One of the real game changers in my own healing journey was realizing that I couldn’t leave the question of “what does it mean to be happy, anyway?” up to chance.
For years, I didn’t do a lot of serious thinking about what it meant to be happy.
I knew that there were things that felt good and that didn’t feel good.
I knew there were experiences I liked, and those I didn’t like.
I knew that there were people and relationships that made it easy to feel good…and there were definitely people and experiences that made it really easy to feel terrible.
But, really, I viewed myself as more or less at the mercy of the universe.
I didn’t think of happiness as a thing that had identifiable building blocks.
I mostly thought of happiness as the right set of external circumstances.
I figured I’d be “happy” when just the right combination of things happened “to” me.
i figured I’d be happy when I got the right girlfriend.
Or when I had the right level of financial security.
Or when I had the right degree or job.
After all, that’s pretty much what the culture tells us about “success,” isn’t it? That people who “succeed’ have “won” life by getting the right career, the right romantic partner, the right level of control over their time…right?
Surely, people are happy because they have the “right” stuff happen TO them…right?
That’s what I thought.
So I chased things. I mostly chased experiences and people.
Much of my life was spent trying effortfully to have sexual and relationship experiences that I figured would surely make me happy.
Then I added chasing “better living through chemistry”— my father’s euphemism for drugs— to the list.
I was always trying to come up with the right combination of things to experience and feel that would result in that elusive condition: happiness.
You can probably guess how successful all that was.
As long as I expected happiness to happen “to” me, i was going to come up short.
Sex feels nice. Drug highs feel nice. I still enjoy both— though I’m at a point of self-awareness that I realize I need to tailor my appetite for both if I’m to survive my 40’s, let alone be “happy.”
We have to STOP thinking of happiness as something that will happen “to” us or as something that various experiences will “give” to us.
We have to START thinking of happiness as something we can potentially experience even if NONE of the things we THINK will make us happy, will make us happy.
I think everyone’s mileage for what makes them “happy” will vary. What results in happiness for me will not necessarily result in happiness for you.
But I am confident that what you and I share in common, is the fact that lasting happiness will not result from even the perfect combination of external “stuff.”
Even if did— stuff can go away. Stuff can be taken away.
I’m not interested in “happiness” that can be yanked away on a moment’s notice. That’s a recipe for anxiety, maybe even paranoia.
I want happiness that I am responsible for and capable of generating myself.
I want happiness that is the result of me having chosen my values, and living my values.
I want happiness that is created by my approach to the world.
I want happiness that I could hypothetically create even if all that external “stuff” went away.
Yeah. Tall order, I know.
But the moral of the story is: don’t count on stuff or experiences to make ya happy.
They may feel good.
But that minute after they stop feeling good is worse than not having them in the first place.
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