On the discomfort of looking outside for happiness
For the last year or so, I've been watching problems in my life solve themselves. I can't explain how it happens, but it happens. I've seen difficult people suddenly become easier to deal with. I've seen people mature before my eyes as they learn to transition from one activity to the next. And I've seen a minor problem at work get solved before my eyes, without any intervention on my part. Left well enough alone, life runs pretty well without me sticking my will in places it doesn't belong.
Along with these observations came an inordinate amount of peace. I can't explain that, either, other than to say, that for my part, I have been diligently following my own principle: Err on the side of peace.
With peace, comes spare time. And in that spare time, I have to decide what to do. Where to go. I have to decide if I am happy or not. I think it's important here, to also mention contentment. Contentment is, for me anyway, a sense that everything that I need right now, is right here. There is nothing more for me to pursue, to add, at this very moment, to get my needs met. Happiness is noticing the frosting on the cake, the other stuff that can give me joy.
I'm not here to tell you that my life is perfect. It's not. I'm not rich. I don't dine at posh restaurants, My cars are getting on in their years, and I work a day job. But even if my life were perfect, I'd still have to decide if I was happy or not. I'd still have to notice that life is good. And generally, life is good.
So it was interesting to me to see myself, during that spare time, when the kids are playing, and my wife is busy with some project, and there are no other demands on my time, looking for something to do. Looking for something outside of myself, something to validate contentment or happiness. As if I needed something on the outside to make it real.
I noticed that I'd snack on things, other than fruit and veggies and that would make me thirsty and I'd feel full. I noticed that I'd nap a little on my days off. I noticed that I'm spending more time reading articles when I'd like to go out to a movie. I'd go for a walk, usually with my kids. Or I'd take my kids to the fitness center and see what we could do there. Whatever it was, I was looking outside, for something else to say I'm happy, to occupy my mind.
Happiness or even contentment can be fleeting for many people. But I can tell you, as someone who has learned how to find it, contentment requires a quiet mind. Finding contentment is an inside job. Contentment is something that must come from inside. There is no other way.
If I allow external circumstances to dictate the terms of contentment to me, then I give other people power, power I don't want them to have. What comes to mind are things like Christmas, shiny things, money, and vacations. Yes, those are nice things, but I've seen people with nice things, real enduring wealth, and I've seen them be not happy, at all. Even with their riches all around, they could hardly stand to be content, let alone happy. One look at all the corruption in the news will prove my point.
Why do grown men sitting on more money than I will ever see in a lifetime, need more money to be happy? Why do men who are already wealthy need to engage in corrupt acts in order to be happy? They made the decision to not be happy, and to set an arbitrary standard for what will make them happy.
People, places and things are beyond my power. When I learned that so long ago, I decided that if I was going to find happiness, I had to find contentment first. That is to say, I was going to learn to meet my own needs first, to satisfy myself first with simple pleasures. With that came the resilience I needed to not sweat the small stuff, to not give other people permission to intrude upon my contentment, in my own mind.
I don't need control over other people to make myself happy. I'd like a little bit of influence sure, but whatever we do together, I want that to be of free will. There is a corollary to that principle to err on the side of peace: I use no force when interacting with other people. I want all of my interactions to be of free will for all of us.
For there is no love if the people around me feel compelled to be with me due to any threat or exercise of force. If the use of force or threat of force were presently in the minds of the people around me, then there can be no love. Love cannot exist where there is compulsion.
People don't make me happy. I find my own happiness and allow other people to add to my happiness, but I don't make other people responsible for my happiness. To make other people responsible for my happiness is to give them power I'd rather manage myself.
I am partially deaf in one ear and almost totally deaf in the other. I have had one or more persons tell me during my life, that people who are deaf tend to go inside for peace. Yes, I do that. I go inside for peace because every attempt I've ever made to find peace on the outside has failed. It is only when I go inside do I find peace. And I can find peace inside, even in a noisy room, which may be difficult at times, but I do find it.
So if you're looking for peace, start with you first. Find what gives you contentment. Build your contentment around you, and make it accessible. Find simple pleasures that are accessible. Find your own little corner where you will always find peace and a quiet mind, for contentment awaits you there.
For when you find that contentment, everything else is a bonus. When you notice that contentment, everyone and everything else can add to your contentment, if you decide to let it. No matter what your situation, you are the one who decides if you are content. No one else can do it for you, nor would you want someone else to have that power.
Happiness is not a destination. It is not an achievement. It is a decision, a decision we must make every minute of every day. It is born of the skill of discernment, of noticing that which we decide has made us happy. Even then, I'm not really sure that anything outside of us can make us happy, for we still have to decide to be happy.