The temperature is a balmy 72 degrees. The grass is green and lush, extending as far as the eye can see. Leaves rustle in the wind, rolling in the undulating waves. Birdsong, in the form of trills, chirps, and extended vibrato comingle and explode against a blue sky.
To my right swamp grass crackles and sways, revealing glimpses of an ocean inlet known as Lewis Lake. Ducks bob peacefully on the rippling water, and one lone swan glides effortlessly. The fact that she or he is alone is the one sadness to this otherwise serene moment.
The air smells of the ocean, the earth, and freshly mown grass. A few feet away, I can hear the traffic behind me on one of the town’s main streets. It fades from my ears and my awareness as I make my way to the far end of this oasis.
The backlight of the late afternoon sun elongates the shadows of the trees and sets a glow on the houses. The sun has made its way across the sky to the west, and the end of daylight is approaching. This is the time of my daily walk of 5,000 steps.
My mask is secured, hand sanitizer and keys are in my pocket with my medical card. And of course, my phone.
The beach is a block away, but it is crowded, and people do not wear masks or practice social distancing. This alternative route is more secluded with only dogs and their owners taking their obligatory evening walks.
I take note of this moment of happiness. I am grateful to nature and Mother Earth for providing these few moments of respite. Even with a mask, it is a relief to feel the warm sun and gentle breeze on my skin.
I do remove it now and again for a second and allow the full experience of the sun to warm my face, and kill any germs on my mask. It is indeed a moment of bliss.
I take note of the fact that I’ve chosen it and that I have done it through a deliberate decision. It is not only enlightening but empowering.
What is Happiness?
“You will be exactly as happy as you decide.” ~Motivationping.com
Happiness is a state of joy, pride, or well-being, a positive emotion. Greater Good Magazine takes it one step further and describes it as a “fleeting positive emotion.”
And this is what I’ve discovered, happiness as a fleeting moment and as a choice. I know the fleeting moment, by its very definition, will not last. But at least it will have existed.
You can’t have happiness without unhappiness the same way you can’t have light without dark or faith without some doubt. We expect happiness to be a constant state, or at least consistent over some time. But sometimes we have to recognize that happiness comes in small spurts.
We need to be alert to this fact and absorb these brief moments. This is important now more than ever.
It’s no longer just social isolation, masks, and protests, though the lack of human contact has pushed us to the breaking point. We are now in a time of social revolution, civil unrest, and the eruption of repressed emotions. Racism has indeed reached a critical mass, and as in the 1960s, it’s a time of change.
And change does not happen peacefully. Even if we are not in the epicenter of the violence, we have a visceral reaction to it and to the injustices that caused it.
We need to stay grounded. We must take advantage of the glimmers of happiness, even if it’s only for a few moments.
You have to ask how high have I set the bar? Does lowering it a bit mean I won’t be happy? Maybe it means being content with less.
Lower the bar and take a look at some of the simpler gifts surrounding you that can give you some respite and keep you from going down a rabbit hole to a state of despair.
Decide to practice happiness.
Happiness is a practice.
“Happiness is possible at any time, if you know how to get in touch with it.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Many of us associate happiness with wealth, possessions, or sharing time with family and friends. And we will share time again with the people we love.
But for now, we need to enjoy what is available.
First, we must choose to be present without thoughts of the past or any regret of the future. Find a place with flowers, trees, grass, or something that you love in nature. Look upon it and breathe. Focus and appreciate whatever it is you find soothing or beautiful about this object.
Even if you can do this for one moment, you have found happiness. It sounds oddly simple, and it is. But we are complicated beings, so the process is not simple and takes consistent practice.
Once you find one thing, you can find others. Maybe in your back yard.
For 45 minutes a day, my walk in nature fills me with this sense of peace and feeling of oneness. I feel nurtured and apart of the whole. Like anything else, the world will rush in, and this feeling will fade. But it doesn’t change the moments of happiness and it will do so again.
Don’t sweat what you can’t control.
“It’s not things that upset us, but the way we think of things.” ~ Epictetus
Letting go of your problems and forgetting what’s going on around you is another key to experiencing moments of happiness, even if it’s only for a few minutes. My goal is 45 minutes a day, but you can start small.
Trying thinking like a Stoic. They believed that it’s our opinion of things that upsets us, not the thing itself. Thinking like a Stoic encourages us to be rational and accept the circumstances and people as they are.
Sometimes the things are enormous, and the people seem unredeemable, but it doesn’t alter the fact that we can’t change them. We can only choose how we react to them.
You can’t control what happens to you, what people say and do, and sometimes even things that are going on in your own body. And we certainly cannot thwart the results of the pandemic or the social revolution that has been set into place.
In other words, we can only control ourselves.
It makes sense, and it makes sense to think about it. Build on it. You may not only be less unhappy, but unhappy less of the time. Easier said than done, but we have nothing to lose through trying, and many of us have enough time on our hands to give it a try.
These are tough times and they will most likely get worse. What will be next? Nothing we can control, so let’s get ourselves together and face it with the most positive attitudes we can.
And if the one thing you can control is yourself, why wouldn’t you?
Begin the practice of doing your best
Putting your best self forward is no easy feat and I don’t hold myself up as an example. But I do hold myself up as someone who is making an effort to be more positive. I have found a small semblance of peace in doing this.
And some semblance of happiness.
I am often filled with the longing to scream, spit, and flip the bird to the human race in general. Give all the haters, no matter what color, race, or religion, their weapons of choice. Drop them off on a deserted island somewhere and let them annihilate one another.
But this is not going to happen and only wastes my precious waning energy as I internalize the chaos and negativity in the world. Instead, I choose to focus on it less and my finding moments of contentment more.
It’s something we should all try.
And putting out all good “trying” energy will make the world a little happier.
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