Have you ever found yourself in that vicious loop of… “if only this could happen…” THEN I would be happy?? Have you noticed times where you set all of your brain power and emotional energy into chasing what you believe will make you happy only to discover that once it is achieved, happiness still eludes you? And then you search again? And again?
I’ll admit I have fallen into this trap. Something I think I NEED. A vacation I MUST go on. Amazon prime at my fingertips. Click that purchase and feel flooded with anticipation and excitement toward what is to come. Book that airline ticket and spend the next 3 months planning, dreaming, and preparing! But all anticipated events and vacations come to an end; those Amazon purchases eventually join the dust collection pile… and the interest/excitement? Gone with the wind.
Frequently it seems, we also witness people in the media and in the spotlight who appear to have IT ALL – fall apart in drug addiction, overdoses, or even suicide. People who have all the money in the world. All the fame. All the fortune, the status, the parties, the friends and the lovers… fall off the rails at 40. So what’s going on??!! Why do we chase happiness, and why is it so hard to catch?
Because What we really need is…
To stop waiting on someTHING or someONE else
We often chase Happiness because we believe it is external and based on situations or people outside of ourselves. We wait for happiness to hit us because we are waiting to gain something, achieve something, or be loved by someone. If I could just get THIS promotion… If I only made THAT much money… If only I had THIS house in THAT neighborhood… If only THIS person could change… If only THAT person would love me, need me, be honest, stop cheating, stop drinking, treat me right, etc… However when we do this, we are putting all of our happiness eggs in someone else’s basket. And as we wait around for those eggs to “hopefully” hatch, we remain in the chase, and never in the catch.
So then, what do we do about the material things we think will bring us happiness (money, status, “stuff”)? How about gratitude for what we have?? A well-known figure in the origins of the Christian faith, the Apostle Paul, said that he actually learned the secret: being content! This might include taking a hard look at everything in your life, and instead of zeroing in on what you do not have, appreciating all that you DO have. As my missionary grandmother always says: “count your blessings.” An attitude of gratitude can go a long way. And from experience I can certainly tell you, when I am thinking and dwelling on all that I have to be thankful for, all the stuff I thought I needed- is no longer required to make me happy.
And then, what do we do with the hurts, the pains, and the disappointments of life? As a very wise soul who spent much of her childhood locked in isolation and fear, Queen Elsa, said… “Let it go!” 😉 Although a fictional character, there is much truth in this statement! When we hold on to anger, hold on to hate, we are holding on to misery. When we keep the transgressions of others on repeat in the fronts of our mind, we repeatedly remind ourselves of deep wounds; and we remain in bondage to them… and not only that- we give them the power over our happiness. So how do we let it go? …Forgive! But let’s talk about forgiveness for a moment… Forgiveness is not forgetting; it is not the dismissal or justification of an act, nor is it a free and immediate restoration of trust. Forgiveness is actually the conscious choice to no longer allow your life to be held hostage by someone else’s choices. You are releasing yourself from the burden of that PAIN. You are moving forward and leaving the WOUND behind. Essentially, human forgiveness is more for the heart of the victim than for the offender’s need to feel good after what they did. Realistically, we cannot forget what happened; and honestly, our memories serve to protect us in the future. And when trust is obliterated, it is not easily restored. Sometimes we may decide to allow our loved one the opportunity to rebuild trust. Other times, the betrayal has created a different relationship with that person; by their choice, or ours. If you are in a place of rebuilding trust, be patient with yourself, your thoughts, your feelings. Recognize that the people we love will let us down; but in time, with hard work and dedication, relationships can be restored. If the relationship has changed or potentially ended, know that in time, letting go of the pain’s hold on your life is a significant and important goal to work on. But ultimately, whatever path you choose, you can decide to walk away from the anger, and walk away from the pain. The offender may never apologize. They may never seek to make amends. So try to look at Forgiveness as the statement: “YOU OWE ME! But I hereby cancel your debt; so you are no longer indebted to me, and I am no longer waiting around for repayment.” Choose today to let it go; and no longer waist your time and your emotion waiting for someone else to make it right.
