Both because of our biology and sociology (social conditioning), we tend to look outside of ourselves for sources of happiness.
“It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is impossible to find it elsewhere.”
~ Agnes Repplier
As a guy, I tend more toward the yang (or assertive side) of the yin-yang balance.
If you ask a typical person what makes him/her happy, they will say “my family, my husband/wife/significant other, my career or my service to others.”
All these are noble but they are exterior to the individuals themselves—caretaking of others with little regard or even concern for personal needs and longings.
Our happiness then becomes dependent on the happiness of others. As psychologists say, we become externally focused.
This tendency to ignore our own inner lives can leave us exhausted, depressed, alone and resentful.
Sadly, most of us have no clue of what we lack and there are few role models or resources to help us find the way inward.
In my thirties, I thought I had it made.
I had a nice executive job, wore nice suits, drove a BMW and dated a series of girlfriends. I didn’t know it at the time but I was depressed. To compensate, I would become attracted to unstable women and they in turn would confuse my emotional coma as stability.
The more depressed I became, the wilder the women I sought. Eventually I ended up with a truly psychotic girlfriend whose personality would change dramatically and her fierce rants actually scared me into seeking professional help.
What I thought was going to be a “quick fix” lasted for several years.
One way we avoid intimacy with our own and other’s emotions is to go up into our heads and become “rational.”
Our rational mind tells us that if we want to be happy, do happy things—buy a sports car, fancy clothes, have sexual adventures or do extreme sports. Repeat as needed.
But, I have found that happiness is not bound by rationality, but by softer, yin forces—intuition, feelings and deep emotions.
I can remember a therapy session where I confessed that I hated to feel “needy.”
My therapist asked if I ever considered that others might appreciate feeling needed. Sadly, no, until then that thought never crossed my mind.
It took years of befriending my needs before I could confidently share them with others.
Counter intuitively, the way to happiness is through grief and sadness. Our egos, without deep connection to our senses, tend to become hard and unyielding.
I remember a young doctor attending a psychotherapy workshop. His group worked with him for days to get him out of his head into his feelings. On the third day he came to the group excited.
“I thought about feelings and think they’re a good idea!”
By the end of the workshop, the young doctor was beaming with smiles and hugging us all.
Happiness is a feeling, not a thought, and our rational egos need to be flexible enough to expand as happiness fills and fulfills us.
We have to allow our egos to soften and melt in order to let our spirits, our souls, expand outward through our bodies. It is our egos that keep us from our vibrant immediate joy.
“Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.” ~ Carl Jung
I interpret the term “legitimate suffering” as grieving.
“Life is wet!” my therapist exclaimed, chiding me to let go of my ego ideas and let the tears flow.
This was unfamiliar territory for me. Men weren’t supposed to cry. Instinctively, I wanted to pull up into my ego-tripping mind and figure a way out.
But, life is wet.
My tears turned into life’s juices.
I found that the more my defenses melted, the more my life forces flowed. Sure, this caused some rough water and occasional class five wild rapids, but the depression lifted and I felt alive.
“Chaos is not a mess, but rather the primal state of pure energy to which one returns for every true new beginning.” ~ Richard Bridges
Spoiler alert—your ego mind does not like “primal.”
Did you ever hear the Lady Gaga song, “I was so happy I could die?”
Your ego is designed to keep you alive and will fight like hell to keep you from the terrifying “monsters” in your “Land of Id.”
Becoming open to feelings is nothing to run headlong towards, but you can tiptoe in holding your ego’s hand so it doesn’t become too terrified.
To become an adult in this world, I had to let a lot of me die or risk being buried alive, captured deep inside like some rotting Zombie.
I am surprised at the amount of sorrow and grief that I, a privileged suburban white male, had accumulated. I can only imagine the horrors warehoused by those less fortunate than me.
But as I allowed my suffering to be felt, I discovered that the sadness is balanced with feelings of joy and aliveness.
“To experience the excitement and joy of life, one must be able to give in fully to longing and desire for closeness and contact.” ~ Alexander Lowen
Richard Bridges says our longings, our inner signals, alert us to the proximity of “new beginnings”—awakenings that inspire us to connect and create in life.
The way to happiness is to become fulfilled with ourselves, and then we can reach out to others without depletion of our resources.
It is my happiness and I have to take possession of it first for it to have meaning and substance.
Happiness is deep soul work, not a consciously willed process. It cannot be forced or denied, but will emerge spontaneously when the conditions are right.
“I am a verb.” ~ Buckminster Fuller
Happiness, too, is a verb—a series of feelings and emotions flowing freely from our deepest resources.
There is a natural sequence from sorrow to happiness when we get out of the way. Just don’t be too surprised if happiness arrives with a few other emotions.
Our happiness is always paired and balanced with our sorrows. To invite one in is to invite them all. Grieve deeply and fully, knowing that happiness is always the end result.
All feelings fully felt naturally evolve into love.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/ Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock