the elephant in the room
You might be thinking, “Hey, what’s that kind of sentiment doing in a blog entitled the ‘Happy Human Handbook’? I mean, isn’t happiness the point?”
Well, actually it’s not…at least it’s not the WHOLE point.
Especially if what you’ve got in mind is that sticky-sweet, not-always-sincere, Hallmark version of happy.
The good news is that that’s not a particularly desirable state, nor is it one that we’re very likely to achieve. In reality, life is waaaaayyy more complicated than that. We’re not always going to be dealing with situations that automatically evoke happiness—in fact, we might find ourselves at times smack dab in the middle of pain, grief, fear, confusion, despair, or loneliness.
And the point would definitely NOT be to deny those emotions in order to fast-forward into some manufactured and contrived state of “happiness.” Plus, that would be like trying to ignore the elephant in the room, and we all know how that one turns out.
be honest (and step away from the coffee table)
Most of us want more authenticity in our lives, not less—and not just within ourselves, but from the people we’re in relationship with. We want to be able to know the truth within our own hearts, and hear the truth from those around us—even when it might hurt.
Genuine people are more trustworthy—because what you see, is what you get. We’re more likely to confide in people who are honest with themselves, because that gives us the confidence that they’ll be honest with us as well.
So, the point WOULD be to feel fully the feelings that are there in those happy moments, and in those difficult moments, too. Try to avoid fabrication and faking it if you can—and keep a close eye on yourself to make sure you’re not being too clingy with your emotions.
That is, feel what you’re feeling in the present—and get on with it. Some of us have a tendency to want to hang on tight to good feelings (even when they should be in the past) or to keep rehearsing bad feelings (even when we could let them go.)
That second scenario would be like accidentally stubbing your toe on the coffee table, and then backing up and smashing your foot into it over and over again from different angles. I know…it sounds absurd…who would do something so crazy?
But see if you don’t catch yourself doing that very same thing, mentally, at some point today…rehashing, rehearsing, or re-imagining bad sh*t happening—again and again. It’s unfortunately more common than you would like to think.
And it’s nuts, right?!
it really is the journey
Shawn Achor, happiness researcher and author says, “Happiness is the joy we feel moving towards our potential.” Huh.
This suggests that our life can become infused with meaning (and joy, a.k.a. happiness), if our activities and actions have us on a path towards something we value and care about. It doesn’t guarantee that every moment is going to be filled with flower petals and kittens, but we can embrace and find happiness in the process of embracing our whole lives—elephants and all.
If I’m honest…and we are trying to be more honest with each other here…happiness is a bit of a marketing ploy, because it’s shorthand for a much more complex experience. Most of us have probably said at some time or another in our lives, “I just want to be happy.” (And, hell…if there’s a Handbook for how to be a Happy Human, who wouldn’t want to sign up for that, right?)
But…experiencing fleeting pleasure, rather than authentic well-being or compassion or happiness, is not what we mean. In truth we also want to know how to be more healthy, get along better in our relationships, manage our suffering, choose purposeful work, and not screw up the planet while we’re going about doing our thing.
Like elephants at a dinner party, life can often bring us things that are unexpected. And, in those unexpected moments, of rapture or pain, we can choose what we focus on and we can keep our hearts aimed at our potential. Because maybe the real elephant in the room is not happiness at all, it is presence…
So screw happy—let’s figure out how to live and thrive with more integrity and make the world a better place while we’re at it.