One spring afternoon in Atlanta, when my daughter was three-years-old, she invited a friend from daycare to walk to the neighborhood playground with us.
We were holding hands and walking together when suddenly our houseguest broke away and dashed ahead towards the shade of a huge pine tree. She squatted down, turned her excited eyes to us, and said, "Come here quick!" We ran over and squatted next to her to see what was so urgent. A little crocus blossom, still just a bud, but clearly new and purple, had peeked out of the ground.
My daughter's friend looked at us and said in a breathless tone: "We're alive!" And we looked at that flower and then at each other, and knew just how true this was. Then the two little girls broke into laughter.
It was in this moment I realized the true simplicity of what it meant to be happy. If happiness is really already within me, and it is only my adultness that keeps me from it, then I pray for the guileless heart of a child and the good sense to keep my focus simple.
Here are five key reminders that will help lead you to a happier, more abundant life:
1. Happiness is an inside job.
OK, so the jig is up — there is no secret key to happiness. But if there was one, it would be that happiness (much like beauty) lies on the inside, not the outside. And that's not a secret, just a well-ignored fact.
We pursue happiness as if it were the result of certain events, the consequence of certain behaviors, or the sum of certain acquisitions. Happiness eludes those kinds of equations like a butterfly flees a net, or water passes through a sieve. House + car + job + family does not equal happiness! Remember this the next time you find yourself thinking about what it is that could make you happy.
2. Happiness is child's play.
Happiness is a state of being and not one that we can achieve by reasonable means alone. It has more to do with the magic a child feels. So do we jaded adults have a chance? What do kids have that we adults don't possess? Well, actually, they have less: less hassle, less worry, less responsibility and less conceptualization. Behold our little gurus of happiness, and behold the lesson of keeping things simple.
3. Happiness does not need to be pursued.
Adults came up with the phrase "the pursuit of happiness," but maybe we've gotten it all wrong. Maybe we're supposed to let happiness find us. Maybe achieving happiness has more to do with inviting it, making room for it and removing disturbances and distractions, than it does with chasing it down.
Perhaps happiness is something to be with, rather than possess — much like the scent of a rose, or rain trickling down the window, or wind rustling through autumn leaves. Maybe happiness is already mine, but in ignorance I am like the musk deer that wanders the forest in search of the beautiful scent that he's actually carrying within his own body.
4. The heart holds the key to happiness.
There is no happiness without love, and there is no love without heart. That means happiness is more a quality of the heart than of the mind. Pseudo-happiness is of the mind, which says having or doing should make me happy — that more is always better, and that external success equals internal fulfillment.
This is simply not so! The heart knows when it's had enough, and also when it hasn't. Without the heart's satisfaction, the mind stays restless and wanting and seeking. What does the heart want? What satisfies the heart? In a nutshell: it wants its own nature; it wants itself.
5. Happiness needs no reason.
Happiness is one of those "just because" experiences that's not attached to anything, but just feels good inside. Like a newborn colt running in sheer exuberance. And when we link it to something — anything — we spoil it, and become dependent on whatever it is we've attached to.
This sort of "happiness" comes and goes with the tides of changing circumstance — the pursuit of which makes us reactive and therefore unstable. Proactive people are happier than reactive people simply because they predispose themselves to being happy, just because.
Reactive people tend to trip over all the reasons for being unhappy; proactive people are happy because they choose to be happy, with or without reason. Not that reason doesn't have its place on the happiness path. Figuring out what you want and how to make it happen can actually be fun.
Ultimately I believe that to enter the world of happiness takes a leap of faith. The mind can take us all the way up the ladder to the very edge of the diving board, but then we have to jump in order to experience the freedom and exhilaration. That's where I want and choose to live!