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I remember quite well the day an acquaintance came rushing up to me in the street, bursting to tell me about the "wonderful" motivational speaker she’d just heard. She couldn’t wait to share with me how "brilliant" he was, the verve and energy with which he’d conveyed his message, and, above all, the profound breakthrough she’d experienced from the message itself. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to hear that message. What could the man possibly have said to provoke such a dramatic reaction? "Well," she told me, "he said life was all about connections, and that we miss out on making those connections by letting the moment pass us by. For instance, when we meet someone on the street who asks us how we are, we usually just say fine, and that’s that. What we should do is to give ourselves a grade and say something like, ‘Well, actually I’m about a B-minus today.’ That way, the person will have to ask us why, and we’ll get to talk about ourselves and make a real connection."
At that point she stopped, smiling broadly and obviously waiting for me to tell her what a great idea that was and how I intended to integrate the concept into my own life immediately. I didn’t want to burst her bubble, but if I didn’t tell her why that was such a terrible way to make connections, she just might try it the next time she met someone on the street, and I had no doubt what the result of that would be.
"So," I said, "let me just see if I understand what you’re saying. If I met you on the street and you asked how I was, I would tell you I was maybe a c-plus:’
"That’s right;’ she said enthusiastically, nodding vigorously.
‘And then you’d have to ask me why, right?"
Another vigorous nod.
"So, do you think you’d be asking me about all the good things that made me a c-plus, or would you be more likely to want to know what was keeping me from being an A?"
"Well, I guess I’d be asking what was wrong, why you weren’t an A;’ she admitted.
"But if you did that, wouldn’t you just be encouraging me to direct my mind to all the bad stuff that was happening, which would certainly make me even more miserable? I’d just be bringing all my psychic energy to the contemplation of bad circumstances and unhappiness rather than to appreciating my good circumstances and the things that make me happy. And what would you do? In an effort to show compassion and understanding, you’d probably feel the need to commiserate and tell me about similar bad experiences in your life. That’s just the verbal equivalent of comparing scars. You might have been perfectly happy when you came up to me, but now you’d have to bring your mind to negative circumstances and events in your life, which would only decrease your level of happiness.
"By the end of our conversation, you and I both would be bringing all our psychic energy to whatever was wrong in our lives instead of to what was right. Wouldn’t you then begin to associate me with feeling terrible? Would you really want to connect with me again, or would you run for the hills the next time you saw me?
"I’m sorry to say that sounds like just about the worst way to make a genuine connection I’ve ever heard. Even if we did connect, it would only be because misery loves company, which is certainly neither the healthiest nor the most positive basis on which to build any kind of relationship."
The truth is, happiness can only be experienced; it can’t be measured. We can’t grade ourselves on how happy we are. Happiness and unhappiness are not mutually exclusive. We can experience them both at the same time to different degrees. And the minute we try to measure how happy we are, the comparative nature of our minds will compel us to consider how much happier we could be. And when we do that, our happiness level will immediately drop.
The only path to happiness is to cultivate our appreciation for those things that give us pleasure. A good example of how this works occurred one day when I was walking with a friend and we both spotted a big old ‘57 chevy driving by It had huge fins and pounds of chrome, and there was no way we couldn’t have noticed it. But my friend was much more excited that I was to see it. He literally stopped in his tracks and said, "Wow, would you look at that. Wow, that’s amazing!" He was several years older than I, and it turned out he’d actually owned one of those ‘57 chevys. I’m not a car guy to begin with, and I didn’t have the same nostalgic feeling for this one that he did. He really appreciated that car, and because he appreciated it, it was beautiful to him. Finally, he realized that I couldn’t see it the same way he did, and that its beauty was not intrinsic to the car itself but resulted from his view of it. That realization brought a whole new level of understanding to the words, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," which have become so much a cliché that we rarely stop to consider their true meaning.
Happiness works the same way. The more we appreciate something—a field of flowers, listening to the ocean, holding a baby— the happier we will feel.
Take every opportunity that comes along each day to say a silent prayer of thanks, or to state to yourself what it is you appreciate and how happy you are to have whatever that is in your life. You’ll be cultivating your appreciation, and happiness will ensue. You won’t be chasing happiness, which would be like chasing romance. The best romances just happen; they can’t be pursued.
Happiness (Can’t Be Pursued)
If it’s the chase and not the prize that we cherish, we will find happiness as a side effect or by-product of our enhanced ability to understand, accept, and manage ourselves. It will come through the enrichment of our relationships, the banishment of our fears, our increased faith, and the wisdom that results from raising the level of our awareness about ourselves.
If, on the other hand, we continually keep our eyes on the prize, treasuring the trophy, we run the risk of completing the chase, possibly even achieving great things along the way yet missing out on the most important element of life—the thing we really want the most—happiness.
It is, perhaps, the central paradox of human existence that we are driven to "becoming" when, at the same time, we’re trapped into "being." To discover our higher meaning, to achieve the happiness and fulfillment we all seek, we must find peace in the process, which is the only way we can finally learn how to "be" at the same time we’re "becoming."
Reflection Exercise #3
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