Can a recession teach us anything about happiness?

Like many of us, I’ve been affected by the economy. Sometimes, when projecting my life out into the future, I have become deer-in-the-headlights scared, which has caused me to turn to the past and berate myself for choices that got me to where I am. No matter which direction I turned—forward or back—I felt awful. Eventually, I realized that I felt most comfortable in the present moment.

I realized that I would create the very future that I feared if I didn’t bring my thoughts home to the present. I also realized that no amount of second guessing could change the past, and pulled those thoughts into the present as well. (This is not something that stays done, by the way. It takes constant vigilance.)

For some reason, I believed that the circumstances I found myself in amounted to failure, and I feared that others would judge me as harshly as I judged myself. They didn’t. In fact, I received the most love and support from the people I least expected to receive it from.

Letting go of the past and the future and feeling the support of loved ones enabled me to relax into the moment and discover that I have absolutely everything I need—right now.

I achieved a somewhat fragile sense of inner peace when I heard a recorded interview with Marci Shimoff, author of Happy for No Reason, and checked her book out of the library. Since then, I’ve learned more about the field of Positive Psychology, and have a queue of books to read, including two by Positive Psychology founder Martin Seligman (Authentic Happiness and Learned Optimism) and one by scholar Sonja Lyubomirsky, who wrote The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want.

In the Upanishads, it says, “Happiness for any reason is just another form of misery.” The idea that I could be happy for no reason was a new one for me.

Like most of us, I thought my circumstances determined my happiness. We think we’ll be happy when we get a better job, find our soul mate, earn a certain amount of money, acquire a desired object, lose weight, achieve better health, and so on. But when we realize those goals, we often find that they don’t make us happy after all–or do for only a while. So we set our sights on a new goal, get back on the hamster wheel, and try again. It’s a game that can’t be won.

Not so with happiness that we find within. Because unconditional happiness isn’t linked to what we have, what we do, or who we’re with, we can never lose it. The spiritual masters we revere most achieved this state. They had nothing in the way of possessions, yet radiated a sense of unshakable peace and happiness that draws us to them.

For years, I’ve claimed the saying, “My greatest gift to others is my own happiness.” I even had it printed on my checks. But I never really got it until the recession forced me to realize that happiness doesn’t come from anything outside me. It comes from within and to achieve it, that’s where my focus needs to be.

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life,
the whole aim and end of human existence.” Aristotle

The illustration, by Kris Wiltse, is from the “Happy” card, which is part of the Mixed Emotions card deck.

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