You just have to get out of your own way
One of my ex-boyfriends used to love to tell the story of how he met his best friend, with whom he remained best friends well into his 30s (and likely beyond), at age 5.
The two kids were neighbors who didn’t yet know each other, and one day the ice cream truck pulled into the neighborhood, and both scampered out there to get some. After they had each paid and secured their cones, my ex-boyfriend’s soon-to-be-best-friend approached him, smiled, said hi, and for a reason my ex-boyfriend never could quite explain, his 5-year-old response to this greeting was to swat the ice cream from the other little boy’s hands. Leaving him to run back inside crying.
This is what we often do with our happiness — except we swat it out of our own hands.
And just like the two eventually made up and became lifelong best friends, the same can be true for us and our happiness.
There are times when it seems like we just can’t secure the ice cream — like nothing’s going right for us and everyone has some and we don’t. Happiness seems to be an elusive thing; a thing that’s out of our control; a thing that happens to us; a thing we somehow don’t get to have.
But none of that is true. Happiness isn’t something we feel. It’s something we choose.
And any time we don’t feel it, it’s because we’ve swatted it out of our own hand.
Life seems complicated. But life is also insanely simple — it’s just not always easy. It’s true that life will always involve messiness and imperfection and mishaps and setbacks and pain and hurt and suffering.
But none of that is about our happiness.
In Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl writes,
“Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.”
Happiness isn’t meant to obsess over — and the more we do, the more we shove it away. Our mindset should not be on the “pursuit of happiness,” but rather cultivating the sort of mindset that allows happiness to foster unencumbered.
Too often when we suffer, we look for elusive solutions that hinge on different times, different places — we deliberate assign our own happiness to things beyond our control. And we do this to escape the present. And all of this is how we create the unhappiness we say we’re trying to resolve.
Writer Sarah Moran writes,
“You just need the right attitude. Rather than dwell on distressing matters in your life, make a decision. Change the unhappy situations you have control over and let go of matters beyond your control.”
Relinquish your deathgrip on some abstract, hypothetical, deliberately out-of-reach happiness and decide to be happy now.
Take action for everything within your control to actually work towards something — other than the work of putting your happiness out of your own reach.
Set a goal — something reasonable; something real — and work for it. And while doing so, cultivate an inner mindset where your happiness doesn’t hinge on the result, and in fact doesn’t hinge on anything other than the present moment and your dedication to emotional wellbeing.
Happiness is accepting what we don’t control — which is everything outside of ourselves — and investing in what we do control, which is everything inside us.