“Happiness has little to do with what is going on around you, and a lot to do with what
is going on inside you.” – Alan Cohen
I recently got married. We had a really nice wedding and I enjoyed it a lot. It was small, comparatively short as weddings go, and very simple. I did not, however, have the expectation that my wedding day would be the happiest day of my life. I was generally relaxed and enjoying myself, but I was also focused on trying to engage with my guests, making sure everyone was having a good time and directing the staff at the venue, all the while trying to breathe in a wedding dress that felt heavier than a piece of luggage. I’ve lived long enough to know that it is impossible to schedule our emotions to show up on any particular day.
How many of us have looked at a picture of a tropical beach and been convinced that if we were just able to sit on that beach right now, we would feel completely at peace? Yet, we forget that no matter what our vacation looks like in the brochure, we bring ourselves with us on our vacations. If our mind is chattering away with all of the tasks we must complete, replaying a difficult exchange with a neighbor, wondering if we really measure up as a parent, ruminating about changes at work, worrying about our health and reminding ourselves we need to drop a few pounds, it really doesn’t matter if we’re at home, sitting in traffic or on a tropical beach because we’re not going to feel peaceful. If we are completely happy, however, it doesn’t matter if we’re standing in the middle of a rainy, trash-strewn, cold, desolate street all alone – we’re going to feel wondrous and timeless happiness.
One of my favorite memories is of an evening, many years ago, when I was cooking in my kitchen. It was a chilly, rainy day outside but I felt warm and cozy inside. I distinctly remember making pork chops with rosemary and red wine and sautéed broccoli. I had a movie, Snow Falling on Cedars, playing on my laptop computer, which was sitting on the counter. I made chocolate chip cookies, too. After dinner I nestled on my couch with my cozy blanket and ate them for dessert – all warm and gooey out of the oven. It felt as if time had stopped. I was warm, centered, grounded and completely at peace. It was one of those timeless moments that for some reason, still unknown to me, was one of the happiest times in my life. I have never forgotten that seemingly insignificant evening.
I make the same mistake that many of us make over and over. We assume that if we change our physical surroundings to look like a place where we would feel happy, then happiness will appear. We believe if we plan the perfect wedding, then we are sure to feel really happy on that special day. But, it just doesn’t work that way. Even if I were to head to the kitchen, make the same dinner and watch the same movie as I did on that evening many years ago, I would not be able to conjure up the same feelings as I experienced back then. It is only when we clear all the emotional and psychological clutter away that happiness and peace is there, waiting. That is what makes any moment feel magical and timeless.
Scheduled happy times, like Christmas, weddings, birthday parties and graduations are no doubt opportunities to take time out to focus on a happy event or milestone. Traveling to a beautiful destination is certainly an opportunity to remove ourselves from our emotionally cluttered lives and regroup. However, chances are our happiest times are small, seemingly insignificant moments in our lives when we feel completely at peace. To experience more of these, give yourself as much space and time as possible to get centered. That will provide you with the greatest opportunities to experience those moments of true happiness more regularly.
What is one of your happiest memories?