My client, Richard, is dying of lung cancer. He has been a wealthy and successful brain surgeon: seems like Richard should be a happy guy too, right? The truth is, for most of Richard’s life, he was an unhappy alcoholic. Now, in his late 60’s, he is retired, sober and has just a few years left to live a happy life. Sitting in the middle of a crowded and noisy coffee shop, Richard asked me: “Rosie, how do I find happiness?”
I said: “Close your eyes, Richard, and think a happy thought.” Within 2 seconds, a radiant smile came across his face. He opened his eye, which were now sparkling with delight. “Wow. That was easy!”
Meg is depressed, frustrated, and resists even trying to be happy. She sees happiness as overrated, because rarely does she see people happy, so why bother?
Meg has a BIG attachment to what happiness is supposed to be like, and it isn’t happening for her or for most of the people she observes. However, the more attachments Meg has to how it’s supposed to be, the less likely she’ll be happy.
I asked her: “Meg, what needs to shift so that you may have more access to happiness?” Meg was quiet for awhile. She looked angry, crossed her arms, closed her eyes and started to cry. “I’m so afraid to let myself even hope that I can feel happy. I’m resisting any possibility, because I don’t want to feel more disappointment. I can see that I’d have to shift where I focus my attention – away from negative experiences. I’d have to train myself to focus on positive experiences. I’d have to shift my attention and the way I look at things, so my life is more positive.” Meg smiled.
Marjorie’s five year old grandson, Troy, is visiting her for two weeks. She has been looking for this quality time with Troy since her daughter announced she was pregnant with him many years ago. Instead of experiencing happiness, Marjorie is frustrated, worried and full of anxiety: “I can’t keep the house clean; my budget for Troy’s visit is going really fast, and I can’t take care of my business while I’m spending time with him. I feel stressed, and I’m not experiencing the happiness I anticipated.”
Like with Richard, I encouraged Marjorie to close her eyes and imagine herself totally present with Troy, letting go of her worries and angst. She sighed a big sigh, smiled, and giggled. “I didn’t think I could feels this good in such a quick conversation.”
Yes, happiness is accessible within a blink of an eye, yet, for most of us, happiness is a fleeting experience “ it’s very hard to hold on to. In fact, the more you try to hold onto it the quicker it disappears. Instead of holding onto happiness, it’s far more beneficial to practice letting go of thoughts that create something other than happiness.
What is happiness? Happiness is a quality of being that appears only when we are in the present moment. Happiness isn’t a thought, however it is precipitated by thoughts. Pleasant thoughts provide us with the experience of happiness, as long as we sustain these happy thoughts.
Many of us believe that when we have what we want, then we will be happy. However, once people have what they want, they quickly lose the experience of happiness, as they begin to desire something else. We’ve been trained to believe that happiness comes from getting what we don’t have from an external source, and so we continue to strive to get more and more and more.
Both Richard and Marjorie got what they wanted, however neither were fulfilled or happy for more than brief moments. Why?
Happiness can’t be experienced from the past or from the future “ it can only be experienced in the present moment. But to stay in the present moment, each of us has to let go of thoughts that create negative emotional states.
The fact of the matter is that most of us are so used to thinking about what isn’t happening, what isn’t getting done, what we don’t have, what we can’t get, that we don’t allow ourselves to be present in the moment with that which brings happiness to us. It comes down to this: We really don’t want to stop thinking thoughts that give us a sense of control, so, rarely can people be happy!
When Richard closed his eyes and thought a happy thought, he may have remembered a special moment, the first smile of his new born baby son; or perhaps it was a memory of the fragrance of jasmine. Maybe he was imagining a wonderful event that was coming in the future. It doesn’t matter what the source was. What is important is that Richard brought happiness into the present moment for himself.
Research has found that long-lasting happiness is more likely when we empower ourselves give up our attachment to getting what we want from external sources. This requires empowering ourselves to immerse ourselves in discovering the source of happiness that is within us. Happiness is an inside job!
Marjorie contacted me after Troy went home. She shared that she experienced so much happiness once she surrendered her worries and anxiety. She focused her intentions on thoroughly enjoying every moment with Troy. Sometimes she had to work hard to keep the thoughts about work from interfering with her happiness, but she said it was well worth the effort.
Meg also shared with me that she has been practicing putting positive spins on any event or circumstance that she usually saw as negative. “I really didn’t want to do this practice, but I figured that the worst that could happen is that I could feel good that I was right about life being negative and no happiness available. However, I found myself whistling a happy tune, and it made me smile. Maybe there is hope for me after all.”
Richard passed away two years after our conversation about happiness. His children shared that he was a much happier man in the last couple of years of his life, and that he smiled far more than they ever remembered.
Happiness is available 24/7. We can have it in a blink of an eye, but only if we are committed enough to being happy that we willingly let go of what creates something other than happy. It takes practice, courage, and discipline to empower oneself to have the capacity to be happy, however, as Meg, Marjorie and Richard realized, it was so much more fun being happy than not.