“We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.” — Madeleine L’Engle
The quest for happiness is a funny thing.
On one hand, we spend tons of time and money looking for that one nifty trick or pill or life coach or new situation or significant other that is going to turn everything around for us. We don’t want a dynamic process of growth and healing and relapses – and even if we do, we eventually want to be able to cross an edge and say “THIS, where I am right now, is Happy. And over there was Sad. But here I am and everything is marvelous and it’s never going to change.”
But on the other hand, let’s give ourselves some credit: we know that happiness is an inside job. And not just a few enlightened souls among us – our culture is full of stories of heroes venturing to far-off lands only to realize that what they were searching for was in front of them all along. Think of Dorothy who is determined to run away from Kansas, but after basking in her new experience for a bit she is desperate to return home to be with her family.
It’s one thing to mentally know that happiness is something that we create from within – that despite any circumstance, we have an infinite well of potential bliss inside of us that we can tap into. But when we’re crushed by the throes of depression, when we stare at the mirror and hate what we see, when our outwardly success makes us embarrassed to admit that we are horribly unsatisfied with our lives, the barriers to accessing that bliss seem insurmountable.
And nothing good comes of repressing these feelings. Trying to rationalize unhappiness away is futile at best and dangerous at worst – one way or another, the crushing feelings of inadequacy are going to sneak up and suffocate us unless we make a conscious choice to work through them.
This slip into negative thinking is nothing to be ashamed of. I wish I could scrawl that in every crisp self-help book that smiles at us from the bookstore shelves: that the not-so-nice feelings are rich and raw with lessons, and we’re doomed if we immediately try to shove them away with mantras and affirmations.
As we live more and more in our authentic truth, as life carries us along on twists and turns, it’s not at all “unspiritual” to find ourselves caught into these whirlwinds from time to time. But when we start spiraling down, there are techniques that can help us catch ourselves on the way and lessen the damage these ego-thoughts can cause. Just because we may go through times of darkness does not mean we are doomed to be servants of this darkness forever.
A tool that I use on gloomy days might sound strange and self-denying at first: I decide to be happy for a short matter of time.
I let the ego-thoughts jangle around in my head for a while, then I take a deep breath and acknowledge that although they feel very real, my depression and negative self-talk are not Me. They are distractions that mask us from our beautiful and glowing souls that sometimes find themselves buried underneath the day-to-day jabber.
When I feel prepared, I commit that “For the next 30 seconds, I choose to be happy.”
Thirty seconds is not very long. You can go right back to feeling your authentic feelings afterwards, I promise. Just try tapping into that infinite well of wisdom at your core for 30 simple seconds.
To do this, take deep and languid breaths and try to let the static of your mind dissipate with every exhale. It’s just 30 seconds, so we’re not trying for instant enlightenment here, but as you quiet your thoughts to the best of your ability, try to imagine a glowing ember of joy in the core of your stomach that wants to be expressed. Try to simultaneously dull down the chitter-chatter of your sad thoughts while helping this little ember pulsate and grow to encompass more of your body.
Boom. Your 30 seconds are suddenly over. How do you feel?
More often than not, my body and mind feel more at peace. Maybe that seems like a normal statement, maybe it sounds like a miracle – either way, think of the implications: if it’s possible to entirely lift our energy and shift our emotions for a matter of seconds, what is stopping us from expanding this happiness to encompass an hour? A day? A lifetime?
So tomorrow, let’s choose to be happy – even if just for a moment, even if we can’t hold onto that spark for much longer. Let’s choose to believe that there is a serendipitous reason that we are wherever we are, and let’s choose to radiate this happiness even in the smallest and silliest of mundane tasks.