We taught a workshop where a number of the participants had lost loved ones in the past years: one had lost her son to AIDS, another had lost her husband, son, and mother all within twelve months, another’s partner had drowned. Others were dealing with specific illnesses, or difficult issues in their lives. We were teaching at the Edgar Cayce Center in Virginia Beach, and it was a workshop called Your Body Speaks Your Mind, which is a favorite one of ours as it enables the participants to get in touch with what their body is saying and what they need to do to find greater balance and healing in their lives.
What really emerged for everyone was the awareness that their real happiness lies within, independent of someone or something outside of themselves. They had lost what they had thought of as their source of happiness—a loved one or their health—and now had to look more deeply within themselves. It was a weekend of many ‘aha’ moments!
On the way home we were delayed for three hours at Dallas airport and, as is easy to do when waiting at airports, we browsed the magazine rack and casually looked through the latest edition of People Magazine. It just happens to be an issue filled with famous people, like Angelina Jolie, saying what it is that gives them happiness. Most of the answers were about loved ones and children, but some were as banal as, “Free popcorn refills and clean underwear,” or “Happiness is a Chick-fil-A and a soft pretzel.”
Here are some of the ways our workshop participants discovered how to be happy:
1. Not to take yourself too seriously. At times of hardship, such as loss or illness, we can easily lose our humor, and even more easily get very involved with the negative aspects of what is happening. We become the center of our universe. Remembering not to take ourselves too seriously brings a lightness and ease to the weight of circumstance around us. Don’t forget—angels can fly because they take themselves lightly!
2. Not to identify with suffering, loss, or illness, as being who you are. Many of our participants realized how they had been identifying themselves as a cancer survivor / widow / recovering addict, or whatever it may be, but had not asked themselves who they were without that label or identity. When we do not identify with the negative label, then the positive of who we are has a chance to shine
3. It’s OK to be you, just as you are, warts and all. We may think we are imperfect, a mess, falling apart, hopeless, or unable to cope. But true perfection is really just accepting our imperfections. It is accepting ourselves, complete with all the things we like and the things we don’t like. In this way we are not struggling with or rejecting ourselves. Each one of is unique, a one-time offer, but we cannot know it if we are facing away from ourselves.
4. Make friends with yourself. Our relationship with ourselves is the only one we will have for the whole of our lives, and we can be the greatest friend to ourselves. So it is very important not to put ourselves down or beat ourselves up. As Ed used to sing in Elementary school:
I love myself, I think I’m grand,
I go to the movies and hold my hand.
I put my arm around my waist,
And when I get fresh I slap my face!
5. Feel everything, whatever it may be. When we are suffering, our feelings get huge and can be overwhelming. It is easy to want to deny or repress them. But if we can really honor whatever we are feeling, then it will bring us closer to the happiness beneath the suffering or grief. Acknowledging our real feelings is the greatest gift.
6. Forgive yourself. Love yourself. Treasure yourself. These are big steps, but each one liberates the heart and sets us free. We need to forgive ourselves for feeling angry, for getting upset, for all things we think we have done wrong. They are in the past and we are not who we were then. We can then begin to embrace and love ourselves, for we are so worthy of that love. And then we can take any resistance or fear by the hand, invite it in, and open our heart to the universe.
7. Meditate. There is an overwhelming amount of research showing how meditation changes the circuits in the part of the brain associated with contentment and happiness and stimulates the ‘feel-good’ factor. Meditating on love and kindness makes us much, much happier! And the only way to know this is to try it!!