Monday, January 3, 2011

Getting Our Happiness Bearings

Let’s start at the very beginning
A very good place to start ....

–Do Re Mi, from The Sound of Music

I suggested last week (Preparing the Ground) that we all rate ourselves on a happiness scale of 1 to 10, and that we think about our habits, the ones that serve our happiness and the ones that don’t. There is no right or wrong, no better or worse, no comparison, no competition, no failure, no blame. There is just where we are. And wherever we are is perfect because it’s where we start, at the very beginning. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” is cliche because it’s true.

So let’s begin with loving awareness of where we are. Where did you rate yourself? Which category fits you best?

You have been on the high end of the scale your whole life

Wonderful! You have always lived in the embrace of joy. You might reflect on how that has manifested in your life. How does happiness permeate your views of yourself and other people? How do you interact with the world from this lifetime foundation of joy?

For example, a friend who would put herself in this category offered these reflections about her own philosophy. 1) Don't strive to have everything you love. Love what you have. 2) Anything beyond my needs is wealth.

Those of you who have always been happy might not have given it much thought, so maybe this would be a good time to take stock and offer some reflections to the rest of us.

You are on the high end now but this wasn’t always true

Wonderful! You have had the experience of transforming your life. What motivated you to change? What specifically did you change in your life? How did you do it? And how have you maintained it?

I fall into this category, and I will describe more of my own story in an upcoming post. Maybe some others would like to share here. Whether you want to share or not, consider these questions so that you can reinforce the habits that will help you stay in your happy place.

You are on the mid to lower end of the scale

Wonderful! You are aware of where you are, and perhaps you are willing to take some steps to bring more joy into your life. Many of us want to be happier but it eludes us for reasons we might not understand. I found that many of us hold “shadow beliefs” about happiness that block our efforts to be happier. I know I did.

What are your uncensored thoughts when you think about happiness? Do you feel some resistance? Some anxiety? Fear?

For example, maybe you think that happiness is not an appropriate goal when there is so much suffering in the world. Maybe you think that you shouldn't be happy when people around you are not happy. Maybe you don’t feel worthy of happiness. Maybe you don’t want to tempt fate. Maybe you are scared to be happy because you can’t make it last. Maybe it isn’t sophisticated in your circle to be happy. Maybe being happy means relaxing your guard, and then all those terrible things you keep at bay by the sheer force of your vigilance will come in the night to destroy you or someone you love. And if you are a high school student, then for sure it is not cool to be happy.

Do any of these examples resonate for you? Can you perceive other shadow beliefs? If you have discovered some hidden blocks, then that’s terrific. Don’t judge them. Remember, no blame. Holding these beliefs in loving awareness will begin to soften them.

To everyone – Remember, wherever you are on the scale is perfect. Today is a new beginning. We will be focusing on Step 1 this month, giving yourself permission to be happy.

Start where you are.
–Pema Chodron


  1. I know that I try not to compare my happiness level with those around me. They may have highs or lows I will never know. Im ok with that.

    I would say I was in the middle of the scale. I have found happiness comes much easier than it did for me in my 30's.

    Nice post. I like that we can all be on any part of the scale and its ok.

  2. Well you certainly have given me a lot to think about. My first reaction is to admit I'm basically a happy person, on the outside for sure, especially at work, even if my day isn't on the happiest's a face I maintain in life, which seems to work for me. Especially those days when I feel as though I'm living in the dumps. But, by being a friendly person with a happy attitude to those I meet my behavior influences how they are back to me...except of course for those sour grapes that really don't like being happy...and hope to bring you down to their level of fear?, unhappiness...? not sure why, but some do. This is going to be fun, thanks!

  3. onemixedbag--I, too, have gotten happier as I've gotten older. I guess that's a good thing since I would rather be looking forward to more happiness rather than looking back thinking the best is over! You are exactly right--it doesn't matter where you are on the scale. It's perfect. We are not trying to get to "10" or make it some sort of race. We are trying to hold wherever we are in loving awareness. That in itself will deepen our happiness.

    Karen S--I think you are describing "emotional contagion." If you put forward a happy attitude, you will first of all increase your own happiness, and you will also increase the happiness of those around you, as you said. That, in turn, will loop back to you. It doesn't mean being phony. It just means making the best of your situation and thereby encouraging others to do the same.

    I think this is going to be fun, too! And fun is good.

  4. Galen... did you know that i am so glad that i stumbled across your blog! Just wanted you to know!

  5. Average Girl--You are a sweetie! Thank you for a comment that put a smile on my face all day!

  6. Firstly, thank you so much for your supporting words on my blog...I cried a little as I felt I could. You helped me today.
    As far as the happiness scale goes, I am very happy...despite all I blog about....because my son is alive, my family lives fairly well, we have jobs which satisfy us to an extent and support us enough to cope, and because I have learned to appreciate what I have. I call September 13, 2009 my "Lucky Day" because we found out about Sammy's Leukemia. Two more days and he would have left us...the doctors were amazed at his recovery. So I am happy. I am stressed, tired, overworked, and in need of a manicure....but I am happy because what counts in life is what I have.

  7. JackSamMum--I just read something recently about finding joy "in" suffering. It didn't mean finding joy because of sufferning or in spite of suffering. I think it meant finding joy inside, not in our outer circumstances, our deep core of joy underneath whatever is happening in our lives. Your Lucky Day is a perfect example of this. Thank you for sharing this. I won't forget it.

  8. Permission to be happy... I like that!

    This is my year to be happy and find joy in every aspect of my life this year.

    I have a friend who is struggling with cancer right now and she signs every letter
    moving forward. no fretting.

    My aim is to live that way this year no matter where I find myself on the happiness scale!

  9. GP: I am on the high end now, but this wasn’t always true. Many things in my life have been extremely difficult to overcome. However, I keep my head on straight. I don't look back, because it accomplishes nothing. I can say that my philosophy includes my belief that there is just life. It is not good or bad, just life. So I live it - happily.

    I taught this poem to my kids:

    Walter Lackwards
    Head on backwards,
    Tripped on things he passed.
    He couldn’t see
    Where he’d next be –
    Just where he’d fallen last.

  10. What wonderful information. If you want to find real happiness, go to Finding happiness within yourself
    I got my happiness.

  11. Alida--That's right. It doesn't matter where we are on the happiness scale. All that matters is that we become self aware and mindful so that we can move deeper and further into joy.

    JJ--I, too, would put myself in that group. I do look back, not so much to relive difficult times but rather to be so grateful for where I am now. Love the poem and immediately thought of my daughter who, when she was in kindergarten, was so busy bossing the kids behind her in line that she tripped over a chair right in front of her!

    Wayne--Welcome and thank you for the link. A wealth of happiness inspiration!

  12. All of those reasons resonate with me, sadly. You described my feelings to a T.

    I'm re-reading all these posts, per your suggestion. I hope I find some little nugget of truth that will help lead me out of the funk and into joy. Boy, do I need a little joy right about now.

    Thank you for your words.


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