I think most people simply want to be happy, to live a life that feels good to them, to love and be loved, to find a purpose, to feel passionate about what they’re contributing, to feel that life has meaning. It took me a long time to understand that seeking happiness for myself was bound to make me miserable. Thinking of the world and of your life in particular with the mindset of, “How can I be happy? Why aren’t I happy? What do I need to do to get happy?” is like having blinders on. Seeking happiness for other people is a shortcut to all kinds of amazing stuff, like the feeling of being fulfilled, fired up, and full of gratitude. I think we all experience this to some degree. I’ve always been more excited to give someone a gift than I am to receive one. There’s something so awesome about creating or finding the perfect something to give someone and it’s even better if you get to be there when they open it. It’s a way of saying, “I see you. Your particular spark has not gone unnoticed. I know you. I know what will make you laugh or feel understood.” It’s beautiful to give that to someone. You could give a version of that to any stranger you encounter today just by being present. You could say hello, and how are you, and you could care, and you might just turn someone’s day around. Maybe more than that.
What I didn’t realize until I started teaching yoga, was that there’s no end to that. The more you focus your energy on uplifting other people with anything you’ve got, the better you feel, but that’s the reverse of what we’re taught and lots of people end up in despair, feeling hopeless because the “me formula” doesn’t work. Of course you have to take care of yourself, practice compassion for yourself, and learn to love yourself if you aren’t already, but it is absolutely the case that the more time and attention you place on how and what you might contribute, and the more you act on those feelings, the happier you’ll be. If you doubt that, make today about eliciting as many smiles as you can from other people. Extra points for strangers. I guarantee if you do that, by the end of the day you’re going to feel at least a glimmer of hope, if not an avalanche because people are good, they really are. And yes, this world can break your heart, and there are things we need to fix for the sake of our kids and their kids, the planet, and all the creatures who live on it, but directing your attention to how you might contribute to the well-being of others is definitely a huge step in that direction. Good for others, good for the planet, good for you — there’s no downside. Also, you’re wired for that. We have something called mirror neurons; compassion and empathy are natural to us. If you’ve hardened yourself against that, it’s time to allow your heart to break open to the world again. It won’t kill you, it will free you.
Today I don’t hope to be happy, because I am happy. Not everything in my life is perfect, but I have two beautiful, healthy children and tons of love in my life, and I get to spend time doing what I love. What I hope for is the strength to face reality as it is. To accept the truth. To see clearly, and by that I mean, to see myself clearly, to see others clearly, to see the world clearly. I’m hungry for the truth, not happiness. It’s not all going to be happy. Some of it is going to break your heart right down the middle. If you’re attached to being happy all the time, you’re going to suffer even more when those storms come because you’ll have the pain of the circumstances, but also the pain of your resistance to them. If you hope to open to things as they unfold, and if you hope for the grace to accept both the beautiful and the heart-wrenching, you’re probably going to do quite well.
Sending you love, and the hope that you recognize your potential to give and receive love. Pretty sure that’s why we’re here!