Good News! Happiness is Portable

I’m sure I’m not the only one that wants to cry at the end of a vacation.

Sometimes it feels like you’re literally leaving happiness behind you. As you drive away, you think you can see bliss disappearing in the rear-view mirror.

For me, ecstasy seems to be located at the beach. As we soak in the experience, as we play in the waves together, I feel immersed in radiance and water and joy.

The warmth of the sun, the softness of the sand, the cool of the breeze on sunscreen coated faces, the blue of the water, the sound of waves crashing, the sweetness of Pina Coladas; it is a feast for the senses and the place where I feel most alive. Apparently salt water has the same balance of salinity as the amniotic fluid we all spent nine months swimming in before we born. So maybe we feel at home at the ocean because it’s because it is a kind of returning…

It’s not that my “regular” life is full or terrible suffering or lacking in positive and rewarding experiences. But there’s something about vacations that can make you feel like going back to the everyday existence is somehow a loss.

My kids complain about getting out of the water even when their lips are blue, and I can’t blame them. When happiness comes so easily, when you’re immersed in it, it’s really hard to leave. We usually cajole them with promises of other sources of delight (ice cream?) to soften the sense of paradise lost.

Even as I write this, I feel a certain longing for that magical place where life is simple and beautiful. Disneyland’s been called the “happiest place on earth”. With its meticulously engineered fun and systematic removal of unpleasantness, there’s good reason so many people flock to it for the experience. It’s easy to believe that happiness lives at the beach, or on vacation, or wherever else it’s easy for you to feel good. Our minds start to tell us that bliss is in on place but not the other.

“Oh well”, we say, “We’ll come back next year”. Hoping that we can return to the place of delight. But is that right? Do we have to wait till the snow melts or we’re 2000 miles away from jobs and burdens to have these experiences again? Are we stuck with photos and memories until the sun shines again?

I’m not the only one to shed a tear when leaving a vacation, and I’m not the only one to fall into the illusion that happiness lives in certain places and is absent from others. Or that joy and love can only be experienced with certain people. Or that peace and contentment are only possible when circumstances are a certain way. These are common  misconceptions we fall into, and there are a lot people making money off the belief that we need certain things or experiences in order to be happy.

photo-1461938337379-4b537cd2db74

(Above: Recent studies have shown that for some people happiness is: an angle grinder)

I find myself lately repeating out loud this truth: happiness is portable. It’s not contingent on circumstances. I can more easily find pleasure and joy when it’s warm and sunny, when I’m at my favourite place, and with my favourite people. (Good food is also a factor, but not essential). When I say the mantra – happiness is portable – it’s not that I’m trying to convince myself of something that’s untrue, but rather that I’m trying to overcome an illusion so easily propagated in my own mind; that happiness is contained in circumstances. I wonder if sometimes our photos, and even our memories make this problem a little worse for us by creating the illusion the happiness lives in certain moments and places and not in others. I love a good photo. I took the one attached to this post on a day that was particularly easy to be happy. But when I look at the picture, I find myself wishing I could be there again, and more dissatisfied with the here and now. And I can’t help but wonder if my wishing for other circumstances makes it harder to recognize the happiness in this present moment?

When we’re clinging to such experiences, hoping that they will be the source of our happiness, it’s easy to get caught up in a vicious cycle of working hard to create them but then experiencing their loss. It’s like chasing butterflies. Even if you were able to catch it without killing it, the essential quality of butterfly-ness is lost when it’s in a net or grasped in a hand. The good news is that happiness is portable – we can take it with us – or perhaps more accurately: we can find it where we choose.

The same universe that brings me joy on a family vacation in an exotic locale or on the beach can bring it on a frosty monday morning full of responsibility and work. I understand that some places and spaces are harder to find any kind of positive experience or enjoy. There are places that are downright miserable, and I’m not suggesting we should go through life trying to put a positive spin on all the difficulty and suffering we encounter. But what I’ve learned from people who live in the midst of great difficulty, is that goodness and joy can still be found when we are open to them.

It strikes me that happiness is a gift, one that is often more available than we realize and that requires us to enter into a state of mind in which we accept it. Perhaps it is our pursuit of happiness that works against us being able to receive the gift of happiness wherever it is. By constantly demanding that circumstances please us we bend our hearts and minds into a posture that make it very difficult to be open to the gift of happiness. 

Happiness is portable when we open ourselves to finding it and receiving it even in the commonplace experience of the present moment.

Because the beach isn’t the only place filled with wonder and ecstasy, even if it is really easy to find it there.

What’s good in this moment? What’s cause for celebration? What can I see, touch, feel, hear, taste, or notice that might bring joy to this second? Is there some ordinary miracle that I can pay attention to – not just to generate a more positive feeling – but that genuinely reflects how full of wonder and goodness the universe really is?

I want happiness to come easily to me – which isn’t so strange or unusual. I want to just stand there and have it splash over me in an unending flow like waves lapping up on shore. But maybe this expectation is part of the problem. Sure there are times and places and situations in life that are like this, where joy and love and pleasure come easily. More often however, it seems that we must find our bliss by looking for it, learning to see and sense it as it already exists all around us, rather than pursuing it in the “somewhere else”. 

And while we may cry out of loss for the particular experience of happiness that has passed us and for the moments we’ve lived that are gone for ever, we don’t need to fill the ocean with our tears because happiness is portable. We can find it again and again and again, no matter where we are or who we’re with.


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