February 22, 2021

What if We are Doing Happiness Wrong?

It was late in the afternoon. The sun was still blistering hot.

I was walking back from my second surf session of the day. I think it was a Tuesday. Life was good.

On the other side of the bay, a few surfers were still riding a mushy right-hander. The waves were calmer on my side of the bay. Families had started to gather for sunset. The smell of beach fires lingered in the air. I put my board down on the sand and entered the ocean for one final swim.

Lying on my back, I floated in the gently-lapping waves. The ocean temperature was almost as warm as the tropical Costa Rican air. I had never felt happier in my life. I turned over and ducked under the water and yelled, “I would do anything to keep this feeling alive.”

At that moment, I felt fully supported by the ocean around me, by the jungle lining the shore, by the blue sky overhead, by the golden sand that lined the bay. I felt completely connected to all that is. I felt so much peace. I felt love.

In that moment of ultimate presence, I felt no anxiety for the uncertain future ahead. At the time, I was nearing the end of a two-and-a-half-month wellness journey through Central America. I would soon be heading back to Canada and to an engineering job I did not love.

Either I was going to figure out how to make the job work, or I would find something new. But not in that moment; at that moment, all I had to do was feel love.

In feeling the love of that moment, I also released more of the burden I’d been carrying over the previous six months. For over half a year, I had slowly pieced my shattered soul back together after the end of a marriage. To find happiness after the breakup, I had been doing all the right things.

I listened to all the podcasts, I read all the books, I saw a counsellor, I took advice from friends (some of them), I hired a coach, I spent time in nature, I started journaling, I learned meditation, I surrounded myself with rocks that supposedly had healing powers that I’d never understand. I didn’t care—I needed all the things to help me move forward.

And now, here I was, finally floating in bliss.

I eventually got out of the ocean, grabbed my board, and started the short walk back to my casita. As I began my walk, my mind started its familiar race of trying to control things beyond its power. It started to create unrealistic expectations for how the future would unfold. It began to overthink all that had transpired over the previous half-year.

Almost three years later, I haven’t even gotten close to feeling that same level of floating bliss.

In the time that has passed, every aspect of my life has at times seemed like a struggle. The more I’ve tried to control the outcome of jobs, relationships, or book sales, the more I seem to push away the success I desire. With each lofty expectation unfulfilled, I’ve sunk deeper away from that sustained joy.

But what if we are doing happiness wrong? What if happiness and fulfillment are more than just that finite moment of feeling total love?

What if the real lie is the expectation that full-time bliss is not only the goal but an achievable goal? And who decided that happiness is good and sad is bad?

What if whatever we are feeling is perfect for us at any given moment? And what if we were okay with not only being honest about how we feel but also having the strength to be present and hold space when someone else shares their pain.

The challenging thing with depression is that you already feel bad enough for letting others down by not being happy, that it’s easier just to say you’re fine to not make them feel even more uncomfortable.

If we remove the expectation of full-time bliss, remove the dichotomy of what feelings are good and what feelings are bad, remove all expectations and labels, what we are left with just is what it is.

It isn’t right; it isn’t wrong, it isn’t good, it isn’t bad—you just are. You just feel what you feel. And if you are okay with me feeling like hell some days, the best thing you can do is just be present with me and let me be in all that I am feeling.

Perhaps the gateway to true, free, blissful living is not some sort of life pinned on nonstop euphoria, but perhaps it is the acceptance that whatever you are feeling is absolutely perfect for you at that moment.


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