I used to think that certain situations made me feel happy. Going out to dinner with friends, cozy evenings with my family, doing something for myself, like taking a walk. I mostly felt happy at these times, but here and there would be a flickering sensation in which I’d feel impatient, unsettled, at odds with myself, even in my favorite situations, where I had all the elements I thought I needed to be happy.
As I became aware of this subtle discontent I found myself feeling for no apparent reason, I started to believe that happiness was elusive. Was I changing and not enjoying the same things I used to enjoy? Where did it go? Looking back, I should have investigated more, but I grew up with sayings like, “You can’t always be happy,” and “Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do,” so I didn’t assume I should always be happy. I didn’t feel entitled to happiness - it seemed more like something I should make sure I stumbled upon from time to time, enough to ensure my days were sprinkled with some here and there.
I also grew up with a mother who said things like “Whistle while your work,” and “You can enjoy shoveling $#*% if you have the right perspective.” So I knew happiness had something to do with existing somewhere within me…I don’t know about you, but there’s a lot of stuff going on in there when you look around. I’d take a peek here and there, but happiness definitely didn’t wear one of those bright yellow t-shirts with the big smiley face on it like I thought it might.It seemed a bit elusive and abstract so I never poured too much of my attention into trying to chase down where my happiness was going, had gone, came from or lived.
Over the years since then, I’ve made so many discoveries. Forgotten and remembered so many beautiful things, made incredible friendships, discovered the most unlikely teachers, shared my heart with strangers. I’ve made living my life the focus of my life, which means I’ve given myself permission to do all kinds of crazy, adventurous things in the name of feeding my soul and living a life that feels fulfilling.
I’ve been doing that for 6 years now, and it’s only just now that I’ve realized that I’m entitled to happiness. That it’s my birthright. Not just occasional happiness, or a few moments a day of happiness, but complete, 24-7, whenever-I-want-it, happiness. I always knew I deserved some but I somehow thought I wasn’t supposed to ask for too much. I had always heard the word “entitled” used negatively – “person xyz was so entitled and thought they had a god given right to abc.” You can use your imagination to fill in the blanks. But now that I look at the word, I realize that’s exactly what we are – we are entitled to happiness. It is our god given right (or replace the word god with your choice – I like universal or mother earth).
The dictionary definition of entitled is, “To furnish with proper grounds for seeking or claiming something.” We are entitled to seek and claim our happiness.
So how does this change anything? It shifts my relationship with happiness – instead of it being like chocolate cake, that I should have every once in a while, it’s like milk, that does a body good. Or if you’re a vegan (or my friend Stephanie) it’s kale. Just knowing you have the right to it, gives you permission to seek it, to ask for it, to know you deserve it, despite any stories you might have told yourself or someone else might have told you. You will know those stories are not true because they don’t feel like they belong to you – if they are heavy or painful, that’s a sign that you are carrying something that doesn’t belong to you.(You can read more about my thoughts on the stories we believe here).
Often the reason happiness is so elusive in the first place, is because we haven’t given ourselves full permission to experience it.
So where is it? Now we come to the part I’ve just discovered in the last 24 hours, or more accurately I am still now discovering. This is fresh and new. I don’t claim to be a happiness expert or to even be happy all of the time…my only claim is that I feel entitled so I’m seeking and claiming. And I want to share my experience in case it inspires anyone else to seek and claim their birthright.
At this point, I might need to back up and say that I believe happiness is not something that comes and goes, but that it is something that always exists in this moment, an endless resource that’s always available within us. It’s just that we’re not always seeing it. Kind of like how there’s always air -we might forget to breathe deeply for a moment, not because there’s a lack of air, but because we are caught up in our thoughts, stories, definitions. But we don’t blame the air for being hard to find – we just realize we forgot to slow down and take it in.
I don’t believe happiness comes and goes, I believe we remember to choose it sometimes and other times we don’t. This makes it seem really simple – it’s just a choice. Like, today I’ll wear pink socks. But here it is – my big discovery is that is that simple. It’s exactly like saying I choose pink socks. It’s literally saying I choose joy right now. No matter what’s going on, no matter what emotions or sensations I feel, I can still choose happiness. It’s there waiting and it will greet you, it will well up from the inside, where it’s been waiting to show you that it’s what you’re made of, it’s your natural state of being, not something to aspire to attaining.
To back up even more, I have a baby, her name is Esmé and she is almost a year old. I should mention that she is the light of my life, in case that isn’t a given. I’m fortunate that I have my own business so I can decide how much time to dedicate to staying home and taking care of her. We spend our days together and I love being a mother – I love seeing her experience and discover the world around her, I love how she loves me, I love taking care of her…but sometimes, especially when it’s just her and me around the house together, I find myself feeling unsettled, not quite anxious, but right at the edge. It’s uncomfortable. It makes me feel like I need to call somebody or go do something. I feel discontent and I’m trying to find something to make it go away.
Where’s my happiness I wonder? I’m with my baby and I love being with her so much, so why am I feeling like this? I’m on this amazing quest to live and share more joy, so where is my joy in these moments? I know it’s there, hiding inside of me, waiting for me to change the way I see things, to open myself up, to remember it’s there for me…that it is me…but I just can’t find it.
In the middle of that unpleasant feeling, I realized that I need to stop waiting for it and just choose it now. Just like deciding to put on pink socks. Happiness isn’t tied to any circumstances, it’s a choice. I just decided that the yucky feeling was a good thing, that it’s part of my experience, that it’s a gentle reminder to me that I’m looking for circumstances to bring me happiness instead of deciding I can be happy even if I feel uncomfortable. I can feel unsettled or anxious and still choose to be happy about it by redefining those unpleasant feelings as important messengers.
So I stopped pushing away those feelings that have been trying to tell me that I don’t have to wait until I feel good for happiness to just pop up in my life. I can decide I feel ok, then maybe a bit more than ok, maybe even good. I still feel this uncomfortable feeling at least a few times a day, but now I smile and know that it’s there to help me remember…and because I’ve made this choice, it just fades away. And I’m left staring into my daughters beautiful eyes, little galaxies full of wonder, knowing that no matter what I experience, it can lead me to joy, as long as I decide that there’s no situation I can experience where I can’t decide to wear pink socks.
We are often taught that seeing is believing. But really it’s the other way around. Believing is seeing.
If you wait until you feel good to be happy, you might be missing the boat quite often. And it’s a damn awesome boat, sailing at sunset, on a warm summer night, with your favorite band playing and all your loved ones gathered round. It’s just too good to miss out.
In a nutshell: Your circumstances don’t bring happiness. And you don’t have to already feel good to choose happiness…even the unpleasant feelings we experience can give us the opportunity to choose to be happy and be okay feeling those emotions at the same time if we redefine them as joy reminders.
One of the secondary definitions of entitled is ”To call yourself by a particular name.” I find words can be powerful, so I’ve decided I need an entitled title…I think today, I’ll call myself joy reminder. What will you entitle yourself? I’d love to know…leave me a comment below, pretty please.
I would love to hear your thoughts and reflections on what I’ve shared…please let your voice be heard and write me a comment or send me a message. If you enjoyed or gained some fresh perspective from reading this, I’d be eternally grateful if you felt like sharing it with the people you love.
ps I would like to dedicate this one to Sarah M, as our conversation on being entitled sparked these thoughts, and to my baby, because she has been the gift that draws out so much of my realization.