Why You Need to STOP Looking for Happiness

Everyone wants to be happy. Or do they?  The History of Happiness by Peter N. Stearns informs us that being happy was not always a primary or even a respected goal. In Puritanical  times, it was believed God favored melancholy, long-suffering individuals. According to Professor Stearns, “a significant shift occurred in Western culture around 250 years ago.”

Nowhere did that shift take root deeper than in the United States. The pursuit of happiness is embedded in our constitution. And we pursue it with great diligence. Google happiness and you will get 352,000,000 results. More websites, articles and videos than you can look at in a lifetime. Titles include…

Secrets of True Happiness
How to Be Happy
Project Happiness
Happiness Is a Choice
Keys to a Happy Life
Judaism Teaches One How to be Happy
Do you want true happiness?
Peace and happiness now
The Science of Happiness

Such an abundance of happy information indicates…

Many people are not happy.

Nothing delivered the optimal amount of happiness.

We’re seeking but not finding.

If, in spite of our best efforts, we are not happy, we need to ask ourselves…

Are we going about the pursuit of happiness in the wrong way?

If we confuse happiness with pleasure, the answer is yes.  Pleasure comes from transitory sensory experiences. The constant pursuit of pleasure does not create happiness and can lead us further from it.

Happiness is inner peace, a deep-seated sense of harmony and contentment. It does not depend on external circumstances or experiences.

While there are many excellent, helpful sites with valuable knowledge and advice to share, door-1013705_640happiness is not something that can be attained in and of itself. It doesn’t come wrapped in a neat little package and, once we open the right door, it will be ours to have and to hold forever.

Happiness is a by-product, the result of who we are, how we live and think, act and react. As the great American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne explained…

Happiness in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally. Make it the object of pursuit, and it leads us a wild-goose chase, and is never attained. Follow some other object, and very possibly we may find that we have caught happiness without dreaming of it.

What would such objects be? Purpose, meaning, selflessness, forgiveness, integrity. Live with these qualities and no matter what your circumstances are, you will be happy. 

Happiness is not a momentary thrill, a passing high. To be truly happy is to have an unwavering sense of inner peace and contentment that can only come from experiencing the natural ups and downs of life. Through pain, we discover our strength. Through sorrow, we learn compassion. Through fear, we find courage.

THE BIG MISTAKE: believing unhappiness is caused by and can be resolved by something outside ourselves.

finance-462986_640If only I had ___________________

If only (my partner, child, boss) would _____________________

When you list reasons you are not happy, you probably focus on external factors like I am not happy because I am in debt. But that is not the real reason. Go deeper. What does the external circumstance indicate? What is the thinking behind it? Our thoughts and feelings are the reason we are happy or unhappy, secure or insecure. 

THE CORRECTION: Seek the REAL reasons you are not happy and work on changing those.

Fill in the blank: I am not happy because ____________________.

EXTERNAL CIRCUMSTANCE                         REAL REASON

I am in debt                                                        I feel insufficient, afraid

I don’t have a partner                                      I feel lonely, unwanted

I am not successful                                           I am not smart/worthy

I am not attractive                                            I am not lovable

I am sick                                                             I am weak, frightened

Thoughts are at the root of feelings. They cannot be erased by changing our bodies or external circumstances. They don’t dissolve under quick fix happiness bandaids. We need to root out the blocks to our happiness and work on changing them. We need to look at our negative thoughts and self-defeating beliefs and heal them with forgiveness, love and light. We need to build our character and develop integrity so that we won’t feel weak and unworthy.

We (3)From Healing Feelings: Even in the harshest of conditions, we rule the domain of our mind. Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote a brilliant, moving account of his years as a prisoner in Nazi death camps in the book, “Man’s Search For Meaning.” He observed that those who survived found some purpose, reason to live, within that most horrific of experiences. When we give suffering meaning, it can empower instead of weaken us, drive us forward instead of backward.

