You have heard it said, “Happiness is not a destination.” Indeed. It is more a vehicle. So there is no road to happiness. But perhaps there is a road to the happiness train station where you can board happiness and choose to ride it from life destination to life destination. In my own personal experience, and in what I am noticing from the lived experiences of others around me, there was a specific path with some very particular exercises that helps people end up in a place where even in the midst of problems and worries they still feel deeply and genuinely happy. Run your life through this checklist and see if you have even found the road to the happiness train station.
Integrity. Not just honesty, mind you. Integrity is integrating all parts of yourself so that all of you is known and accepted. It’s refusing to hide; refusing to keep parts of you a secret. It’s acknowledging and owning that you have a side to you that isn’t great, perfect, or together, and accepting it as a part of you. This is standing naked in front of a mirror and being brutally honest with yourself about the state of your personhood. This also includes admitting all of the places you need help. Admitting you are a financial disaster so that people can help you. Admitting how much you eat so you can be more accountable. Admitting where you lie to protect yourself. Admitting where you cheat to get ahead. We are talking full scale truth confrontation. And I don’t just mean hard truths, people, I mean good ones too. Admitting you are worthy of love and stability. Confessing that you like your sense of humor and think you’re pretty smart. And then terrible, scary vulnerability. This doesn’t mean vulnerable with everyone, some people don’t deserve it. Mostly it means being vulnerable and honest with ourselves and the people who love us or can help.
Acceptance. Once you look at the state of things in your personhood, turn your focus to all around you. Notice where you are. Notice what patterns got you here. See it, acknowledge it, and accept it. A combination of random circumstance and choices have gotten us where we are right now. We can continue to deny where we are, believing that we will eventually work or stumble our way out, or we can look, acknowledge and accept. Only one of those choices will help us make a realistic plan for change.
Gratitude. Are you tired of hearing this word from me yet? Let’s change it up this time. Shaman from age old traditions say medicine is all around us. Everything has its medicine. The phone you hold in your hand is medicine, the chair underneath you is medicating a part of your soul just by existing. Everything around us offers us healing. The soft light from a lamp sooths us. The trash can confines our garbage. Even the garbage itself sings the song of what it once contained. In some way, everything can contribute to our healing if we choose to see how. That is gratitude. I can be grateful for nearly anything if I take the time to see how its existence brings me healing. Practice it now. I challenge you to find six things within arms reach and figure out how they help you, serve you or increase your happiness.
Self-compassion. Compassion means to suffer with. In light of that the term self-compassion might seem like a redundancy, because who doesn’t suffer with themselves. But often we don’t suffer with us. Often we split into two feuding halves: the broken worthless part, and the judgmental condemning part. Self A makes a mistake and really blows it. Self B starts in with the condemnation. “Ohmigosh self, you’re such an idiot. What is wrong with you? No wonder no one loves us.” Perhaps you’re even harsher with you. This type of conversation proves how much we need self compassion. We need the ability to say, “Ok, well we messed up. Shit happens. This sucks, but we did the best we could. It is ok to feel disappointed.” That is what it sounds like to sit down and suffer with ourselves.
Empathy. What a glorious skill empathy is. Empathy sees a friend in pain and says, “let me feel it with you.” Empathy seeks to understand another persons lived experience from inside their perspective. Empathy allows the space for another person to hurt and fail and be. Empathy hears of another persons pain and looks back through its own suffering to imagine what another person might both feel and need. Empathy is tapping into the common human experience and seeing just how much like each other we all are. Empathy can reduce the power of shame. It can increase our ability to connect with others and being truly empathic can increase our ability to deepen our gratitude for all the many things we DO have.
Surely this short post doesn’t exhaust the list. I have some more elements that we can talk about later. Are there more elements that you have discovered? What kinds of things open you up to happiness and allow you to feel deep peace even in the midst of painful circumstances? What path did you have to walk down to find that happiness train station?
As usual, the information provided in these blogposts is not intended as medical advice, counseling or a direct call to any behavioral change. If you feel like you want to find your way to the train station and get on board happiness (and you live in the CSRA) check the contact page for ways to schedule an appointment with Jennifer for yourself.