How Do You Achieve Happiness?
It's a good question, isn't it? And, I guess, the answer is different for everyone. When asked "what do you need to do to be happy?", everyone starts their answer with "I think..." or "they say...." No one ever says, "Oh, that's simple! Didn't they teach you this in elementary school?" I can say definitively that the people who believe that everything you need to know to deal with life is learned in kindergarten are full of shit. I learned to tie my shoes (backwards, mind you, because they refused to show me how to do it left handed); I memorized my address; and I learned how to pretend I was a tiger in a make-believe zoo. That's about all I remember learning in kindergarten and, since I no longer live at that address and often wear shoes without laces, much of it has gone to waste.
One often hears - "you have to be happy with yourself first." Uh, yeah. But, what does that mean? Am I to be happy with everything about myself to the point that I never notice flaws to improve upon? Is it that I should simply be happy with my accomplishments? Or does it include my core soul and values as well? What if I struggle for years to achieve a dream, only to fail? Am I supposed to still be happy, even though my ideal future never revealed itself? Or, what if I'm highly successful, but I have some sort of bad habit, like making puppies wear clothing? Will I be content simply because I achieved a goal, even though I obviously have no scruples or decency? I mean, I might be rich and successful, but there's a chihuahua in a coat and God never intended that when he had Noah save two of each animal from the flood. If he'd known someone would end up pushing a dog wearing a bonnet around in a stroller, he'd have had an angel instruct them to jump overboard to prevent such an affront. No, I'm not sure that my achievements alone, nor a good-intentioned soul are enough to produce happiness with oneself.
I'm not sure any of that matters, because I've met a lot of people who don't have a comprehensive list of above-average achievements to brag about, nor excellent personalities or morals, and they seem very happy. Does happiness come from low expectations? From not caring? As I write, beer in hand, sloppily dressed, this sounds plausible. I mean, right now with my ass planted on a big comfortable couch wearing sweat shorts and sipping fermented grains, life seems pretty damn good. But, wait a minute - what am I doing? I'm writing. Hmmmm...and I enjoy writing. I also enjoy beer and hanging around in my pajamas. I see a pattern emerging. I'm going to think about this a little more.
In the meantime, let me think about what does not make one happy. I can only speak from my own current perspective, but what's really giving me a hard time is fear, worry and regret - in that order. Let me describe how it happens for me. In one example, someone in my life is treating me badly, but since I dislike confrontation as much as I dislike ballet flats, I avoid addressing it directly with the individual, and I fester. Then, the worrying begins. What will the next interaction with this person be like? Why am I so weak that I fear the repercussions of speaking my mind freely? Well, that goes on for a week or two to the point that I'm miserable with self-loathing for sidestepping the conversation and anxiety over the situation. What happens next? This person says something that really pisses me off and pow! - porcupine quills explode out of my back, my face begins to burn with building anger and I charge like a puppy wearing a tutu who has finally had enough. The individual is attacked and leaves the conversation the benefactor of a brand new asshole, which I have skillfully carved into their backside. I on the other hand am experiencing a temporary moment of calm, having stated my true feelings and released the steam of growing resentment. Then, the regret sets it, followed again by fear and then worry. It's a vicious cycle that's almost as fun as diarrhea or athlete's foot. All three are irritating but curable.
So, we've thought a little about what happiness means, and what it doesn't. Is there a common thread? I think there is, and it is truth. I am happy writing, because it is what I truly love doing. I am a creative person and I need to be using my brain and my hands to create something on a regular basis or I feel stifled and begin questioning my own purpose. It is my true calling and I believe that we have to be actively doing something for which we were designed to maintain our equilibrium. For me, it's writing, but for others it could be dealing with the public at a convenience store or a restaurant - as long as you feel fulfilled at the end of the day, happiness will follow, even if monetary success doesn't . Accomplishments really do matter less than effort.
Acting in a truthful way is also essential. This doesn't mean that you should say every single thing that comes to your mind - sometimes the truth hurts, so if you're going to vocalize it, make sure it is required and not unnecessarily tactless. Speaking the truth results in a life with fewer regrets. Not only will it prevent you from bubbling over with resentment for not defending yourself or stating your disagreement with someone else's actions, but you also won't find yourself in a situation where you wished you'd had the courage to tell someone how much you loved them before it was too late.
So, truth equals happiness, or at least contributes heavily to it. But how do we achieve a state of "truth"? It's not easy. Our entire culture depends on lies, or at least stretching of the truth. Without lies and exaggerations, the advertising industry would not exist, we would have a far different political system and more people in the world would admit that they really aren't sure what happens to us after we die. Why do we need hyperbole in our society? I'm not sure that we do, but it definitely helps sell a product - whether that product be a presidential candidate, a religious organization or a ThighMaster. But, that's an entirely separate blog.
The only way to achieve truthful living is to start living truthfully. It requires removing all of the various "masks" you've created in order to mesh with and avoid offending your work colleagues, fellow church members, friends, family and acquaintances ,and just show everyone your real face. Let them all hear your real voice - the one that you hear inside your own head. I've been trying it lately and it's really hard. Some people were used to me being more conciliatory in the past than I am today and they're not reacting well to my more upfront persona. But, even as I'm losing old relationships based on inauthenticity, I'm gaining many more that are based on truth. People who live their dreams and speak their hearts. People who tell me when I'm acting stupid, but also tell me that I'm beautiful just the way I am. And I know they're right, because they're seeing exactly who I am. And that makes me happy.