My pastor brought up this subject a few weeks ago in his message and its been weighing down my thoughts ever since... What does it mean to be happy? What is happiness exactly? How do you go about attaining it? How is it maintained? What's the difference between being happy and having joy?
I've heard the phrase "level of happiness" a lot in the past 2-3 years...I even told myself and others 2 years ago, that that's what I wanted to be, HAPPY, and that's what I was setting out to pursue: HAPPINESS. I set out for this like you do with any journey: with an expected end in mind, a goal to reach, something tangible to obtain-"I'm going to carve it out, a nice slice of HAPPINESS a la mode," I told myself....but I'm 2 years into the journey and I'm not any happier overall than I was back then. That's not to say that my life hasn't improved any, I haven't grown as a person, it doesn't mean I don't have anything to be happy about. Even with the growing pains, health issues, parenting stress, some anxiety and occasional depression, and just LIFE in general, my existence and quality of life is not a miserable one. It may feel like it at times, but especially when compared to others, it is not. I haven't lost my home in a tornado, flood or catastrophic earthquake. I don't have to fear about nuclear reactor meltdowns near my home, I live in a country that despite its many problems, I am free to go, do and say as I please. I may be a woman, and considered a minority, but I still have some basic rights-like being able to drive (unlike in Saudi Arabia) and I can freely worship who I want. (Who Jesus? Yup, that's how I roll.) My children have clean water to drink and I may worry about what I'm going to cook for dinner, but I at least HAVE a dinner to worry about...1 in 5 American families can't say they have a dinner to EAT.
So when I think of all of this I'm left asking myself: "A'Driane, why the h--- aren't you happy?" As is what always happens when I ask myself something I don't know the answer to, I turn to ask God. Sometimes I have to wait for the answer...others I barely get the question formed in my brain before He's intercepting it with the mind blowing response and I'm left sitting there dumbfounded at the truth He just sucker punched me with. Guess which time this was? (Hint: I've had the dumbfounded look on my face for weeks now)
The reason I'm not happy, (and maybe this is true for those of you paddling in the boat with me) is because I'm chasing an ideal that is ultimately elusive, one that really can't be apprehended unless you've got some things settled within you and a certain attitude adopted first. Don't stop reading, yet, bear with me, we're going somewhere I promise :)
See here's the thing about chasing after happiness, or rather something about PEOPLE who chase after happiness, people like me. We set out like conquistadors on this quest to find happiness by setting in our minds this expectation that once we find it, VOILA-we've made it, we can jump in its fountain and be magically transformed into happy people for the rest of our lives. We will smile all the time, problems won't shake us, no matter what we encounter WE WILL BE HAPPY. Is there a problem with this kind of thinking? I believe so.
You see, one of the problems with this, is that ok, let's say you get there-you reach the benchmark or level you've set as the qualifier of what you think will make you happy in this life. That's awesome, that's great, life is phenomenal, you feel all enlightened and possibly fulfilled...but what happens when you leave cloud 9 and descend through the stratosphere back to earth? Because you know that will happen right? Because we're living this thing called LIFE. And this thing called LIFE is wrought with imperfections and imperfect people we have to deal with on a daily basis. Imperfect people who hurt us, betray us, violate us, fail us...these people get sick with awful diseases, they die...You yourself are imperfect so you are bound to hurt others, possibly get sick and we all eventually die. So what happens dear friend, to your happiness then, what becomes of your precious treasure when LIFE has rocked you to your core? How do you maintain that level you worked so tirelessly and tenaciously to attain?
Here's the thing about LIFE: It eats away at your happiness. It just does. You can talk about all the rainbows & sunny skies all you want-the weather will always change, the skies will inevitably go grey for a spell and rainbows? They only come out after storms :) Sure it can enhance it, don't get me wrong, but life is all encompassing....some days it buoys you up, other days situations and circumstances, people, and even our own tangled up insides chip and eat away at whatever happiness we work tirelessly to build up. Like hamsters we run on the wheel of life never realizing that we aren't really going anywhere...
