying fuck it all. When jubilation reaches its peak, it almost instantly alludes me. Everytime.
Suzuki Roshi must be right — if you claim enlightenment, you’re not. Happiness could be the same, if we’re trying to define it unconditionally. On the cusp of my 40th birthday, and still dancing dopily with self-appreciation (ugh!), I glare at an aging face and realize I’ve come full-circle. My question, or maybe observation, is still the same as at the start of this adventure in self-love over twenty years ago: Is Happiness a Process?
Who am I to write about happiness, being at times unhappy? If my divine odyssey is akin to the razor’s edge (as is often described by the Dale Earnhardts of the spiritual highway), then I’m approaching death by a billion small-blade lacerations. There are a lot of edges on my razor. My own wisdom observes that it’s often not the big blunders that have thrown me off route — it’s the accumulation (and the patterned missteps) of the smaller things. We often don’t learn from our custom-made lessons. I have become, in fact, an expert at traversing the process of happiness.
Five days pre-40, I’ve found that loving the journey has made me happy. Even after enlightenment, the Buddha danced the occasional waltz with Mara (the Demon of Temptation), even doubting his ability to teach his newfound wisdom to others. Since the process to finding well-being is a winding road even for our heroes, and if the Buddha struggled periodically, can I also give self-permission?
I’ve made a few fluid observations about my own happiness.
Firstly, my outward expression of gratification is often a reflection of how aligned I am with my inward values. If I continually disregard my virtues, I can’t be happy.
Topically, happiness for me has been loosely defined as knowing and embracing my ever-changing self. The ebb and flow of moods, progress and challenges toward self-understanding, reactions to life events.
Without sounding too New Age spiritualist, feeling joyful is also regularly remembering the way, being easy with myself when I detour onto a bumpy dirt road, and recognizing the simplicity of a ubiquitous, if not stubborn, inner-light.
Happiness isn’t a blissed-out state. Being happy honors when I’m not happy too. Honoring unhappiness relaxes pressure and allows space for difficult sentiments. Happiness isn’t burying the bad and polishing the exterior with our favorite version of ourselves. My exterior is often a bit blemished, but my internal resources are not. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “the seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.”
Happiness is being honest with myself when I’m angry, or hurt, or suffering, and allowing myself to healthily express discontentment when that comes along too. Happiness remembers to do as little damage to myself and others when the sun’s a bit dim, enjoying (even a little) the effort of being a diamond in the ruff.
Happiness holds emotions and outward expression of the internal tempest in the same open hand — not separate, closed palms. It honors less-desirable emotions, but doesn’t allow them to spill uncontrolled from the river of righteousness and run uncontained down a rocky mountain landslide.
Most importantly, happiness gives me the space to be myself: a loving, but sometimes ambiguous, human being.
We live in such a quick-fix, on-demand culture. Why wouldn’t we expect that being content aligns with insta-willing our favorite jam on the internet, or having a must-have meal delivered in under sixty minutes?
Self-patience (and equally patience with others) has been my best tool of being happy, as is being grateful that we all have a few loose screws. Just look: if you weren’t on the path to find happiness, why read this article to begin with?