"Happiness is not in our circumstance, but in ourselves. It is not something we see, like a rainbow, or feel, like the heat of a fire. Happiness is something we are." -John B. Sheerin
When we talk about happiness, we talk about being. We don't want to experience happiness or make happiness or encounter happiness so much as we all just want to be happy. We want happiness to be a whole and total experience of how we see and exist in the world- not occasional or circumstantial, but steady and consistent, a part of our us and our existence.
I've learned that if this is the case- if this is what we all know we want, to be happy- we first need some definition of the term to talk about it. I think there's something deeper that we collectively mean when we talk about wanting to be happy; we're all referring to a sort of feeling, maybe a longing, we want that may better be described as 'contentment,' or a state of un-agitation.
We know it's less about the outside (what we have) than the inside (what we are). It's almost like we sense our ability to be happy as this once-felt, once-lived-in state, like a memory we used to know that we want to get back to; something that's always going to be desirable even if we don't know it in the now or haven't felt it in a while.
It's sort of this force that everyone is looking for that is innately within, trying to express itself.
It's like even though maybe we're not happy, we have some inner sense that we should or could be, some longing for a state of being for which life seems to have become too complicated, or too out of control, or to old, or too detached from us to get back to that place.
And yet we still can't forget it, can't not want it.
And because of that, I've discovered that it's not true: we are never too old, too detached from life, too worn down from it, that going back to that once-known place is impossible. But how we go back makes all the difference. Are we self-reliant about it, or reliant on something bigger than ourselves? What is our process for returning to what we feel we know to be possible and true, and what we desire to be everlasting- a part of us?
I think our method dictates how deeply we can receive it- and how assuredly we can stay there.
It may arguably be the very goal of most peoples' lives to have happiness that even towers above just being occasionally or circumstantially happy or 'stimulated,' but is an anchored quality of who we are.
I think if we all long for happiness to be our state of being, then there must be something within us that detects this possibility, that tells us 'it is possible; it is how I sense I am designed to live.'
When we don't find it right away, we can tend to abandon the hope for it all together. It does become a frustrating search when we are sort of looking in the branches for what can only be found in the roots. We wonder, 'when will it happen?' Or 'how will I know if it's here to stay?'
I've tried the method of 'looking for happiness' and then being able to 'find' it only temporarily or for a little while, until the bottom falls out again- and then concluding that it's not possible to always be happy, only to accept that sometimes you will be happy in life, and sometimes you won't.
Except I've found that when we're talking about that deep-down, soul-level experience of contentment that we all universally want to find, it can't be true that that quality- a quality of our very existence- could be temporary or fleeting or only occasional in life.
I was looking, I think, in hindsight, for a sort of cheap, manufactured version of happiness that was way too flimsy to sustain my soul.
That deeper, soul-level happiness- that becomes a part of who we are, that happens regardless of our constantly looking for it- must come from some truth that we know is eternal and unchanging: we can't derive a consistent sense of happiness from a behaviorally inconsistent being (ourselves); we can't derive an unwavering, all-the-time sense of peace while living in a world which is constantly externally agitated.
And, we can't derive it from our mere thinking. Certain kinds of wisdom often tell us that we will be happy to the extent that we can think happy thoughts or clear our minds of bad ones, but this is a little misleading- even for the smartest, most self-aware of us who would be capable of doing that, there's nothing necessarily logical or right about assuming that the management of our negativity would produce the same result as its cleansing or removal.
If this were the case, we'd be left with that cheap, manufactured, sort of residual sense of happiness that isn't very strong or long-lasting. Truly, we will only be eternally happy when we anchor our sense of happiness in something eternal, something beyond our thoughts or actions; in something that does not move with quite the same human faultiness that we do.
This is another important principle when we are talking about happiness: that our obsession with finding it to satisfy ourselves often leads us directly away from it. Happiness that makes only us happy is cheap: it would be pretty easy for any of us to find a handful of things that make us 'happy.'
Whether good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, well or ill-intentioned, the quality of being stimulated by something is not the same as being satisfied by it. This is an important fundamental when we think about happiness: that if I'm putting what I want to be a quality of my character in something that is merely an act or a passion; an obsession or addiction; a philosophy or mentality, it will never sustain.
I think we can be lead to happiness by what we love, but we can't let what we love be our happiness. Painting, for example, is a well-intentioned, lovely, innocent thing; it brings beauty into the world and it certainly doesn't hurt anyone; it would be a noble thing about which to say, 'it makes me happy.'
And it does, but only in that way which is temporary. Sometimes I have to stop painting, because there is life to do. I wouldn't want to call the sort of 'happiness high' I get from painting the same thing as the happiness that is part of my character and being.
Nor is the happiness I get from yoga or mediation; nor from being in nature or traveling or seeing the world- these are all good, beauty-inducing things that are wonderful components of life and that I love very much- but to say I love any of them more than God makes them idols: things that give me the feeling of happiness without actually being happiness themselves.
It is better for my happiness to be about them by living in a state of gratitude for them than it is to convince myself that they alone are making me happy. It is the gratitude for them from their Giver that truly causes happiness.
This is the place where our pride gets strongest- and is at its most dangerously undetectable: when we think there are things, actions, passions, hobbies, possessions, or satisfactions in this world that are more satisfying than intimate relationship with the God of the Universe whom we were designed to rest in, realize, love, commune with, and deeply know. 'We can't find happiness and peace,' CS Lewis wrote, 'apart from Him, because it is not there. There is no such thing.'
And so this turns out to be the little secret: the degree to which we remain susceptible to believing we can think or practice or seek our way fully into happiness is the degree to which the real thing will elude us.
"We have to get rid of the idea that we understand ourselves. That is always the last bit of pride to go. The only One who understands us is God." -Oswald Chambers
The human mind has, quite simply, nothing timeless or eternal to offer the world which is not already here to advance the way people think about their happiness, peace, and inner healing. We have no shortage of ideas about how to arrive at happiness and inner peace, and many of them are tied to what is trendy, current, timely, or researched; none point us to directly to anything everlasting.
The human soul however, has a very functional kind of eternal wisdom contained within it that provides a clear answer for us outside of pride and ego, and that is belief in something. Belief in the temporary satisfaction of our own thoughts doesn't yield the same kind of inner contentment as the gratitude that simply comes from knowing the Creator of all that we can see and learning to trust in Him for all that we cannot see.
Happiness cannot become part of our identity until we know from where our only, true unchanging identity comes. It is not in what we have been told we are, what we think we are, who we believe we are: it is, ultimately, in who we believe God is.