Happiness is Hard Work

Neighborhood hydrangea--noticing the beauty of nature contributes to my happiness.

Neighborhood hydrangea--noticing the beauty of nature contributes to my happiness.

Sometimes I wake with the oddest thoughts and this was what popped into my head Sunday morning: happiness is hard work. I assumed these thoughts were stirring from somewhere deeper and wondered where this might lead as I reflected. The day before I had read this quote from Abraham Lincoln “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Then I read in Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening, a reflection about misery and the two seemed to intertwine. Both focus on attitude and where we focus our energy.

There is a lot of energy stirring in our community, our country, our world these days. One “gift” I have, as an intuitive, is sensitivity to the hurt and pain of those around me.  And I have my hurts that rest above and below the surface, so my heart has felt heavy recently. To be bound by the pain can lead me into the “doldrums,” as my mother would call it. Record rainfall and gray, flannel days in Portland as contributed to the weightiness.

At my core I am a positive person, giving others the benefit of the doubt and believing that at the end of the day there really is a silver lining. However, as I have aged this core has been infused with a dose of reality. The silver lining is tarnished and takes a rolling-up-the-sleeves kind of effort to bring the sheen back.

So when I say happiness is hard work, I am reflecting on how easy it is to fall into the swamp of desolation that bombards me daily in images and words. I don’t bury my head in the sand, as tempting as that is. I stay informed and focus my efforts in areas I am passionate about. At times I can be overwhelmed by guilt—not feeling I can enjoy life when so many are suffering. This is not a new phenomena for humanity. Most empathetic people want to ease suffering in the world, and in their powerlessness to do so, may shut down emotionally, not allow joyfulness into their lives, or work to the point of exhaustion in service to others without taking time for inner reflection and restoration. Like I have reflected on in other posts, it comes back to balance and awareness.

This is where I found Nepo’s reflection on misery insightful. In a nut shell he said: “we wake one morning, grateful for the singing birds, the blue sky. Then we stub our toe and the painful bruise takes over. We focus on the pain of the toe, not just for a brief time, but over several days, forgetting we have health throughout the rest of our body.” This has happened in my life. My focus narrowed and soon it was all about “the toe.” He adds, “In actuality, misery is a moment of suffering allowed to become everything.” Allowed to become everything…

I choose happiness, no matter what the circumstances are in my life, or the lives of those around me. But it takes effort. I’ve cleaned silver and it takes rubbing the polish on with one cloth, shining with another and a lot of “elbow grease.” And when the pieces are left exposed and untended, they tarnish again. There are days of sadness, doldrums, indifference, frustration, powerlessness. Days the toe hurts and I can hardly walk. It may steal my focus for a week or longer. Happiness feels like an abstract concept and out of reach. To refocus my energy from “the toe,” I ground myself in my senses noticing moon bowing to sun as day begins, feel my body glide through water when I swim, hear the laughter of a friend that lingers after they have left the room, relish the bitter awakening of dark chocolate that collides with my tongue.

The energy I create in choosing happiness seems to expand out in my community as I greet others with kindness, listen and hold stories with attentive regard and make time to play, even in the midst of seriousness. It makes a difference.

How do you engage with the feeling of happiness in your life? Reflect on if happiness is something you work at or comes to you more easily? How about misery? Are there times you have allowed it to “become everything?” What helps you move back into balance?

Just a reminder:  my upcoming workshop, Journey Through Loss: Exploring Grief and Loss Through the Archetype of the Labyrinth, is Sunday March 12 from 1-5p. There is still room! To register:



For more on Mark Nepo, check out his website http://marknepo.com/