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July 14, 2015

Why searching for happiness backfires + the shift that will change everything

searching for happiness

For years, I searched for happiness. When negative thoughts would arise, I’d immediately think the opposite. I tried affirmations, I am beautiful, I am deserving, only they didn’t work and I’d throw my hands up in frustration.

I couldn’t sit still for too long because my mind would race, but that didn’t seem to be that big of a deal. A lot of people live like that.

Was I ok? Sure. Was I happy? I thought so. But even though I reached a mediocre version of happiness, I didn’t feel gleeful like the image in my head. Smiling and laughing and buzzing with life.

Why didn’t it work?

Mainly, because the image I had of happiness was not realistic. Our culture equates happiness with glee, but glee is an unbalanced state that doesn’t last. Why else do we get the post-travel blues? Post-holiday let down? Feel tension winding back up a few hours after we’ve left the spa?

It’s great to unwind, but to achieve lasting change requires shifting how we think about happiness.

 

The difference between joy and happiness

What we’re really searching for is not glee, not that invincible feeling of Everything Will Be Perfect For Now On!, but a feeling of deep satisfaction. Feeling peaceful and on purpose. At ease.

Maybe you have a  more realistic definition of happiness than I did, but I now see happiness and joy as two separate things.

Happiness is jumping up and down with excitement. It can get wild, like a good party, but is ultimately volatile. And like any good party, it ends.

Joy, on the other hand, is the feeling of connection that comes from having a mind and heart at peace. Joy is satisfaction with the experience of being alive.

Joy comes from having a heart big enough to include the totality of human existence. It has the ability to remember the good in the bad. Happiness has no room for error. It’s too precarious. To volatile. Almost manic.

This is why, if something bad happens to us, we always hear admonitions to stay positive. Our culture has little room for people willing to feel it all and let healing happen like a river, at its own pace. Happiness isn’t bad, certainly not, but it does’t always have heart. Joy is all heart.

 

How to cultivate joy

To feel joy, work towards peace. Peace is the foundation of joy. To find peace, we don’t ignore the bad things in our lives, we work through them and find acceptance. In acceptance, we find peace, and over time, joy.

Peace is our natural state, while happiness is presented as something outside ourselves that we must attain.

Peace comes from a quiet mind while happiness, because it’s so volatile, often makes the mind chatter more than ever.

Cultivate peace through yoga and meditation, mindfulness and self-care activities. Cultivate gratitude. Focus on feeling every cell of your body alive with life-giving energy. The immense love of the universe that conspired to bring you here, reading these words, recognizing your heart. That’s joy.

 

But I want happiness now!

Cultivating peace and joy may sound like work, but it’s actually an undoing. And thinking of the advice I’ve heard to find happiness, sometimes it sounds like a scavenger hunt. When do we stop looking and just chill?

In peace, we chill. We relax and accept. Peace honors the moment and notices the birds singing, the beautiful colors streaking the sky at sunset. Being peaceful and noticing these small things brings joy.

Joy is not predicated on things going our way. Joy is accepting. Joy says that even if someone I love dies or ants are swarming the kitchen, I still feel peace in my heart. (Or maybe we lose it and get angry, but because we travel the way of peace, it’s ok. Not a big deal. We take a deep breath and begin again.)

Joy comes when we clear our energy body of those things weighing us down, and we become light. We become joy. Joy places us in the flow of life, where we live from a place of non-doing. We make better decisions, cultivate better thoughts, and these things compound our joy.

 

Joy is authentic and real. Happiness is a shopping spree.

And if grey skies cloud our joy, we still feel peace. We have the tools to accept our path and do the inner work. We have the tools to feel joyful once again.

This might be a buzzkill to someone’s happiness, and I don’t mean for this to be a buzzkill. But that’s the thing, you can buzzkill happiness because it’s such a conditional state. You can’t buzzkill authentic peace because it’s so deep. It comes from the soul. It comes from being in touch with the essence of existence.

So, stop searching for happiness. Stop, drop and find peace. And in peace, you will feel joy.

How have you cultivated joy in your life? Comment below.

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Image via Camdiluv via Flickr

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Gillian - July 15, 2015 Reply

Hi Suzanne,
I disagree. I think that happiness, peace and contentment are intertwined and attainable and that joy is the feeling that is euphoric and can leave you with manic lows when it’s taken away.
I think that someone’s baseline can be primarily happy or not and then they can have experiences which make them feel pure joy or are marked by sadness.
I agree that not being afraid to embrace the full range of human emotions is difficult and that most people don’t want to sit with sadness, acknowledge jealousy or deal with rage. Perhaps it seems easier to constantly be pursuing joy aka the next emotional high rather than remaining in peaceful neutrality.
Just my thoughts. Best regards, Gillian

    Suzanne H - July 15, 2015 Reply

    Hi Gillian,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! It seems we have similar ideas, just using different names to describe it. Thanks for the food for thought!

Edd - July 30, 2015 Reply

Hi,

I’ve known other people who have tried to force happiness and it’s a delusion. No one can be happy all the time it’s not possible.
I found true happiness and positivity by admitting that I’m a human and as a human I have a range of emotions, some good and some bad. I’m not happy all the time but I know that when an emotion arises it’s for a very good reason. Like a small child emotions need to be attended to, so I give them time and understanding. I try to resolve and reconsile each emotion as it happens and understand and be mindful of where and why it came to me. I find that it makes my emotions less needy and I can get on with being contented and happy with life.

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