Spring/Summer 2017 Mindful Matters

The Pursuit of Happiness

By Claire Houston

People in the USA seem to feel compelled to feel happy, even though the actual phrase from the Declaration of Independence is, “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Going to the original text from Thomas Jefferson’s first draft of this paragraph, he says, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all [wo]men are created equal and independent, that from that equal creation, they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”

There isn’t the promise of happiness, and not the right to happiness, but rather the right to the pursuit of happiness… the outcome of that pursuit being up to each individual. It neither pressures us to BE happy, nor sets happiness as the goal. Instead, it values the pursuit itself, and the freedom to pursue it, as the goal. In other words, it’s the journey, not the destination, as is commonly quoted in current self-help literature.

Think of how empowering this idea is! In any moment of time, I, you, have the power to be happy. That, due to our inalienable right to pursue happiness, at any moment, we can check-in to see if we actually are happy.

How does we know if we’re happy? For me, the metaphor of a weather vane has been very helpful. Imagine a weather vane that only has two directions, east and west. Only, in this example, the two directions are measuring emotional state: Good and Bad.

By simplifying it like this, I have trained myself to check in and see which way the wind is blowing. Am I feeling good, or am I feeling bad? Once I know that answer, I can do something about it.

In nearly every situation, if I’m feeling badly, I can shift my thought. So often, the cause of the bad-feeling wind direction is not so much caused by a circumstance itself, but rather caused by my thought ABOUT the circumstance. My reaction and judgment about where I am. Once I know that, I have more flexibility to see if I can look at the situation differently.

As I shift my perception of what is happening, I can better reach for the direction from which the wind will come. As I choose worse feeling thoughts, I feel the effect of that, and feel worse, the weather vane pointing more steadfastly in the “bad” direction. As I discover thoughts that feel better, I notice the weather vane shifting direction. At first, it begins to point somewhere in between the 2 directions. As I keep at it, I notice the shift continues, and finally the arrow points in the “good” direction. That’s how it is accomplished; one thought at a time. Not the sweeping of a magic wand, to make all difficulties and hard feelings vanish, but with the continued application of, and trying on of, other ways to look at something, or think about someone. As my flexibility increases, so does my success and resiliency. Perhaps this is a yoga practice of the brain? And, as with any practice, it is in the practicing of it that counts, not merely the thinking about doing it! Try it simply, now!