Are you happy? How do you know? There is a great deal of stuff out there about happiness; what it is and what it isn’t. But how many people answer an authentic “yes!” when asked if they’re happy?
Maybe so few people can say they are happy because of the unrealistic and far-fetched expectations our society has laid out in front of us via movies, songs, commercials, social media and even trendy motivational and well-being movements.
These days, not only do you have to be super fit, sexy and rich, but you also have to be a vegan home-cook who uses only all-natural everything and is able to flip up into an unsupported handstand in yoga class which you attend between volunteering at your kid’s school and saving the planet.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of those things and those who know me know that I have a front seat on the wellness and environmental bandwagon. I don’t, however, subscribe to pressure of any kind. I believe in doing your best with the options you have, practicing moderation in everything, and choosing what works for you (which rarely is the same as what works for someone else). If you are always striving for society’s description of the ideal body, lifestyle, schedule, relationship and picture-perfect scenario for your life in order to be happy, happiness will always elude you.
Have you ever had a toothache? I mean, a really bad toothache? The kind that requires you to swallow a handful of whatever pain medication you can find until you can get to a dentist? In those dreadful moments of intense pain, do you not say to yourself “Please let the pain just go away, let it stop!” And when it does stop….AAAAAHHHHHH, BLISS! Thank you God!
When you experience the absence of pain after having experienced such mind-numbing discomfort, you get a sort of ‘high” as you relax and feel like yourself again. That is non-toothache happiness, a concept taught by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk. In other words, the absence of suffering can be a basis for happiness.
You don’t have to wait for all conditions to be “perfect” in order to be happy; you can simply remember a time you have suffered and be grateful that you are not suffering that way in this moment.
Now, I wouldn’t be much of a life coach if I said that non-toothache happiness is enough, and that we shouldn’t have goals and ideals for ourselves and our lives. Of course we should, or we might as well be dead.
What I’m saying is that you can be happy along the way, enjoying a foundation of happiness built on non-toothache sort of pleasure. Pleasure may not be the right word…Pleasure is temporary. It comes when something exciting or gratifying happens, and it is not long before the feeling passes and leaves you longing for the next experience of pleasure (as in addiction). I prefer the word “contentment”.
Being content as a baseline way of living is doable. Much more doable than aiming to have constant highs or peak experiences. When you live in contentment, you are able to enjoy those highs and peaks fully when they do come, and you are just as able to let them go, because you know you’re going back to that foundation, that quiet, peaceful state of contentment in which you are ok with whatever is. Besides, you know that the simple and little things add up to something more valuable than those big “happy” experiences.
The next time you feel down, bummed out, and unhappy, imagine having a terrible toothache (or a migraine, or being on fire) and be happy that you are not in that situation right now. If that’s all the happiness you can muster up in that moment, it is enough.
Happiness is relative; different for everyone. If you have a low set-point of happiness, this practice of non-toothache happiness can serve to reassure you that you are just fine where you are.
You are not depressed, my dear. You need not do cartwheels, laugh all the time and have the so-called perfect life in order to be happy. You can just choose to be content. In the end, contentment is a lasting and steadfast way to live which will help keep you even-keeled through all the inevitable ups and downs of life.