Can you be happy for 100 days in a row? This challenge has been the latest buzz on social media, inviting people to notice (and share) their daily moments of happiness. Most people who joined the project failed to complete it, saying they didn’t have time for it. This is not an advertisement for this project (I didn’t sign up), nor is it an invitation to challenge yourself to be happy and possibly turn this into a pursuit of happiness and into another chore.
What struck me as sad was the reminder that for many of us happiness has become an elusive and distant goal, something we think we can achieve only if we work very hard and strive long enough. And why 100 days? Why not be happy all the time? Is it really that hard to be happy? Some even wonder whether happiness is even possible at all, and discredit it as something that highly evolved intellectuals don’t have time for. After all, happiness is for children, dogs and maybe people who are not smart enough to responsibly engage in life, right?
I know because I was one of those intellectual types. I told myself life was too hard and too serious and I had to stay busy “being someone,” and how the hell could I fit in this pursuit of happiness in my already crazy life? But that was also the time of my life when my heart ached and I distracted myself from that pain by exercising, working, cleaning…in short, being a “responsible adult.” I wish someone would have asked me this simple question back then: “What is it all for?”
This is what I invite you to ask yourself. No need to share your experience with anyone or post any photos and hashtags on social media. What’s required is total and brutal honesty with yourself. If you’re not happy, identify what in your life you think is preventing you from being happy. And then ask yourself why you still engage in whatever you think is the cause of your unhappiness. If something is a block to your happiness, what is it for? It has to have some value for you because otherwise you would have dropped it already.
The misconception is that being happy all the time requires that everything always goes the way you expect it, and that nothing painful, sad or frustrating ever happens. In other words, happiness would mean that everything is always under your control and that the world complies with your standards of how things should be. Ask yourself this: So far in your life, how many times have you tried to control people, events and circumstances so that you’re happy? And how many times have you actually succeeded in creating lasting happiness for yourself?
I’ll be happy when I make more money. I’ll be happy when I get married. I would be happy if they didn’t do this to me. I can’t be happy because the government is the way it is and there’s too much injustice in the world. The list can go on and on, and you will stick to your own list until you have suffered long enough. But one day you will realize that having preferences may be keeping you from being happy. It’s not the world out there that’s causing your unhappiness. Your own preferences are causing your unhappiness. Would you rather have preferences or would you rather be happy?
Leo Tolstoy said: “If you want to be happy, be.” Yes, it’s that simple. Nothing needs to change in the outside world. Nothing needs to get better in your own life. You don’t have to lose weight, or get that job you want, or get your parents to approve of you. You can choose right now to be happy despite all the things you think are blocks to your happiness. This doesn’t mean that having goals or wanting your life to be more comfortable is something to be avoided. Have the goals you want, and strive for whatever your heart desires. But don’t wait until you have reached your goals to be happy because you will just keep on waiting.
Let’s say you are lost in the woods for days, without food. Finally you come to a house, where you are offered food and water. Would you take whatever food you are given or would you stick to your preferences because you only eat organic? Of course not. But so it is with all of life: do you want to keep rejecting happiness because you’d rather stick to your own ideas of how happiness should look like? This may seem ridiculous at first, especially to the analytical mind that has been running your life so far. But as Yoda advises Luke in Star Wars, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” Be willing to unlearn your own conditioning because that is the only block to your happiness.
The idea that happiness must be pursued is in itself a block to experiencing happiness. If you must pursue something, then that implies that you don’t have it already and that you must expend great amounts of effort to get it. You must deserve it. This is the conditioning that we must unlearn. But to unlearn, we must be willing to be fully honest with ourselves. Do I want to be happy, or do I want to be admired by others? Do I want to be happy, or do I want to be right? Do I want to be happy, or do I want to “be someone?” Do I want to be happy, or do I want to be successful in the eyes of the world?
Maybe decide just for today to be happy for no reason, and see how that feels. When you realize that you don’t need a reason to be happy, you’ll also see that no reason in the world can take your happiness away.