Behind most things that we want, at the core of what we think we are looking for, is this one elusive word, “happiness”. We want to be happy, we want our kids to be happy, we want to be happy in our careers, we want to have happy families. Have we ever stopped to ask ourselves what happiness actually is? Do we even know what we’re asking for? And if we did, would we still want it?
In order to understand happiness, we have to start by looking at the raw experience of emotion. The next time you feel any emotion, close your eyes and observe it. Imagine that you could remove the label from it and just see it in its raw state as a baby might experience it. What you’ll notice when you close your eyes is that you are instantly transported into a never-ending internal space and emotion is something that arises within this space. All that emotion is, is a movement of energy in this vast space. It may feel fast or slow, smooth or prickly, quiet or loud, distant or in-your-face. It may move upwards or downwards, be constricting or expansive, it may even have a shape or a colour.
When you begin to observe your internal world, you’ll see that all emotions are simply movements of energy in this inner space, each one with a different movement, frequency or intensity. There is nothing in this movement that tells you that this is happiness or anger or sadness or boredom or excitement or anxiety or peace. There is nothing in the movement of energy that tells you that this is a ‘bad’ or a ‘good’ emotion. Each one is simply a different movement of energy once you view it without the label that you have applied to it. In fact, if you watch carefully you’ll see that without the label, it is very difficult to distinguish between boredom and peace, or between excitement and anxiety. The difference between a ‘bad’ and a ‘good’ emotion lies in the label and in the story that our minds attach to the experience.
So, knowing this, then what is happiness? It is simply one movement of energy in inner space. We may experience it as smooth, quiet energy, but there is nothing in that movement that makes it better energy than one that is loud and spiky or one that is fast and expansive. What we’re saying when we say we want to always be happy is that we only want to experience one movement of energy for the rest of our lives. Like only watching one movie for the rest of your life, or listening to one song, or eating one type of food, or hanging out with only one friend. Is that really what you want?
We have a variety of emotions to make life interesting, diverse, fun. There is a richness to our experience as humans because of our range of emotional energies, not in spite of them. What most people call happiness I call flatlining.
What I believe we are all really looking for is fulfilment – that state of pursuing something so meaningful to you that you enjoy both the ups and downs, the highs and lows; the full range of emotional expression. That is a life worth living, that is a career worth pursuing, that is a family goal worth having, and that is what we need to be teaching our kids. Let go of the pursuit of happiness. Pursue your dreams and enjoy the roller coaster of an experience that comes with that pursuit!