I used to think that happiness was an attainable goal. I looked for it everywhere; in people, in things, through accomplishments, in how I looked, what I owned, having perfect health, and on and on and on.
Sometimes I thought I found it, but it never really lasted that long. Besides, even when I “had it” I worried that it wouldn’t last. And it didn’t.
I think I started questioning the idea of happiness after I read an interview with Brad Pitt. He was quoted as saying; ”I think happiness is overrated.” This particular article left out his complete thought, so I didn’t have anything more to go on when I began pondering what he meant.
My initial thought was; “Oh, isn’t that sad? Brad Pitt isn’t happy.” But that didn’t feel right to me. What did feel right was that his statement was probably much deeper than it sounded, so I explored it.
First I asked myself this; If Brad Pitt isn’t happy all the time (considering he has just about everything a human being could ever want) and he doesn’t need to be happy all the time, then maybe happiness isn’t actually the ultimate goal. Maybe there’s something better than happiness.
But what could possibly be better than happiness?
I meditated on this question, spoke with my spiritual mentor about it and asked my husband to weigh in (he’s like my therapist only I don’t have to pay him). I’m going to try to explain, in my own words, what I learned.
Everything we experience has its opposite. You can’t know what happiness feels like unless you’ve experienced sadness. You can’t know what a positive mood feels like if you’ve never been in a negative one. And would you know how great it feels to be kind if you’ve never been cruel?
We are like a coin…we have two sides. One side has all the so-called “positive” traits and the other side has all the so-called “negative” traits. But we’re still only one person.
We are designed to think and feel in opposites.
Then why are we always striving to be happy and trying to push away sadness?
Because it feels “good” to be happy, and it feels “bad” to be unhappy. And we think that if something feels good it’s “right”, and if something feels bad it’s “wrong” (see how we think in opposites? Good/bad, right/wrong).
But what if we just plain accepted the fact that we think and feel in opposites? When we’re happy we accept that; we don’t push it away by worrying it won’t last, or try to hold onto it so that it can last forever. And if we’re sad, what if we just let that be there without trying to get rid of it? Have you ever heard the saying, “What you resist persists?” I know when I try to push away a bad mood or a negative thought it just gets stronger, but when I accept it’s there it goes away much quicker.
So is acceptance greater than happiness then? Yes, it is! When we’re in a place of acceptance we enjoy everything as it is. We have no need to change anything. We don’t worry about good or bad anymore, happy or sad. We just accept they’re there. Everything just is, and it’s all okay.
This puts you in a neutral space. You become more of an observer, noticing but not judging.
Acceptance is just the starting point. When we accept everything as it is, something shifts inside of us. We become peaceful.
When we are in a state of peace we feel whole and complete. The mind is clear and empty, yet totally aware. There is no need for thoughts or pictures. Life is perfect just the way it is. Life is bliss.
This is the state Buddha was in. And Jesus. This is the state of the Dalai Lama, and Byron Katie, and Eckhart Tolle. They don’t chase happiness. They don’t rely on that because they have something better. They have peace.
I wound up searching online for the entire Brad Pitt quote just before writing this article. After he said “Happiness is overrated” he continued by saying; “It’s those difficult times that inform the next wonderful time and it’s a series of trade-offs, of events, of wins and losses. Satisfied, at peace; those would be more realistic goals.”
Ha, that could have saved me a lot of time, had I researched that earlier!
Here’s to finding peace, for all of us. Can you imagine how that could change the world?
Denise Barry is the author of the children’s picture book What Does the Tooth Fairy Do with Our Teeth? and Soap On A Rope. She is also an inspirational writer whose work has been featured on various websites and in the best-selling book Watch Her Thrive: Stories of Hope, Courage and Strength. Denise lives in Buffalo, NY. Please visit her website at www.denisebarry.net