I look on happiness as a transient state. Just as I can feel sated after a good meal but accept that I will feel hungry again, so happiness comes and goes.
“Happiness is like a sunbeam, which the least shadow intercepts” (Chinese proverb).
Sometimes I struggle to find my way out from under the shadows that arrive with greater frequency as I age. I have always thought of myself as an optimist, but these days I go through regular periods when living my life requires more effort than it once did.
“You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair.” (Chinese proverb)
When my inner storms threaten my well being, these are just a few of my coping strategies:
- I grant myself permission to feel down. This does not mean wallowing in self pity, but rather accepting that life has it’s lows as well as it’s highs (to flatline is to die). Coping with the lows can certainly be challenging, but I remind myself that this too shall pass.
- I do a Pollyanna and remind myself of all the good things in my life because, whatever is going on, I can always find small reasons to be glad.
- I look for things outside my own existence that raise my spirit. For me this is often a long walk in beautiful countryside, or curling up with a good book. It is escapism, allowing myself to appreciate beauty in words or places that have nothing to do with me, but which I can still experience and thereby find moments of satisfaction and pleasure.
- I share how I am feeling by writing it down. Putting a feeling into words helps me to focus on the cause and effect; it helps add perspective and reason. Writing does not take the pain away, but assists as I ride out the storm.
One advantage of being aware of my low periods is that I notice when they pass. When the sun returns and all is well in my world I make sure that I enjoy and appreciate what I have got. I know that it will not last forever, but also that it will come again. Like a good meal or a fine wine, happiness is to be savoured. It is a special treat and should never be taken for granted.
I look on my life as I would a book. It is made up of chapters, each divided into paragraphs. The plot has unforeseen twists and turns, a cast of interesting characters who may shock or delight but whose actions cannot always be predicted. Sometimes the direction seems obvious, other times I am caught unaware. I may feel angry or hurt, delighted or satisfied with the storyline. An interesting life, like a good book, will not always be predictable.
I confess that I do not like surprises and accepting that I must deal with them is hard. There is no formula to follow that guarantees a happy outcome. We are each a part of the world in which we live and have the ability to affect the lives of those around us, just as they affect ours.
I am angered by injustice, frustrated when it seems that I can do nothing to improve outcomes. I try to live my life by my own moral compass whilst remaining open to learning, to think rationally and critically, to act with empathy and compassion.
I do not, however, demand of myself that I right all of the world’s wrongs. Rather I seek to live my life as a caring citizen, showing love for all. I will not find happiness if I am not at peace with my own inner conscience.
“The first recipe for happiness is: avoid too lengthy meditation on the past.” (Andre Maurois)
It is, of course, possible to learn from mistakes, but I try not to dwell on them. Letting go and moving on can be hard, especially when others are unlikely to forget. My greatest challenge in my pursuit of happiness is in accepting that I cannot change what has gone before, but that it need not define what I am now.
I do not actively seek to be happy, but rather to walk lightly upon this earth and to find inner peace and fulfilment. When I am quiet and content I the happiness arrives of it’s own accord. I welcome it, savour it, and try not to mourn it’s loss when it leaves. Thus far, it has always returned.
“You never know what’s around the corner. It could be everything, or it could be nothing. You keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day you look back and you’ve climbed a mountain.” (Tom Hiddleston)