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There are a bunch of sayings about turning corners and pages on the way to happiness, but is there a phrase that applies to what happens when you roll right into it?
I was driving home from nowhere special last week—heading west toward the mountains—when an unmistakable feeling of euphoria cracked open somewhere between my ears and melted through me like sweet candy filling. It was like a mega dose of Novocaine that radiated from beyond my face and tingled all the way down through my extremities. It caught me off guard, and just to be sure I wasn’t suffering a mental collapse in traffic, I said my name and address aloud and repeatedly gripped and released the steering wheel at 10 and 2 for added confirmation.
It was evening time, and even more than the stunning visual of sunlight dipping back behind the jagged horizon, I was captivated by the excitement of simply being alive in that moment. My friend Theresa once told me that she met her fiancée, she noticed the trees were greener, the air felt fresher—and that’s saying a lot if you lived in Manhattan like she did. She said every experience was shot through with joy.
I can’t say what happened to me was falling in love, but then again, maybe it was: I have work I enjoy; I get to bask in the loving company of some truly wonderful people in my life; I know I am valued by friends and family near and far; I have peace of mind and boundless creativity; and I’m rarely without a good word for anyone who’ll hear it. All told, my moment of sweet Novocaine showed up to remind me that all really was and is well in my world.
We’re human, which means our brains need to make sense of what’s going on in and around us. When disaster strikes and bad things happen to good people, we scramble for answers to help us make sense of it all. In those moments when it really hits the fan, we need to know how to respond. This makes sense to me. And having things make sense in the midst of catastrophe can mean the difference in our safety and survival. And what of happiness?
Based on my own recent experience, I rolled right into happiness and, as far as I could tell, there wasn’t any good reason why I did. Granted, I have a whole lot to be thankful for, and I know it, but why the overflow? I wondered. What was with that amazing sensation? There I was, attempting to pick apart the joy that had so blissfully descended on me, all for no better reason that I needed to make sense of it.
Some people will not only look their gift horse in the mouth, but they’ll check its teeth and ears, ask who’s going to feed it, and threaten to send it back if they can’t make it run! And that’s what we do when we try to fit our happiness into tiny little compartments of understanding and reason. In other words, happiness doesn’t make sense, and it’s not supposed to.
The thing about true happiness is that it’s a lot like love in that it exists independent of what we’ve done and how we’ve determined it should look when it shows up; who we are; happiness is a state of being that we enter into. More specifically, I think, it enters into us or makes itself known in delicious ways that surprise and sweeten our lives. Happiness and love visit with us for as long as we’ll have them. I don’t believe that we’re ever really without love and joy and happiness, but it’s up to us to throw open the doors when they come knocking.
Happiness caught me off guard that day, and filled me up when I wasn’t necessarily expecting it to. As it worked its way through my system, I caught myself trying to compartmentalize my feelings by checking first for signs of mental collapse and upheaval. After realizing I was indeed safe—and happy—I gave myself to the overflow, and it was divine.
Maybe you don’t think of yourself as a gift-horse-resisting, happiness rationalizing type, but it might do you some good to consider the implications for a moment. Let’s say you say you want to be happy. If that’s the case, what does happiness look like to you? Do you have yourself on a happiness timeshare plan where you only get to be giddy a few times a year in certain locations and only ever with the people of your choosing?
Instead of rationalizing or rationing how and when you can have your happiness, what if we opened ourselves to letting it surprise us by its arrival, no matter where it found us?
After the initial self-diagnosis, I embraced my happiness because I gave myself permission to. I quit trying to box it up and explain away the experience just so I could be in control of the situation—even though I thought I was in the driver’s seat.
Do you know that kindergarten song that goes, If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands? Let me be the first one to tell you I am happy and I know it, only I’m not always clapping and making a scene about it because that could get tiresome. Plus, how would I look going around giving myself a hand all the time? How would I carry my groceries, get dressed, shake hands, paint my nails, or drive my car?
Happiness is an inside job that pulls like a magnet, drawing its own kind to us in equal measure or more from the outside. What happened to me on the road that day has happened at countless other points along my journey in different ways, but these days I’m a lot less inclined to explain it away or ration it out for the times when I think I’ll need it down the line.
Happiness is expansive and it can keep on filling us up as long as we give ourselves permission to take it in. Happiness never looks like what we think, and happiness isn’t subject to our terms and conditions, either. So, any notions you have of only being happy when your conditions are met, you might as well drop ‘em all, honey. And now that we’ve got your hands free—if you’re happy and you know it—then I know you know what time it is!
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Barefoot into Joy
The Gift of Receiving
Don’t Stop Believin’: A Jouney of Faith