As long as we seek happiness, we will never find it. But it will be ours if remove the blocks to it and meet life’s challenges, build our character and live our lives with honesty, compassion, gratitude and generosity.  

May your life have a positive purpose, be a source of true happiness and a blessing to others.

The Dark Side of the Holidays

Marge’s husband died 6 weeks ago. Every time she hears “Happy Holidays” she wants to scream. How can you be happy without your lover, friend, partner of 42 years at your side? Marge  dreads Christmas. She wants to run away someplace that bans all holiday celebrations. But she doesn’t know where that is or how to get there.

Allen can’t sleep at night. He and his wife both work but after basic expenses, nothing is left. When his two children were smaller, they were happy with toys that didn’t cost much. Now they want expensive gifts. He can’t afford one smartphone much less two. He will disappoint his children, they’ll lose faith in him.

Nineteen year old Danielle is away from home for the first time.candles-897776_640 She is on an army base in northern Europe. She talks to her family via Skype. She can see the Channukah candles in the background. She is so homesick, she goes back to her bunk and cries herself to sleep.

For many, the holidays are a time of anxiety, sadness, loneliness, disappointment and grief….

If we are grieving the loss of a loved one, the pain is even more acute.

If we don’t have enough money or spend too much, we feel anxious.

If we are alone, we feel abandoned and sad.

If the anticipation is greater than the reality, disappointment overshadows the event.

Even the best of holiday celebrations can be ruined by too much food, too much alcohol, not enough sleep and family fights. The time and energy expended in decorating, writing Christmas cards, shopping, cooking, attending holiday functions can drive people to the point of exhaustion or illness.

These are some of the reasons holidays are not a joyous time for everyone. And to top it off, there is the pressure to enjoy the holidays

Where are you going for the holidays? Who are you spending the holidays with? Are you ready for Channukah? Christmas? What are you doing New Year’s Eve? And afterward….How were your holidays? What did you get? What did you do? Where did you go?

If you didn’t have a wonderful, fulfilling, loving experience, you might feel guilty, lacking. Where did you go astray? What’s wrong with you? Not enjoying the holidays is clearly an indicator of a serious character flaw. We dare not confess our feelings, admit our despair in the face of such frivolity. We try our best to put on a happy face. Is it any wonder that many people face the holidays with trepidation?

What’s Wrong With the Holidays?

Sappy holiday television commercials and happy holiday comedies play on our emotions. If we compare our lives to those illusory, idyllic models of love and joy, we feel disheartened.

The commercialism of holidays – literally holy days – has replaced the sacred with mad spending sprees. How much we spend on one another is a scale against which we measure worth.  Now the value of the gift is a measure of our value, how much we are loved.

We’re consumer crazy. We go into debt. Since 1982, Americans’ personal savings rate has dropped from 11 percent to below zero.

christmas-market-545690_640We spoil our children and promote materialistic values. It is estimated that Americans spent approximately 22 billion dollars  on toys in 2014.  That is over one-fourth of global spending on toys. The U.S. has only 5% of the world’s population.

In spite of all that is spent on children, they too experience holiday stress. How do you think Allen’s children feel when they don’t have an Ipad or Smartphone or a new pair of Nikes to show off?

If you are experiencing the dark side of the holidays…

You are not alone. Many others feel the same way.

Your feelings are normal, nothing to be ashamed of.

Don’t compare yourself to what you think others are experiencing.

Your happiness and peace of mind come from within. Don’t give your power away to external circumstances.

Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset. Saint Francis de Sales

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NEXT WEEK:  7 Ways Up When Holidays Get You Down

Adrift in the Dark Night of the Soul

The term ‘dark night of the soul’ comes from a 16th century poem by Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross. It refers to a period of despair associated with spiritual longing. Unlike clinical depression, it does not render one incapable of functioning normally. In many other ways, it is similar. Feelings include emptiness, meaninglessness, hopelessness, loneliness. F. Scott Fitzgerald describes it in a way easily envisioned…

In a real dark night of the soul
it is always three o’clock in the morning.

