Do you feel like your happiness is dependent on something?
A bigger house, a cleaning service, a pool down the street....
Are you waiting for something to happen to "make" you happy?
A raise, finding the right babysitter, getting the perfect job....
Do you feel like you could be happy if it weren't for someone else's actions?
Your partner breaking up with you, your child disobeying you, a driver cutting you off?
I see the difference in my mood when things go well in my life.
There is a rush of excitement that comes with an acceptance letter for a new job, finding the perfect house in a great neighborhood, making new friends, a new relationship. These all add to an increased positive state of mind.
However, when something hits us from out of the blue- a breakup or divorce, a sudden death or illness, being the recipient of an act of hate or disrespect coming from someone you love (in essence, something we feel SHOULDN'T happen to us)- we tend to feel emotionally weak, vulnerable, angry, depressed.
So if this is the case, don't our external circumstances determine our happiness?
I always believed that "happiness comes from within." But last June, I was going through a difficult transition, trying to move myself and kids out of an isolated area and closer into the city, and I questioned whether that was true.
I honestly felt that there existed certain external aspects of my life that, once improved, would solve my problems and lead to ultimate happiness. I caught myself thinking:
"If only I could move closer to the city, I would finally be able to relax and enjoy my life, be a better mom for my kids, and radiate happiness and joy, letting my true light shine. "
So I moved forward with my house hunt. But, I wasn't having much success. I applied to 4 different houses and was rejected for each one. When houses kept falling through, day after day, I pressed forward, my eye continually focused on the desires of my heart. But in the back of my mind I wondered, "What was I doing wrong? How can I find happiness in this in-between state?"
Recently I read the book "The Obstacle Is The Way," by Ryan Holiday. I already believed that challenges are growth opportunities, but this book really expanded upon that concept. He proposed that imbedded within each obstacle we face, there is a specific lesson to help us learn what we need to learn at that particular time in our lives. We can choose to recognize and learn that lesson, or not.
One morning, I excitedly opened my email only to read that the "perfect house," the one I had hoped we would finally be accepted for, had been rented to someone else. House #5. Gone, just like that.
And suddenly, my body felt like lead.
As I dwelled on my disappointment, all my energy left. I could not even muster the strength to stand up. I was at one of the lowest points, on the verge of giving up.
I was tired. Tired of the instability and unpredictability of the future. Tired of the perceived intensity of my current challenges.
To give a little background, about a year prior I had gone through some serious life altering challenges. I had discovered that the box I thought my life was wrapped up in so nicely, was actually just a mirage. And I felt myself falling, falling into space, with no landing in sight.
This happened when, after much soul searching, I decided to leave the religion I was raised in, despite most of my family of origin, extended family and husband being devout believers. I also realized that my marriage of 7 years had been built on a foundation of mutual faith and unfortunately not much else. We decided to separate, I subsequently moved twice alone with my three kids (ages 6 and under), and now was about to move again.
This departure from my comfortable box was terrifying at first. There was nothing to lean up against! I tried desperately to grab hold of any remnant of the box, but it had dissolved before my very eyes. Try as I might to bring it back, it no longer existed.
I soon discovered, however, that breaking out of the box was actually an entry way to a new perspective that would take time to adjust to. Eventually, the open space that I first feared, turned into an awe-inspiring view into my limitless potential, expanding my mind to the way in which I am connected to every other living thing on this miraculous planet.
But after reading my email that morning, I didn't feel enlightened; I felt defeated.
I questioned everything. Was I on the right path? Is following my heart worth it? Why are things so difficult? How can I be happy if I can't reach my current goal of moving?
Despite my fear, doubt, and worry, I knew there would be a way out of my defeated mindset and up, into the open space I had become conscious of. I longed to once more be propelled into that light, the universal energy, the source of love that connects us all.
So I called my friend/coach/cousin, to help me figure out what I could do to get my body and mind working again. By talking to her, I realized that 1- I had to stop dwelling on my obstacle and start taking steps towards my goals, and 2-there were certain lessons I had not yet learned. I knew that once I learned what I needed to, everything would fall into place.
Kind of like playing a game of chess with the universe. As an amateur, sometimes we feel stuck and unable to move. But then we get a new perspective and suddenly the way opens up to us.
I began to see that my in-between-ness was perhaps an opportunity to find happiness amidst uncertainty.
I realized that I was attached to the idea that I could only be happy in a comfortable place (to me this meant: having an established routine, job chart, play dates scheduled, totally balanced life for myself and kids...). I saw in this challenge an opportunity to work on enjoying the present despite the unknown future, the piled up laundry, the waiting to hear back from potential houses.
As much as this instability drove me crazy, I knew that if I could change my perception, focus on the lesson, and be more accepting of my current reality, doors would open, and the way would become clear. I would finally see my next move on the chess board.
Things did eventually work out. They worked out beautifully. (See my post here about the outcome of my move).
But not for almost two months. In the meantime, I had some serious learning to do. The uncertainty really irritated me at times. But through that refiner's fire, I became more patient, more accepting, more present. I grew in ways I would not have been able to otherwise. And I am grateful for that opportunity.
So do our external circumstances determine our happiness?
External circumstances are opportunities to understand ourselves better, not happiness predictors.
Of course it feels good to experience positive events, but I believe we can feel a similar "rush" of excitement upon stepping back from a painful experience and becoming aware of the lesson life is trying to teach us. Seeing things for what they are. Seeing life for what it is.
We can take a look at our negative reactions to external events and ask ourselves why we feel so triggered, thus uncovering our core issues and working to overcome them. (See my post about this here). This new consciousness can open up our minds and hearts to a realm of reality we never knew existed.
Instead of trying to change and control people and circumstances to align with how we think things should go, we can find the hidden lessons in every obstacle that comes our way.