I have spent a lot of time lately contemplating happiness. Happiness has never been something I have sought or prioritized but I have begun to realize that although I seek long-term fulfillment, happiness is an essential companion to have along for the journey.
In the home in which I grew up purpose seemed to be more highly valued than happiness. (After all, many unpleasant things in life like homework, chores, and sacrificial giving, build character.) Over the years I have spent countless hours discussing social transformation with my father over cups of tea. My father wrote books about convergence – bringing all the areas of ones life together for greater fulfillment and impact, which he practiced on us for good measure. Our home was the center for many discussions about the importance of aligning one’s career, creativity, community, and calling (the 4-C’s).
I was taught to think of others, to be gracious, to be hospitable, to welcome strangers and friends alike into what otherwise would have been intimate family occasions and so it is no surprise that I chose a career that is intended to have a large impact on the world. I moved to Europe to volunteer with a group providing services to sex workers and the homeless, spent time in India working with youth, got a degree in International Development, moved to Washington, DC to seek full-time employment in the field of social justice and international development.
Yet over the last several years, life has been determined to show me how little control I have over my circumstances, particular in the area of lining up the four C’s in my life: calling, career, community and creativity. (Now, I am not a defeatist, nor have I abdicated my responsibility to be an active driver of positive change in my life, but I have learned that some things we cannot change, no matter how hard we try). This has been really challenging for me, particularly because I have such an ingrained belief that one’s life should have a greater purpose.
I found myself in the struggle to make ends meet, to create community, to find the right job, to build a business – subconsciously waiting for real life to begin, believing it would be different when these aspects came into alignment. (This is particularly foolish because even my father suggests that people only “come into convergence” when they are in their 50’s). So what does one do when efforts to create the meaningful life one seeks, seem to fail? What do you do when your identity is tied to making a difference in the world and you don’t feel like you’re gaining traction?
About two weeks ago I read the following quote:
“For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time to still be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. This perspective has helped me to see that there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. So, treasure every moment that you have. And treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time and remember that time waits for no one.
So stop waiting; until you finish school, until you go back to school, until you lose ten pounds, until you gain ten pounds, until you have kids, until your kids leave the house, until you start work, until you retire, until you get married, until you get divorced, until Friday night, until Sunday morning, until you get a new car or home, until your car or home is paid off, until spring, until summer, until fall, until winter, until you are off welfare, until the first or fifteenth, until your song comes on, until you’ve had a drink, until you’ve sobered up, until you die, until you are born again to decide that there is no better time than right now to be happy. Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” [A.D. Souza]
Souza lists many different things that can make us wait to do something. Personally, I am a doer and could probably do with a bit more practice waiting. Yet, what he captures is that happiness isn’t something to wait for, to put aside until another time. It is something to treasure in the moments. And quite frankly, I think we only get moments of happiness. Life is hard – it is filled with obstacles and challenges but they aren’t going away so why wait for them to leave to embrace happiness?
I have spent all of my life focused on creating a meaningful existence, having a positive impact on society as a whole, and this is not likely to change – but this goal is about finding long-term fulfillment and speaks nothing to how I live my day to day.
I believe my dream of having a meaningful career, a supportive community, a loving home of my own, and outlets for my creativity will come true – it might just take time. So during that time, I am going to pay more attention (and give greater clout) to the happy moments. Whether it’s the delight I take from a good cup of coffee, how tickled I am by the wit and humor of ‘Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me’ on the weekends, or the joys of a good conversation with a friend – I will try to view these moments as the bright stepping stones on the path that is my life.