Abandoning the Quest for 24/7 Happiness (#911)

When I first began studying psychology and spirituality nearly 25 years ago, I did it for completely selfish reasons. I was emotionally unstable, deeply depressed, and felt victimized by my brain chemistry. Anything that looked like it would give me the edge against such a fearsome enemy within was something I wanted to know about. Over the ensuing 18 years, I studied multiple disciplines, receiving nine separate certifications in fields ranging from Positive Psychology to Thought Field Therapy to Neuro-Linguistic Programming. I also experimented with various “medicines”, from drugs and alcohol to rituals and practices I came to call my “behavioral Prozac”.

But despite the rich variety of theories, practices, and methodologies, my goal in trying whatever I tried was always the same – to get more control over my emotional experience and move in the direction of “24/7 happiness” – a life of only positive feelings without any anger, sadness, insecurity, or fear. And there’s no question that my life got better. I was less unhappy more of the time, and capable of functioning at a much higher level when the black dog of misery had me in its grip.

So when I first began studying the principles behind the inside-out understanding, I did so in search of yet another weapon for my arsenal in the war against my darker nature. What I found, however, was not what I went looking for. Instead of discovering an even better way to manage my moods, I discovered that my emotions were not reflective of my nature – that they were in fact simply surface fluctuations atop a deep core of well-being.

To be honest, this discovery was equal parts liberating and disturbing. Having spent so much of my life battling against my moods (and worse still, often winning the battle), to discover that I was conquering shadows and defeating imaginary enemies was a bit disillusioning. Fortunately, as I got more deeply in touch with the peace of Mind, dis-illusionment started to look like a really good idea.

Here’s a metaphor for the human experience that might help you make more sense of this for yourself:

Imagine that you are riding on a giant barge, floating gently down a beautiful river. In the very center of the barge is a giant roller coaster, and your seat for the journey is in the front car. As the river carries the barge downstream, the roller coaster goes up and down, pausing every now and again before climbing its way to the next peak or plunging its way down into the valleys. At times it spins wildly, completely disorienting you; at other times you find yourself resting in the pause before the next ride.

Now imagine that your whole life, you had ridden the coaster with your eyes closed, believing that the roller coaster was the world and the river only a myth. What would happen the first time you opened your eyes and kept them open for every moment of the ride?

At first, you might be a bit disoriented and even frightened as you watched yourself and others go up and down and round and around at occasionally dizzying speeds. The first time you crested the heights of the coaster and saw the river clearly in all its glory, you would be so taken by the view that you would never want it to end. And when your revelation was followed by a plunge to the bottom of your world it might seem like all was lost.

But over time, you would begin to relax into the ride, spending less and less time trying to manage the ups and downs and more and more time enjoying the views along the way. You’d take comfort in the fact that no matter what was going on with the roller coaster, the river was always effortlessly supporting the barge along its journey. And you might even begin to enjoy pondering the mysteries of where the river came from, how you came to be on it, and where it might be taking you…

As I’ve seen a little bit more about the nature of the deeper mind that seems to carry us through life even while our personal thinking creates a roller coaster of emotion and drama, I’ve realized that chasing after 24/7 happiness is a bit like only ever wanting to be at the top of the coaster – not only does it not work that way, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as much fun if it did. And all the energy we put in to managing the ride only serves to distract us from the river that is ever present, holding us up and carrying us along on our journey through life.

For me, abandoning the quest for 24/7 happiness has revealed a deeper truth and an even more magical possibility – the timeless presence of a river of wisdom and well-being that is no less present when we’re down than where we’re up, and no less powerful when we feel weak than when we feel like we’re on top of the world.

This timeless presence is our true nature – the essential well of our being, and the true source of peace in our lives. So while I may still find myself in a crappy mood from time to time, it hardly seems worth thinking about, let alone trying to fix it by figuring it out, tapping it away, or medicating it into oblivion. This too will pass, and remembrance of the river is never more than one thought away.

With all my love,

Michael

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