(This is another in my series of excerpted and updated Posts from my old blog A Glitch In Time. This one was called “Pursuing Happiness” originally appearing in March of 2013.)
‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ is a well-known phrase written into the United States of America’s Declaration of Independence. What a very loaded seven words these are!
Life—the very fact that you can read the word means that you have got it, at least temporarily. But the quality of that life covers such a huge and daunting scale, from abject misery to complete hedonism with a million shades of gray in between, that it becomes little more than a vagary. Life isn’t really a right, it’s more of a condition or state that we find ourselves in, and according to what belief system you subscribe to, it’s either book-ended between birth and death, or eternal. Either way, it’s not something that can be guaranteed, or conferred by a document, government or another person.
Then there’s Liberty—freedom, in a nutshell. The right to choose for oneself is a lovely idea, but not particularly practical. Lots of folks out there have some pretty skewed ideas of what they would do with absolute freedom. In this world, liberties are given and taken away constantly. It may be by the tides of governmental, environmental or religious revision, or the larger waves of societal paradigm shifts, but what is an acceptable freedom changes drastically over time.
Then we get to ‘the pursuit of happiness’. What is Happiness, and why must it be pursued? I look around at the world and see that exactly that kind of mad pursuit is going on. Happiness is sometimes viewed as synonymous with emotions like joy, bliss or ecstasy, but I would argue that those are causal, that attaining one of those states may result in Happiness. Possibly, being happy may be a platform from which to achieve those more exalted sentiments, but if you’ve set the bar that high for normal, everyday contentment, it will probably never be reached. What makes people happy? It’s different for each individual, I think. I see almost everyone I know frantically searching for the grail of Happiness, but I know very few people who are truly happy. So we pursue.
There are whole systems and industries devoted to that pursuit. Whether it’s books, movies, television, music or the internet, we’re a culture devoted to entertaining ourselves (It makes me think of the 1992 album by Roger Waters, “Amused to Death”). Don’t get me wrong— I enjoy all of the above. I sometimes think that I could quite “happily” curl up with a good book until the day I leave this world, and have no real regrets. Escapism does indeed have its allure. The stimulation provided to our minds by music, literature and art are important. Without them, life would be a dreary state indeed, but I believe that to be “happy”, you have to be engaged in the world around you, alive through senses that encompass the physical and emotional aspects of self as well as the mental.
Am I Happy? That’s a good question, one that I’ve asked myself many times. Often not, it seems. In the long run of life, definitely not. I have certainly lived long enough to have experienced a very broad range of being. As in any life, there has been tragedy, death, illness and pain—both physical and emotional. I’ve also been privileged to experience the other end of the spectrum of perceptions, perhaps more so than many others. There has been a great deal of love in my life. Love with a capital L and love with a small l. I’ve been blessed to experience it all. I have managed, through my spiritual pursuits and the grace of All That Is, to achieve, albeit briefly, those states of being where all is Love, where transcendence is a reality, and Life a great river leading back to God. That being said, having achieved but not endured, having glimpsed the possibilities but fallen back into the mundane, mere Happiness should be a piece of cake.
Perhaps not. This is not altogether because I sometimes forget that this life we lead and the way we experience time is largely Illusion, a limitation of physically bound perception. Though that is part of it. It is also because having compassion and empathy in this world means that you cannot help but See all of the pain and suffering that surrounds us, that others experience on a daily basis, and cringe at the enormity of it. This brings me to the heart of the matter. It is pointless, I know, and yet I often cannot help but feel Guilt if I am happy while so many others are not, and can’t be. There was a time in my life when I had pretty much freed myself from guilt—a rather amazing accomplishment considering how much of social interaction is based on just that. I knew, and know, that it is a waste of precious energy, the life force itself, that we can ill afford. It achieves nothing and changes less. Instead, it makes us miserable and points us toward empty gestures in life that bring neither ourselves or the ones they are directed at any real help. It is a vicious circle. I feel guilty if I am happy, and the guilt makes me unhappy. Back to square one.
The next stumbling block I meet on the road to Happiness is anticipation—simply waiting for the other shoe to drop. How can I be happy if I know that sooner or later something will undoubtedly occur to make me unhappy? Always has—always will. As simple as that I’ve assured myself of remaining unhappy. You can’t lose what you don’t have. Right!
It’s wrong and I know it is.
This post has certainly not went where I thought it would. Not exactly uplifting, and probably not very entertaining. I began along this train of thought because these past few months, I’ve come dangerously close to being happy, to being content with life. Something in me seems to want to block that at all costs. So, I fall into the aforementioned traps and don’t allow myself to just be happy. In the here and now, with no guilt and no expectations, to just be okay with it all.
I have so much. A home and family I dearly love are all around me. I think I’m talking to myself here, because the busy buzzings in my mind don’t give my own Voice a chance to tell me what I need to know, what we all need to know. It is alright to just be, to love yourself and the life you have in any given moment. Don’t let that guilty, frightened whisperer inside tell you any different.
I realized at some point that this post had taken on some rather negative overtones. Though that was certainly not my intention, I was right in the midst of this writing when I took a fall and broke my wrist. I am left-handed and it was my left wrist. After the experience of surgery and considerable pain, inconvenience expense— I was definitely not Happy. It was a difficult interlude in my life. I was suddenly dependent on others to do usually easy and mundane chores. Typing a blog post became a long and tedious chore. All the plans I had made for that spring were put on hold for the next two months or more.
I was not Happy, but at some point, I quit feeling sorry for myself for long enough to know that I would be again. The potential for Happiness exists always if you can overcome the obstacles life puts in the way and embrace it. I think that perhaps one of the greatest freedoms, or liberties if you like, that we have as humans is to allow ourselves to feel happy, whether it be for a moment, a day, or for however long we can. Sooner or later I will be happy again, but I won’t pursue it. I am going to let it come to me, and when it does I will welcome it without guilt or judgment, and invite it to stay.
In the four years since I wrote this, I have been Happy at times. I have also been sorrowful, morose, depressed and, at times, very unHappy. I also have come to believe that, while nice, happiness is not all its chalked up to be. For the most part these days I find myself more often experiencing interludes of contentment, of acceptance of life for just what it is at a given moment. Without looking ahead, or behind, I find myself in a place that’s alright to be. Instead of chasing Happiness, I thin I’d rather Follow my Bliss.
Till Next Time…