Happy. In our modern, western culture, we want to be happy. It is our highest pursuit. Our entire economy is built around the pursuit of this feeling, this experience of…happy. We expect everything to serve this goal. Our entertainment should make us happy. Our clothes, cars, homes, devices, and other things should make us happy. Our relationships should make us happy. Our therapy and our medications should make us happy. Our jobs and our money should make us happy. Our food and our diet should make us happy. Our exercise and our yoga should make us happy. Our religion, our community, our spiritual practices should make us happy.
Then we are told that these things can’t make us happy. “Happiness is an inside job,” they say. You are responsible for your own happiness, they say. So we go to therapy and say there is something wrong with us that we aren’t happy. Maybe we have always had access to resources and we “checked all the boxes” and did what we were supposed to do and now we have the house and the spouse and kids and the career, but we are still not happy. Or we did not have resources and we struggled and scratched and clawed and we made some kind of life for ourselves, but still we are not happy. Or maybe we have wildly abundant resources, we live a 1% life and there’s an emptiness in our abundant existence and still we are not happy.
We live in a culture that teaches us to pursue happiness, but not how to be happy. If we were happy, why would be buy shit? We are raised from infancy to believe in the primitive recesses of our brains that happiness lies just around the corner is the next car, the next outfit, the next degree, the next job, the next gadget, the next class or book or program or diet. We love to believe that happiness is in the perfect body. And in the rush to do whatever we have to do to acquire this happiness, we don’t have time to stop and ask ourselves what it is that we are really seeking? What is happiness?
I think happiness is simply a balance between safety and risk. Our nervous systems are always on a pendulum swinging back and forth between seeking safety and seeking challenge. When we feel safe, we want to venture out, explore, play, build, climb, push limits. And we feel Joy, excitement, accomplishment, fear (the good kind). When we find those limits, we want to know safety, comfort, holding, care, and love are within reach. We want to wrap ourselves up in this cocoon until we are back to calm. We feel Love. Then we want to venture out again. We readily observe this in young children who venture out to play, become overstimulated, and run back to mom for comfort. When the child feels calm again, off he or she goes to play again. The truth is we do this throughout life only we seek comfort with partners, friends, pets, and other trusted relationships. Happiness is the delicate dance of calm and risk, rest and creation, connection and expansion.
Through this lens, we can start to see the way we pursue happiness, in all of its complexities, very differently. When we begin to use this lens to show up with intention, we can craft our pursuit of happiness more effectively and build lives we love.