When was the last time you felt truly happy?
I asked myself that question the other day. And try though I might, I couldn't come up with a specific answer. My mind was playing tricks on me.
"Happy" has a lot of meanings, and they are individual to each person. When I was asking myself that question, I was thinking about the last time I felt really excited about something -- ecstatic, jubilant even. I'm talking about no-holds-barred, side-cramping laughter and good times. My wedding day certainly met that standard, as did a day or two from my last vacation. But otherwise, this Unfortunate Summer (as I've come to call it), has been anything but fun. The days have taken turns being depressing, lonely, frightening, and painful. It sometimes seems like everything I enjoy -- all the "fun" stuff -- has floated away on a wave of medical mishaps, leaving precious little that makes me "happy."
What is it about our desire as human beings to constantly seek joy? We all want it, and sometimes we're successful at finding it. But all too often we eschew pure peace and contentment for something bigger and better and more grand. Why isn't plain ole' good, good enough? Why must we despair when every little thing isn't going our way, and lament the bygone days of sheer, unvarnished happiness that we think we'll never see again?
We often focus too much on the ends of the spectrum, especially during a rough patch. We've all had our share of despair at one time or another -- broken relationships, illness, or losing someone we love. These things bring us to our knees as we pull out our own hair and plead with the universe to make it all go away; to make it be something other than what it is. Of course we want the pain to end. That's human nature.
But what do we do with joy when it comes our way? Do we remain fully present for each joyful moment? Maybe, but it never once occurs to us to plead with passionate fervor that the universe will keep things just as they are and never let that happiness fade. Well, why not?
Because we know better.
We know that jubilation is fleeting. We understand that we can't wake up every day and get married, or graduate from college, or buy a new car. We understand that the sunniest, most beautiful days will be followed by rainy ones. We know the soft, white, new-fallen snow will melt and leave a mess. We know all about life's impermanence. And yet, when times get tough, we convince ourselves that it will never change; that we're going to be stuck in some monstrously unhappy place, even though we're not.
Perhaps by acknowledging life's different chapters during both the joys and challenges, we can find our way back to true happiness. The kind that runs through the stream of our everyday lives. The kind that truly counts.