January 22, 2011

Redefining Happiness.

I recently came across some pictures online of an old friend of mine who is now travelling around the world. We went to high school together, this friend and I, and then off to university in the same city where we shared many of our first-year experiences. Unfortunately, my friend felt no passion for her academic program nor university life in general, and promptly dropped out of school to go work out west. Since then, she’s been travelling the globe, couchsurfing and volunteering and picking up odd jobs, and despite the fact that I wanted to feel happy for her, all I could feel after seeing her pictures was jealousy.

I’d like to think that there’s a little bit of a seed in all of us, one that wants us to roam wild and free and reject the notion of a conventional life. There are certainly moments when I wish I could be more like this friend of mine, this friend who seems to be living without a care in the world. As I reflected upon these thoughts, I was struck by the memory of a conversation we shared, several years ago, when she told me how unhappy she was, and I told her that perhaps she should reconsider her idea of happiness.

So, I reconsidered my idea of happiness.

Indeed, I’ve come to realize that it is certainly much easier to feel happy while travelling the world, and finding parts of yourself in places that you’ve never been. Yet, there’s also something noble and true about finding happiness right where you are – albeit within an ordinary, not-so-exciting kind of life. I’ve accepted that it is difficult to feel happy while burdened with deadlines in the midst of a snowstorm when you could be romping on a beach somewhere, but I’ve also accepted that happiness is an idea, one that can appear in something as small as a steaming cup of tea and a laugh shared with a good friend. Happiness is knowing that your education, your talents and gifts, are making a difference in the world. Happiness can be found wherever you let it appear.

In fact, I read somewhere that happiness appears to be directly related to growth – that is, the more one is challenged and stimulated, the happier he or she will be. Yeats once wrote, “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”

It dawned on me that one of the reasons why the practice of yoga makes me so happy is because it is always challenging me in new and exciting ways. In terms of asana, there are always new poses to work on – once headstand has been mastered, there is forearm stand and handstand. Have Bakasana down pat? Good, now try the one-legged version (it’s hard!). There is the constant exploration of ease and effort, of breath and bandhas. Beyond asana, there are also the yamas and niyamas to consider. Yoga isn’t meant to be a purely physical practice, but a spiritual, mental, and emotional practice as well. It’s a practice of growth, and it’s a practice of happiness.

Maybe I don’t need to give up everything I’ve got in order to be happy. Maybe all I have to do is focus on everything I’ve got. In this moment of quiet, happy self-reflection…my jealousy dissipated, and I was able to feel truly happy for this old friend of mine, who seems to have found happiness, her own way.

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