While contentment and forgiveness can certainly shoot you closer to happiness, life still hurls surprising and unexpected curveballs. Living in the day to day grind of the unknown and the “what could happens” can wreck the strongest psyche. The next step up on the road to happiness is finding an internal state of peace that will help you walk through the darkest nights of life and keep your sanity intact. Peace is defined as “a stress-free state of security and calmness that comes when there’s no fighting or war, everything coexisting in perfect harmony and freedom.” We currently live in a war-torn world and likewise, we often experience a similar war-torn internal state of stress, fear and insecurity. As such we often spend every waking moment attempting to quiet the fear, to challenge the insecurity, to manage the stress. We seek quick fixes and easy antidotes. A pill. A new relationship. Revenge. Alcohol. Gambling. Shopping. CHOCOLATE. Whatever grants relief; albeit momentary… because then we quickly realize those things circle us right back around to the original misery; the relief is only temporary. It does not last. We also assume that we will not experience inner peace until we get rid of stress; however, it actually works the opposite way: find inner peace, and that will reduce the stress.
So what is internal peace and where does it come from?
Internal peace is strength in the midst of adversity. It is courage in the midst of fear. Calm in the midst of the storm. Victory in the midst of defeat. Resilience in the midst of pain. Joy in the midst of sadness. Beauty in the midst of ashes. It is love in the midst of hate. Internal peace is confidence. It is knowing and trusting that the dark moments of life do not last forever; that the warmth of the radiant sun will rise again. Internal peace is rest. Resting in the quiet, solemn reassurance that you will overcome. You will survive the momentary pain and stress. That in spite of your circumstances, in spite of what others may have said to you or about you… you are intrinsically valuable, You are priceless. And you are not alone.
Some people find internal peace through prayer, silent meditation, other forms of art or calming exercise. Many others find peace through faith, and trusting in a God who is ultimately in control; this relieves one from assuming all control, allowing one to then rest in the refuge of His control when life feels out of control.
Meaning then, takes everything previously mentioned to the NEXT LEVEL. Finding real, authentic, personal, intrinsic meaning for your life and for your existence brings the ultimate, TOP SHELF level of happiness AND…reinforces your internal peace. Psychologist Abraham Maslow in the 1960’s, well-known for his Hierarchy of Needs, initially believed that the highest need humans possess, and ideally what would produce the most happiness, was the concept of “self-actualization” (the idea that one actualizes, or achieves, the full embodiment of their truest potential). However it is important to know that the year before Maslow died, he revised his hierarchy to include one more step: SELF-TRANSCENDENCE, which is finding meaning outside and BEYOND the self or outside and beyond what ones’ self can achieve. One might surmise that Maslow having achieved what he determined to be self-actualization in his fame and payoff for his theories, may have discovered that it still did not produce ultimate happiness. Research by Michael Steger as recently as 2012 uncovered that people searching for meaning in life have lower levels of happiness than those who have already found meaning in life. Maslow believed this “meaning” could involve service to others, a love, passion, or devotion to an ideal, a cause, faith, or experiencing contact with what may be perceived as transcendent or Divine. Christians often reference this concept as “the God-shaped hole” in all of us, believing that a relationship with God is what fills the empty ache… that vacant and dark void that seems to war on in spite of increases in money, fame, power, or sex. Christians believe that one can cross the lengths of the globe in search of happiness and never fully encounter it until they transcend their understanding of temporal earth in recognition of a God and of a force beyond that makes sense of existence and answers the questions of “why am I here?” and “what’s the point of life when death is inevitable?” The answers to those questions give meaning to life…AND…floods one with internal peace and stability.
So if you are tired, weary of running…of chasing an elusive happiness- take a closer look at what you define as happiness. Take a closer look at what you are chasing. Notice and cherish the things you already have. The blessings you can count. Let go of the pain, the anger, or the rage that enslaves you. Know that you are too unique and too intricately designed to be an accident; know that you have purpose. There IS meaning in your existence. Chase THAT; because THAT is more easily found. And finding meaning will fill that void; that empty ache inside you…bringing you an internal peace, calm and security you didn’t even know you needed.