Why we must choose to be happy

Happiness is a choice. A choice which, we need to keeping making each moment. We often think of happiness as the result of something going right in the external world. But happiness that comes from outside is often short-lived and doesn’t really fulfil us.

True joy comes from abiding in, and playing out one’s values. Values are emotional stirrings that are deeply personal to us. And happiness or peace or contentment is one such basic human value that is shared among all of us. Values need to be stated and practiced. We need to remind ourselves of our values. We need to remind ourselves that we want to be happy. We want to be free and peaceful.

Such a firm decision is helpful when things in the external world go awry. We lose our job. A partner walks out. Our health fails. During these circumstances sadness and anxiety are natural responses. But worry need not be. When we reaffirm and remind ourselves of our value “I want to be free and happy within this challenging situation”, something magical happens. We gain the ability to withstand adversity. It is not that the feelings of anxiety and sadness disappear. They do linger and appear in waves from time to time. During these times we accept them. We allow them to stay with us. We give them full permission to exist in us. This is what makes us complete humans – the ability to feel the full palette of emotions. When we stand on our values of wanting to be free and happy despite the condition, these feelings are put into context. They are placed in the backdrop of a decision to be peaceful. They are grounded in acceptance. This helps us go through the difficult situation with nobility and dignity as opposed to sinking into depression or falling into blame or self-pity.

Such a decision is crucial if we want to live a free life. But what if we cannot make this decision? What if we secretly want sadness?

This calls for a deeper investigation. Often we want sadness, because we have wrongly identified pity or neglect with love, especially as a child. If we were neglected or indulged as a child, this pattern is likely to emerge. Neglected children often think of themselves as un-lovable – of not being worthy of love. Over-indulged children on the other hand, associate attention and pity (“Oh poor you“) as essential to their well-being. Adults as neglected children find it very difficult to accept love. And so when difficult situations come into their lives, they go into resignation and/or escape (“After all I deserve this because I am unworthy”). With this, no meaningful action is possible (escape though is!). Forget about standing on one’s values. This sense of unworthiness is extremely difficult to come out of. And it becomes one’s life’s task to come out of it. How can we effect this change?

By picking those things which make us happy. It could be the simplest things. Taking a stroll in the park. Spending time listening to a favourite piece of music. Spending time with a loved friend. Cooking a simple meal. These activities in which we lose ourselves, connect us to the primal self – the self beyond concepts such as “I am unworthy”. For those few minutes or hours, we forget our sad stories and beliefs. We need to hold on to those small, simple activities and gently build the sense of agency. Agency being the fact that we can change our lives and we deserve to be happy. That is, when we experience peace and contentment through our activities, this means we are worthy (for the peace exists within us). This is not a rational understanding, but a visceral one. A deep intuitive, emotional feeling of being loved. We slowly, gently, become the loving parents we never had.

What if we were an over-indulged child? We often feel entitled. The world must love us. The world must soothe me when the external situation goes contrary to my expectations. This is a position of feeling that others are responsible to make me happy and at peace. Once again, we lack agency (the fact that we are responsible for our well-being). Pampered children often come across as arrogant, entitled and show false confidence (all values that are treasured in today’s corporate world). But this is actually a weak position. Such people display bouts of anger, usually against the world, against the government, against people around them. They demand that things be as they say. Such people are actually really afraid of losing control. How can such people heal themselves? By realising that hiding behind their anger is fear. The hard ego that projects an internal fault onto the external world, needs to be reversed. That is, they need to start feeling their inner emotional field. When angry, take one’s attention to the body and feel the constriction in the throat, the heat in the face and the pounding temples. Bring acceptance to that. This is what is – now. During these moments, there is a temptation to escape into thinking – to blame others, to justify to oneself how hopeless the world really is. We must gently bring ourselves back to the body. And allow that emotion to exist. Slowly, over time we begin to realize that we are responsible for the way we feel inside ourselves. And we can actually change it through love and attention. Again, we parent ourselves and regain a sense of agency.

Often this ‘parenting ourselves’ is a life-long journey. We must not be impatient. We are not here to be perfect – right NOW. We are here to learn. So, adopt an attitude of curiosity towards your own mind. And the process of going through yourself is more precious than arriving at an imagined state of perfection. As we regain agency, we can begin to take the decision “Yes. I want to be happy. Then this decision anchors us in peace and joy. Remember this not the positive attitude therapy “I am a wonderful person. I deserve happiness. I am the best. I am confident”. NO. Your emotions do not lie. You are, in your truest essence what you feel. And so this path is one where we go close to our emotions accept them, and yet hold a decision to be happy. It’s a marked difference. One is a path of acceptance. The other, one of denial.

Therefore, check if you are able to make this decision of whether you indeed want happiness. The answer could be the beginning of your journey of self discovery and healing.

Somewhere along the Donau near Ingolstadt, Germany. 2022.

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