Timon and Pumbaa, the Lion King’s meerkat and warthog, sang my favorite Disney song on stage.
Both my daughters watched with eyes wide and mouths’ agape. They were riveted. Fearing that even one blink might lead to missing a thrilling next moment. The live thirty-minute show at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom stirred something deep within me as I watched the reflection of the dancing lights in my daughters’ smiling eyes. The Lion King is my favorite Disney film.
Back in college when the movie was first released, I was babysitting Ellis and Owen who were dubbed Mufasa and Simba. They’d play scenes in their entirety, rarely missing a line or skipping a beat. Together we’d sing Hakuna Matata at-full-strength (complete with my obnoxious tone-deaf ear) our arms flailing and hips shaking delirious with laughter. For those brief moments life was problem free without a single worry. Years later, I danced the same way with my daughters, singing Hakauna Matata wildly in our living room. We laughed with a penetrating joy that reached the top of my throat and swelled my eyes with tears that spilled over with happiness.
We were in Disney World, the happiest place on earth.
Where the magic of smiling while crying happens often as a natural reflex. It’s our soul’s way of talking to us, that feeling, letting us know we tapped something authentic and pure. A happiness so profound it becomes visceral and palpable and uncontrollable. It’s occurrence, happening at the most unexpected moments, on its own, without warning. It is almost a whisper saying “This is the rapture of being alive: you are love, joy and happiness. Let this feeling be a reminder of who we all are.”
We stepped out of the cool darkness of the Lion King Theater straight into the hot glow of the Florida sun. The kind of hot where your skin, your clothes, and everything you touch feels sticky. It was like a hot water bottled plopped right in the middle of the park, making it fifteen degrees warmer than it was just before we entered the theater. “Time for a hotel swim!” Pete suggested. We all gave our biggest smile as we imagined the refreshing relief of splashing water. We raced our way out the park and headed straight for the bus.
After a long invigorating swim, I gladly welcomed the warmth of the sun. I lay poolside sipping a cool, fruity cocktail. Watching my kids frolic in the water, I thought of the word happiness–remembering the question Pete asked me years ago, only hours after we met.
“Are you happy?” he said.
“Yeah, of course, I’m happy, I’m having a great time.”
“No, I mean are you Happy? In general?”
Never had someone asked such a soul-stirring question, especially minutes after meeting. I stared at him blankly, unsure how to respond. “Happiness is relative,” I finally answered. Looking away and quickly changing the subject, altered the conversation but the question tugged at me for days and eventually years.
Secretly revisiting it I’d ask, “Can I truly be happy?” Living happiness was never considered an option. I had happy moments, happy days even, but never was it a word used to define life. Life was cloudy with a chance of rain. Occasionally the clouds parted enough for the sun to break, but even then the landscape was fogged over with worry – anticipating the oncoming storm.
People who proclaimed happiness annoyed me to the point I had names for them: liars or deniers.
“How can people be happy in a world filled with suffering and evil and so much ugly?” My intention was distraction from this harsh reality by doing anything to avoid paying attention. Beyond studying or working, I was partying…heavily. The thought of a happy life was simply too nonsensical to investigate.
The documentary happy highlighted one of the many precursors to happiness:
It’s the values we have that are the biggest indicator of our happiness,” Belic learns. Intrinsic goals such as personal growth, relationships and contributing to one’s community are much more conducive to happiness than extrinsic goals like money, power and social standing, he discovered.
Turns out it’s a worthy inquiry. Happiness is real.
Not just glimpses of it, but total and complete, living and breathing happiness. The magic happy pill has yet to be created even with all the Xanax and Prozac invented. The path to happiness clearly doesn’t come with an instruction manual. No simple solution for all humanity to follow. I often wondered why is it so challenging for many of us to be truly happy. We’re a complex species with an intelligent brain that tends to stand in our own way. We don’t embrace the fullness of our lives and potential as human beings. Navigating through our own capabilities, desires and intentions is a sticky process that doesn’t come easy. But we are constantly moving toward greater consciousness and awareness on the path toward a happier today. Evolution is ongoing.
We create the forecast for our own lives; the weatherman exists in our minds. If we tap into our hearts, our spirits will speak so loudly that our minds will have no choice but to predict brightness. Personal growth takes enduring effort, dedication and commitment, but the worthwhile result is a life filled living room dances and smiling tears.
Here’s to our unified individual and collective goal–a life filled with happy. Hakuna Matata!
Editor Tanya L. Markul