I was listening the Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast (one of my life’s pleasures) the other day and Sam Harris was the guest who at one point addressed being happy. For those who don’t know him, Sam Harris’ Wikipedia page says he is an author, neuroscientist and philosopher. I was not aware one could call themself a philosopher in this modern day, but there you have it. He is a philosopher.
Anyway, on this particular podcast episode Sam Harris said something that literally stopped me in my tracks. Yes, I’m using the word literally correctly. I literally stopped walking across my kitchen to take in this sentence: “You can’t become happy. You can only be happy.”
This wasn’t the first time I have heard this. I mean, I am a trained Yoga teacher so this stuff isn’t new. However, this time it hit me a way that compelled me to address it.
I’ll be honest, I spent a lot of my life trying to get happy. I set goals. I made vision boards. I wrote letters to my future self, congratulating her for getting wherever I thought I wanted her to be. In short, I spent my time focusing forward instead of right in front of me. I was trying to BECOME happy instead of BEING Happy.
As a mom, I decided a while ago that I wanted to try to be mindful and more present in the moment. That sounds a bit like it’s in the arena of BEING happy, right? I can say with all honesty that I have done fairly well with the mindfulness and presence when I am with my family. I have made a concerted effort to really BE when I’m with my kids and husband. I’m acutely aware of the limit to my time with them so I’ve carved out more for togetherness and I have fixed my mind to focus on the moments when we’re naturally together and there is joy. Instead of getting caught up in the details that can plague us or the worry that can bring me down, I turn toward the now of every day moment and soak them in while I can.
As a result, I am happy when I am with my husband and/or kids. I appreciate our time together and all that happens during it. But, I’m afraid that I realized a short while ago that that may be the only time I’m happy. All the other times of my life, when I was in my head planning, or working on something not child-related, I was mostly caught up in the future, focused the WHY of my work and efforts. This meant that I was indeed still mostly trying to become happy instead of just being happy. Turns out with all the goal setting and future casting, I forgot to account for the every day joy that life provides. In planning for a bright future, I nearly missed having a bright now. Sure, it feels good to accomplish goals and check off bucket lists, but that doesn’t mean we have to put off the feeling good until the box is checked. We can do both.
A few years ago, when the trend of people picking words for the year hit, I chose Wonder. I picked it because wonder stood for two things: the curiosity I wanted to continue to approach life with and the awe that can come to you in a million ways during ordinary days if you are focused on seeing it. By using Wonder as a guiding principle in my life, I can honestly say I’ve been much better at being happy in the moment rather than spending my moments trying to become happy.
The practice of Wondering doesn’t take much time, but it does require effort. I had to change my gaze from beyond my nose to right in front of it and shift my focus toward the the awe-inspiring things that were before me, not that which I thought I’d find after completing something else. I’m not saying I don’t plan for my future, or set goals or even worry about what is next. I still do all of those things. The difference is, rather than believing I will become happy when I get there, now I AM happy while being on the path to wherever I’m headed in the future.
There is joy in the journey. There is wonder all around. You just have to fix your gaze toward it.