And why aren't we going anywhere? That brings me to my next problem with this"carving out" happiness crusade-we put parts-if not all-of our lives on hold while we pursue it. I believe we unconsciously tuck away our emotions, and close off our minds to everything in and around us once we decide to chase the shadowy billows of happiness. We tell ourselves everything else can wait til we reach it, unwittingly ignoring the world around us and what's going on within us.
Maybe that's not true for you, and that's ok, but it definitely is for me. During my quest, I've put my life, my emotions, BEING WHO I AM on hold.
When I lose the baby weight, this 40lbs that I can't seem to shake or be comfortable with-then I'll be happy. Until then, I'll spend my days feeling crappy about my appearance, worrying if my boyfriend finds me as attractive as he did when I was a size 6, constantly comparing myself to other women I see who are thinner aka prettier than me. I'll never be ok with anything in my closet, getting dressed with frustrated the hell out of me, and I'll never be satisfied with how I look.
When I get over my depression, when I no longer have my anxiety, THEN I'll be happy. Until then I won't enjoy the days my symptoms aren't kicking my as-k me about it later, I won't relish the moments my mind is clear, my spirit is free enough to smile, laugh, dance & be an active participant in my freaking life. That's when I'll enjoy being a mother, when I'm happy. Until then I'll keep thinking I'm the worst mother on the planet & my children will need therapy from the botched job I'm doing because I'm a depressed, anxiety ridden lunatic.
I'll wait til I'm happy to pray again, to worship God how I really want to in my heart, I'll wait til I've gotten it all together before I allow God to envelop me in his love. I don't deserve His love, not yet-I'm not happy.....
Get the picture? See if I wait til I put everything I think needs to be put in place before I can deem myself HAPPY then I've lost out on enJOYing the road that took me there. The detours, the wrong turns, the right ones, the bridges, the valleys, the deserts, the mountains that needed climbing? What good is it to reach the top of the mountain if you don't appreciate or focus on the effort it took you to get there? And what if it rains once I get to the top? Or a crisis comes? What then? What if I get there and then realize it's not enough? The level I reached doesn't make me happy? How do I maintain?
The key is to forget pursuing happiness. It can create an insaitiable appetite that is impossible to satisfy. It always wants more, creating a space for a gnawing hunger to occupy. It's decieving-it blinds you to the value of what you already have, it creates this delusion that unless everything is in order and in it's proper place, unless you have every I dotted & every t crossed you have no right to lay claim to it. It leads you on, allowing you to think you're close when BAM life happens & it dodges out of your grasp-again. It's attainment is based solely on ideal circumstances & positivity.
SO....with all of that said....am I pursuing happiness? No. I'm taking a cue from my pastor's message and I'm working on having JOY instead. The kind of joy the Bible talks about, you know the fruit of the Spirit? The kind of joy that allows you to be happy when everything's going wrong. The kind of joy that breeds contentment, that focuses on what you DO have instead of what you don't. The kind of joy that carries you & gives you strength to face this thing called Life. ("Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Neh. 8:10) You might not be where you want yet, or things might look pretty bad, but God can give you joy to sustain you til the storm passes. ("Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."Psa 51:11-13) Like my pastor said, joy will give you a song to sing while you're in a crappy situation, waiting for things to change: Cue the music Paul & Silas-"Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them." (Acts 16:24-26) You think they were singing off of pure happiness alone? Get real. You think they said, "we'll wait til we're in a happier situation to praise God." Um, apparently they didn't. They pushed past whatever negative emotions they were experiencing and tapped into joy to get through being in jail.
Ever met someone who had nothing to smile about but they did anyway? They had JOY-that's what I'm going after. Learning how to be present and enjoy what I've been afforded now. Focusing on enjoying the journey, who I am & the changes happening throughout it, and LIVING my life.
I'm finally kissing happiness goodbye-it's overrated & I'm tired of waiting to get there to be it. I'd rather let go & just learn how to enjoy the ride-wherever it takes me.