On being happy
"Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn't know you left open."
~ John Barrymore
A pale crescent moon hung in the daytime sky. I sipped on a 'Passion Spritz', enjoying the sweet bubbles on my tongue and savoring the coolness in the afternoon heat. I moved closer to my Beloved so that our arms touched as we leaned on the railing to watch our cruise ship push away from the dock in Nassau.
I felt happy. It was not a sharp, brightly-colored happiness. No fireworks. It was a deep sense of well-being and ease that rippled into this moment in time instead of out of it.
My body was warm and relaxed. My breath was naturally deep and even. I thought about all of the events that had carried me to this place to stand here with him. My life looked nothing like I had imagined it would only a few years ago, and yet it was perfect. More beautiful than what I had thought I was creating.
But just under the surface of my happiness, there was a cold, dark current. I closed my eyes and let myself dive in to feel deeper.
I felt guilt.
I felt guilty for being happy. It didn't diminish my happiness, but it carried my mind downstream with thoughts about the state of the world and the many people who are suffering right now. How could I be happy when so many were not? It felt selfish to enjoy my own health and prosperity when others faced illness, poverty, and/or despair. Yet, it seemed just as shameful to deny myself happiness when I had so much to be grateful for.
This moment stayed with me and I journaled about happiness a few times in the weeks that followed. What is happiness? Am I allowed to be happy? Do I have a responsibility to be happy?
I don't have any definitive answers, but here are some of my thoughts on happiness...
Feeling happy is delightful, but transitory. The state of being happy is more subtle, but also more sustainable. There's a general sense of ease in my life. I feel safe and cared for. I feel grateful. My life isn't perfect in every moment, nor will it ever be, but I've accepted that and know that I'm capable of weathering storms when they blow through. I trust that I am loved and held - no matter what.
Happiness isn't earned. I don't have to do something to deserve to be happy. I don't have to ask permission to be happy. I have heard people say that you "choose" happiness, but in my experience, it's not about choice. It is about noticing happiness when it appears like a full moon shining in the night sky. It's about trusting that it will appear again even when it's no longer visible.
I don't have a responsibility to be happy. No one does. I'm certainly more pleasant to be around when I'm genuinely happy, and it's said that happiness is contagious. However, forcing myself to be happy is inauthentic. It's more likely to create irritation and unease, than to spread joy.
I'm not responsible for the happiness of others. No one is. It's simply not possible to make someone else happy. However, I can choose to be kind and generous and honest.
The happiness of others doesn't diminish my own. On the surface this seems obvious, but I've met many people who are jealous of the happiness of others. I've been guilty of it myself, usually at times when I'm most unhappy, and especially when someone else has hurt me. Like many, I can be petty and think that someone else doesn't deserve happiness, but all that does is create more suffering in the world. So, I continue to dedicate my prayer and practices to the happiness of all sentient beings. May we all be free from suffering.
Do I still feel less guilty for being happy? Sometimes. I still find myself holding back in conversations because I'm not always comfortable sharing my happiness with those who seem unhappy. I try to be discerning. Am I sharing my happiness? Or bragging about it? I also try to have enough space within me for my happiness and empathy for others who are suffering.
Still, I'm happy to be happy. I hope that my own happiness ripples back out into the world as waves of light that help to dispel some of the darkness and suffering that is ever-present.
And I wish each of you happiness - delightful, transitory moments of it, and deep, sustainable currents of ease that carry you through sunny days and stormy seas.