“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”
Joseph Campell said that, and wow am I ever grateful to my friend, author Karen Salmansohn for this reminder of his wisdom given the time of year.
It’s a confusing thing, this resolution stuff. Especially in a world that seems equally fond of the notion on one hand that if you think about Ferraris enough you just might be able to conjure one, and on the other that nothing leads to happiness other than learning how to cultivate happiness from within. So when it comes to crafting a life, what’s the solution: focus on your “ideal life checklist” or focus on cultivating inner happiness?
The tricky thing about our “ideal life checklist” is that it’s usually full of stuff we think of as being conditions for our happiness. If you’re single, it might mean finding a mate. Unemployed? Happiness might look like a job. To an overweight person, happy might look skinny. In a bad living situation? A new apartment might seem like just the answer. But you don’t have to follow any life story too long to see that whatever we think will provide happiness also comes with challenges and inevitable moments of unhappiness. So why invest effort in getting these things or resolving to get them if they are bound to be just as complex as life itself? The inner angsty teenager says indeed, why bother.
Our human longing is what gets us off the couch or curb and into the game. It propels us to learn to work hard, to relate to eachother, to flirt and dance. It makes us take chances whether in love or karaoke. It teases us forward with the chance for success and humbles us into humor when we are brave enough to lose. We are blessed with our desires and longing for exactly the catalysts they are, as long as we maintain the wisdom to know the difference between getting what we want and satisfying what we really need.
Because they stem from our personal preferences and values, all too often our goals or desires become a barrier between us and the ability to enjoy whatever actually IS. Fixated on an ideal state or outcome in a narrative that might sound something like “I’ll be happy when I…”, we unconsciously discard whatever is happening in the present moment. And the present moment is the ONLY moment in which we can make happiness happen.
Happiness cultivation requires we hold the “ideal life checklist” for exactly what it is – just a set of ideas that get us actively participating in life. Happiness right now means we challenge ourselves to see with new eyes the reality we are in, including our imperfect relationships, cancelled flights, tax season and holiday bills. It requires we make peace with all the facets of ourselves, from super parent to inner whiner, and we learn to disregard the inner critic that shreds us and everyone around us constantly. Happiness cultivation is a determined and intentional return to the purest state of being in which you perceive yourself and all the world around you with acceptance exactly as is, compassionately and full of love. It might sound a little “pie in the sky” to maintain this state on a constant basis, but that’s exactly why we just tackle it one moment at a time. Doing so, we begin to shift the moments in life and over time we feel that the quality of our life has become more loving and accepting.
So let your resolutions get your butt moving on the track or at the gym. Let longing purge your pantry of empty calories, your social calendar of things you don’t enjoy and your checkbook of needless expenditures. But meanwhile, be aware of the state of your heart. Stay attuned to all around you with loving eyes. Feel the softness of your own breath running through you as a constant teacher and best friend. Because after all, even if you do check all the boxes of that ideal life, at the end of it you’ll have the same old you you’ve always had. My hunch is that no matter where your checklist takes you, you sure could use some peace and happiness along the way.