Abraham, Rachel, Soren and Liam. Our life together in Smalltown, Idaho.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

What Happiness Looks Like

My brother Seth left the following comment on my previous blog post about happiness:

"Help me out here Rachel and please tell me... What does it mean to YOU to be happy? I mean, if you don't mind, I'm curious to know what you think happiness is. Your definition of happiness. What does it look like, feel like, etc.? What would your life look like if you were to achieve this elusive state of happiness?"

I sat down and wrote him a long email about my definition of happiness...then, when it was finished, decided that I would share it here on my blog.  

So, in response to Seth's prodding, this is how I would describe a happier version of my life:
  • I wouldn't be tired ALL the damn time.  (And while I know that some of my fatigue comes from occasionally waking up at night with kids, I think a good portion of it is a result of some of my psychological choices.  Generally speaking, I get a decent amount of sleep at night, and I exercise regularly and eat decently, but I ALWAYS wake up tired and often want nothing but to sleep after my kids have gone to bed.   I nap pretty much every Saturday and Sunday.   I think I use sleep as a numbing mechanism, a sweet escape into unconsciousness.)
  • I wouldn't be held captive by my fears-- the number one being fear of insufficiency, the second being the fear of disapproval/criticism/rejection.  I live in absolute terror of being disliked and/or disapproved of.  Looking back over the past decade I can see that this attitude alone has robbed me of a lot of opportunities for joy in my life.     
  • I would truly believe that I am my gift to the world, that the best thing I have to offer the world is my genuine self-- strengths, limits, and everything in between.  I would possess an innate sense of my worth instead of the belief that my worth is contingent on other peoples' approval. 
  • I would believe that it is okay for me to feel peace and contentment, even if I haven't achieved perfection or done everything/been everything I'd hoped to do/be that day.  The Buddha, in a conversation with a king about their respective levels of happiness, asked the king if he could sit still for an hour and be happy the entire time.  The king replied he thought he could.  The Buddha then asked if the king could sit still for an entire day and still be content.  The king didn't think he could.   (I know I certainly couldn't!) The Buddha told the king that he (the Buddha) could sit still for an entire week and still be perfectly at peace.  I would like to be at that place...a place where I could feel peace even if I hadn't done anything to "earn" it.  If I were content with myself and my inherent worth, I believe I would be able to always (rather than sometimes) do good things out of a place of genuine love, rather than a frantic desire to make myself worthy of love/approval/happiness.  And I think that means believing that I am already okay.  Just as I am.  
Of course, there are barriers to becoming happy.  For one, adopting an attitude like this takes a tremendous leap of faith-- faith in my own goodness, faith that if I let go of my fear of inadequacy that I will still be adequate.  And there is also the question of practical application.  How do I come to a place like this in my heart?  How do I develop a belief in my own goodness?  How do I release my fears of disapproval and replace them with love and compassion for myself and others?  

P.S. Yes, there is a lifestyle I would prefer-- which I described in detail in my "Miracle" post-- but I know that happiness comes from within, not having ideal circumstances occur without.   


Seth said...

I think self-acceptance is the main culprit here. Or more precisely, the lack thereof. I think it's less about not allowing yourself to be happy and more about not accepting yourself for the wonderful person that you are. I mean... for what it's worth... I think the more you let your true colors fly, the more awesome you are! And I'm pretty sure everyone that really knows you would agree with me. But... this whole self-acceptance thing has to come from within doesn't it? And I don't know how to help you see and accept yourself as the freaking awesome human being that you are... flaws and all. You're going to have to figure that one out on your own.

Natalya said...

Maybe get unfocused on the flaws and more focused on the strengths?
Just throwing out ideas.

heidi said...

I really like Seth's sweet comment. And, I think I agree with his straight-forward assessment. But, I have to admit that my own struggles with something quite similar to what you're describing have been far from straight-forward to work out, or work through. I wish I could discuss this with you in depth because I'm so intrigued with the ins and outs of what you're going through. And how it might compare to my own experience.

I guess that's the value of talk, vs. writing!

Since there's so much I can't be sure of, in terms of what we might share, I feel like I can't address the meat of this, only some of the more peripheral things. That being said, I definitely resonate with the centrality of inner circumstances, and how they inevitably trump outer ones. And yet! The one outer circumstance I have the HARDEST time overcoming with a resilient inner disposition is something I wrote about in a comment before, and that's the whole sleep thing. I hope I stop short of being a total sleep evangelist, but I fear not. I'm sure you've run across similar info/research--about the vast majority of Americans being sleep-deprived. (The average of averages of what most people need, and don't get, seems to be an uninterrupted 8 hours 20 minutes, but some people do need more. The book I read suggested that everyone structure a consistent 9 to 10 hours in order to create a cushion for the occasional, inevitable times of sleep deprivation.)

And, my hubby heard a sleep expert on the radio who said that you can't gauge your actual needs until you spend two weeks waking up with no external prompt--no alarm clock or outside wake-up of any kind. Two weeks! I'm afraid I'd sleep 12 or 14 hours a night!

Anyway, you did say that you usually get a decent amount of sleep, and believe that sleep's not the problem. So maybe this doesn't apply; and I can admit to doing something similar to what you describe, by using sleep to avoid life on a few occasions. (For me, it's when I'm depressed.) But for the most part, I believe sleep to be a good thing.

ESPECIALLY naps. I heartily endorse those, even if most people (well, Americans) don't.

Those are my musings. I hope they didn't seem hopelessly advicey and repetitive. And, I promise to keep silent about sleep from now on! Or to try to. I think it keeps coming up because it's been so life-changing for me, and, because, the last couple of years of this blog, you do sound tired to me. I remember--of all things--a post about worry (I think about toddler Soren experiencing egg overdose) and you sounded more relaxed to my ears. But: is that mere PROJECTION on my part??!! It seems all too likely! I wish I could tell which of my perceptions are truly true, and which are heavily colored by projection.

That's the best I can offer, at the moment.

Kate said...

I liked Seth's comment too. Self-acceptance happened for me during my 29th and 30th years. I don't know why, and I'm sure it's not universal but something clicked for me at that time and I was able to let go of my fears and worries about what other people thought, and I quit feeling so rotten every time I didn't measure up to my own standards.

I'm pretty sure I did absolutely nothing to accomplish this--I actually didn't even think it was possible; it just happened. So I can't give any advice. Except offer hope that maybe at some point it will happen for you?

Also, I'm really unimpressed with the Buddha's ability to sit still for a week, or even a day. I can get down with the hour--it's good to be able to meditate or just be at peace for a bit each day, and to be able to allow yourself to do that without feeling like you're not doing anything important or Getting Things Done.

But if I sat still for an entire week I WOULD feel bad--I think most good people would. We are meant to DO things in this life: To work, to serve, to help others, AND to play, to make merry and enjoy ourselves.

I don't know exactly how these things are related to our worth, but I believe our desire to love and serve and help and DO is part of our nature. And so is our infinite worth.

heidi said...


I wish I could write comment's like Kate's. She sounds right about everything and nonadvicey and so concise.

The most important thing I noticed about this post I neglected to mention: It's such an honor you're willing to share things like this with your readers. These are tricky things to share--especially because I suspect most of us have a hard time even becoming precisely AWARE of our self-talk and self-treatment. I admire your courage and honesty in sharing.

And, on a funny note--it occurred to me that what struck me as "relaxed" during your mostly-staying-at-home-days might have been less relaxation and more sheer boredom.


Finally, I love the last line of your other Happiness post.

Go, Rachel--go be happy, dammit.



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