Imagine… A pall is cast over the world. It slumbers in silence and darkness. You are awake, alone, peering into the darkness. But for you, morning does not come.

At one time or another, I believe, we have all been engulfed in the darkness, consumed with a feeling poignantly described as ‘homesick for heaven.’ It is a yearning for Truth or God or something we can’t even name, so intense that it is felt as a torment to the soul. 

We cannot see a way out of the darkness, neither can we turn back. The life led till now suddenly appears as a charade. Everything we worked for, believed was driven by the indoctrination of our upbringing, education, culture. It is as if our eyes abruptly open and we see life, the world, ourselves as meaningless. The mood is hauntingly described in…

Ecclesiastes Chapters 1: 2 and 9: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

and Chapter 2: 10 and 11: I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure… Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

It is this all pervasive sense of futility that crushes the spirit. Eckhart Tolle calls it “an eruption into your life of a deep sense of meaninglessness. … Really what has collapsed then is the whole conceptual framework for your life, the meaning that your mind had given it. So that results in a dark place.”

It is no secret that Mother Teresa endured the dark night of the soul most of her life. While she continued her work with love and good humor, she suffered inwardly believing God had abandoned her. In 1957, she wrote, I am told God lives in me, and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. 

Where Am I? Who Am I?

In my book Healing Feelings, I suggest that in the dark night of the soul, we feel untethered, adrift between two shores. We are attached to the identities we have created…It can be both startling and dismaying to face the fact that the self we BookCoverImagehave identified with is just a role we’re playing in a story we’re caught up in. As we release the various lies and layers of the false self and begin to detach from it, it is common to experience a sense of emptiness, a void within.

We recognize the falsity of the ego and cannot pretend to be the same person we were. But who are we? We do not know. We are in no man’s land, lost in a dark, empty, infinite space.

Eckhart Tolle: The dark night of the soul is a kind of death that you die. What dies is the egoic sense of self.  Nothing real has actually died there – only an illusory identity.

Illusory or not, it is the identity we have always nurtured and cherished. How can we survive without it? We are like the man who has fallen off a cliff and is holding onto the outcropping of a ledge to keep from hurtling into the abyss.

mountains-858660_640From Make the Best of the Rest of Your LifeHe knew in moments he’d plummet to his death. There was no place to go, nothing left to do but pray. He raised his eyes to the sky and cried, “God, if you’re up there, help me. I haven’t been much of a believer but if you exist, if you’re up there, I’m begging you, tell me what to do.”

There was a crack of thunder and God’s Voice bellowed from the heavens: “Let go, my child.” The man looked down at the abyss, raised his eyes to the skies once more and yelled, “Is anybody else up there?”

The torment of the dark night is that we are not sure anyone at all is up there. If there is, He has forsaken us. And so we linger in the void, afraid to let go, unable to go back.

Healing Feelings: We equate nothingness with death, but the void is, in fact, the matrix of creativity. Among the many gifts to be found in allowing ourselves to merge with the void are greater awareness, insight, sensitivity, pure emotion and clear perception…We need to sink into and experience the void, and stay with it. It is the fertile soil of the soul. From it rises the phoenix, the new life.

The dark night of the soul is a passage many spiritual seekers go through. Even those not consciously on a spiritual path experience it. For everyone has a hunger in the soul they cannot name.

This world you seem to live in is not home to you. And somewhere in your mind you know that this is true….you feel an alien here…No one but knows whereof we speak….We speak today for everyone who walks this world for he is not at home. He goes uncertainly about in endless search, seeking in darkness what he cannot find; not recognizing what it is he seeks. A Course In Miracles Lesson 182

Feeling alienated from holiday festivities could initiate  a dark night of the soul. The more one resists it, the longer it lasts and more engulfing it is. Surrender to it. Allow yourself to merge with the void. Know that there is, in the darkest night, a spark of light in all of us that never goes out. 

The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become. Charles DuBois

NEXT WEEK: The Dark Side of the Holidays