We spend our lives looking for happiness, often in the wrong places. At a moment like this, when we are all at home with plenty of time to think, many of us are searching even harder. We seek happiness in all the obvious places, and we come away disappointed. Perhaps what we should be seeking instead is freedom.
As children, we are taught what happiness is when we are read a fairy tale or watch a Disney movie. As adolescences, we are taught what happiness is through the messages of popular culture and love songs. As adults, we continue to search for happiness in all the wrong places, when it is actually right there to be had if we can open our minds to looking somewhere new. For example, we think that happiness comes from complements and encouragement. Have you ever considered the happiness that comes from constructive criticism?
Happiness Found in Constructive Criticism
I work with a woman who is a seasoned author. She has published several books and is currently preparing her next manuscript. After receiving her editor’s response to her final draft, she found happiness in an unexpected place – his critique. With a smile on her face and a laugh in her voice, she said, “He had quite a few criticisms of my book, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t. He has a different view of the world and a lot of valuable information to give me. I’m going to take some of his suggestions and it will be a much stronger book.” She was filled with an excitement that I had not seen in her before, because that criticism had opened up ideas and creativity inside of her. Criticism is not an avenue to happiness that we usually travel, yet it worked for her because she was free to entertain the new ideas.
What is Freedom?
In the United States, we are guaranteed many freedoms. They are granted to us by our citizenship, by our age, or by our participation in certain groups. Those are not the kinds of freedom we’re talking about today. We’re looking for the kind of freedom that only we can grant to ourselves. We seek freedom inside, in our minds, in our selves.
We have to cultivate freedom from the expectations of others and the expectations we have of ourselves. It is not a cavalier selfishness that disregards others; freedom is the ability to be able to open your heart. When you open your heart and know yourself then you can be open to what others bring to your life. You can give to others and hold onto yourself.
Achieving this freedom is harder than it may sound, because it means examining beliefs that were handed to us by caretakers and families and society. It means fighting a lifetime of programming by going back to square one – to our families. All families have rules, beliefs and ideas about the world, and these are the messages from which we each form a world view. It is necessary for families and societies to have rules, morals, and ethics so that we have an orderly world. However, to be able to know ourselves and decide what we believe, we have to hear and question these rules, morals, and ethics. We each become an individual by deciding what we believe and think.
A Complicated and Difficult Process
Under the best of circumstances, this is a complicated and difficult process. After all, we are questioning beliefs that were handed to us before we were are old enough to know there was any other way. We believe that the whole world is just like our family until we become aware that there are other thoughts and beliefs out there. It takes getting to know ourselves, our true selves, in order to create our own lives and become free of the expectations created for us.
Last week, I suggested that you not believe everything you think, this week I am suggesting that you do not believe everything you think is right about yourself, others and the world. Take time to pause and question yourself. Why do I think this, believe this, want this? Through this process of discovery, we can become free to experience happiness from the unexpected sources, happiness that comes to us without having to seek it.
Happiness From Within
The happiness that comes to us without seeking it is generated from within. It is the happiness that makes the recognition of happiness and happy moments possible. If we are free inside, we are not spending time and energy seeking what we think will make us happy in the places where life told us it “should” be. When we are free inside, the boundaries are removed, and there can be happiness in the unexpected places, such as asking for help, sharing your pain, admitting you are wrong, or letting someone know you are lonely. These are experiences that can change us, transform us, and fill the empty places inside that we feel but cannot name.
This is not the kind of happiness that we are promised in stories of superheroes, princes and princesses, but rather a happiness found when the underdog realizes she will never be the shero. We do not need to be a prince, princess, knight in shining armor or a superhero to be happy. Happiness comes in the unexpected places.