Are you happy? For a long time, I have considered that happiness relates to judgements about the circumstances of your life and decisions about whether these circumstances are or are not in accord with the way you want them to be. In this respect, if there is a gap between the way things are and the way you either want things to be, or think they should be, that difference represents a “happiness gap.” If you judge circumstances to be wonderful, the happiness gap is small, maybe even absent. If the circumstances are far from what you want, or desire, or expect, the gap is large, and provides justification for feeling unhappy.
In this simplification, the happiness gap can vary in severity depending upon a host of variables. When you feel tired, or emotionally drained, or dwell on toxic thoughts, the happiness gap often increases even though the basic circumstances of your life haven’t changed from yesterday when you might have been well-rested or in a better frame of mind.
Similarly, there are many short-term mediators that can narrow this gap. An unexpected compliment, a surprise call from an old friend, a good day at work are the sorts of things that might lead to momentary happiness. These don’t need to be external events. You might have an unexpected insight, or resolution to a problem that had you stumped, or see an old photograph that brings back a pleasant memory—any of these internal affairs can leave you feeling happier.
A recommended strategy to close this so-called happiness gap is to focus on the positives in your life. Yet, focusing on the positives doesn’t remove the negatives.
Another strategy is acceptance or surrender. The circumstances of your life are your reality. Failing to accept that reality doesn’t change it. At best, it can help to motivate you to make changes. There is good advice in the Prayer of Serenity, where we ask to accept the things that cannot be changed, for the courage to change the things that can be changed, and for the wisdom to know the difference. This last strategy is time-tested and makes sense, but only to a point. It still requires that you weigh out, make judgements about your life, and determine what you think should be changed. “Should” is a word that is all about judgement.
I think about happiness differently now. Words like wants, desires, needs, should be, shouldn’t be, ought, and ought not to be are a bit fuzzy. What works to satisfy a person’s needs, wants, desires often fluctuates from one day to the next. As a result, what should or shouldn’t be–this yardstick by which we are making judgements about our life circumstances–isn’t a very reliable way to measure happiness. If today you feel motivated to change something in your life but tomorrow you accept that “it is what it is,” until the following day when you judge that thing to be unacceptable, this entire notion of measuring some “happiness gap” is exposed as entirely unreliable.
How can a person find a more sustained happiness? How can a person experience limitless happiness, especially in light of recognizing that there are many injustices, and there is much suffering in the world we share?
Consider a different way of understanding happiness. I now think of happiness as much more fundamentally related to the core essence of my being. This is my spiritual center wherein my soul resides. It is a spiritual essence we all share. Whether you are fully or only partially aware of this soul-essence, whether you are fully or only partially aware of this true essence of your being, at any given moment in time, you are aligned with this part of yourself to a lesser or greater extent. Think about times in your life when you experience deep joy, not in the context of weighing the circumstances of your life, but in the context of experiencing and being in touch with your greater self. Perhaps you spontaneously did something to help a stranger. Perhaps you gazed lovingly at someone and felt their love. Perhaps a cat purred contentedly in your lap, or you watched children in the playground laughing and screaming in innocent, unbridled fun.
All of these are times when you are present to the moment. They are always associated with things like joy-filled wonder, gratitude, love, or a sense of peace. All of these are moments when your soul-essence shifts to soul-presence. All of these are associated with feeling happy.
Would it surprise you to learn that this happiness is available to you always? When you align with your spiritual center, when this becomes the operating system that guides your thoughts, feelings, decisions, conduct, behavior, and responses, you will experience sustained happiness. Love is transformative. Your operating system in the core essence of your being is powered by love. Even in the face of hardship, pain, suffering, cruelty, injustice, disappointments, etc., you can still feel happy. When you are confronted by these difficulties, ask yourself, how can I behave in a matter most consistent with my soul-essence? How can I bring this forward to soul-presence? How can I best reflect my higher self? Aligning yourself to this spiritual center will result in sustained happiness, even in the face of adversity, even in the face of difficult and undesirable circumstances.
In every sense, this is a choice to make. You can align with an operating system that often runs on fear, anger, unfairness, outrage, disappointment, and a host of ego-derived judgements about the circumstances in your life and the world at large that cause you to feel unhappy. The deep happiness that you feel when you are aligned with and operating from your spiritual center does not have a yardstick by which to measure that happiness. This happiness comes from living authentically guided by your higher self, the best version of yourself. Joy, peace, love, compassion, forgiveness, trust, and gratitude all flow when operating from this core, this soul-essence that abides within each and every one of us. And with this comes an unbelievable sense of freedom from constantly making judgements and comparisons. No one and no things will bring you limitless happiness; it already is within you. You just need to discover it, experience it, and live it every moment of every day.