When I was young, one of my favorite books was Happiness Is A Warm Puppy, which featured all of the Charlie Brown characters sharing their simple pleasures in life. Whenever I think of that book, it takes me back to a time when happiness just was. There was no searching for it or trying to figure out all of its components; it was just there. So, how did we lose that as we got older?
I recently saw two films which, though very different, had a similar key theme. The first was a wonderful movie by Pixar called “Inside Out,” which featured the inner thoughts and emotions of a young girl. The Joy character was always trying to make things better and happier by pushing away the experience of other emotions like sadness. She eventually came to realize the value that comes from not pushing away other emotions like sadness, but honoring them. Acknowledging sadness allowed for a rich opportunity of compassionate connection with others which ultimately brought about…. Happiness.
In “Hector and the Search for Happiness,” a stuck-in-his-ways psychiatrist goes on a global adventure to search for the keys to happiness to help his patients. He keeps a notebook of all the things that might bring people happiness. In his final revelation, he understands that true happiness is a combination of all his emotions and experiences, not just one. In other words, once he accepts the whole of his being unconditionally, without trying to engineer a specific situation or experience that he deems to be his source of happiness, he actually feels happy. As one of the psychiatrists in the movie puts it, we don’t find happiness when we’re actively searching for it but when we go about our lives in a way that’s connected, present and engaged. In that state, we realize our happiness.
So, maybe one of the keys to “finding” happiness is to understand that we never lost it. We may have gotten distracted, sidetracked, or maybe thrown a little off-course, but it was always there. We began to believe that we had to “do” something to get what once came completely naturally to us. In those moments of childhood wonder, there was no laundry list of things to do and no worrying about finding the meaning of life. If you felt sad, you cried and then were done and went back outside to play. Kids can get really enthusiastic about their tears and then get really enthusiastic about something else just as quickly. There is no judgment, just allowing the feeling to flow through. And that state of total acceptance of what is in the moment, is happiness. So, there really is no magic bullet or trick to any of it. There is no “one thing” that will bring us happiness. If we relax and accept all of it, we find that happiness just is.