A bright green envelope arrived in the mail the other day. It proclaimed “Happiness Inside!” in bold letters, begging to be opened right away. Of course this piece of junk mail didn’t contain a secret elixir of joy or a magic happy pill that would make my job obsolete. Instead, I found a coupon for $10 off my next pair of shoes. Happiness? Probably not. More likely a fleeting sense of satisfaction that wears off before the shoes are even out of the box. This envelope wasn’t really telling me to find my own happiness inside, it was suggesting that I need to look somewhere else.
It’s not uncommon to search for something to make us happy. Perhaps it’s the next new car (or pair of shoes), the next boyfriend, or even the next drink. We look to external sources for our own happiness. Entire industries are based on this tendency. How many advertisements can you think of that show beaming, beautiful people enjoying new “stuff” of some kind? Those people appear to have what we want, and whatever product they’re promoting seems like the best way to get it. Obtaining new stuff does release dopamine, which activates the pleasure center in the brain. We feel good, satisfied, perhaps even happy for a brief period of time. However, as time passes, that feeling does, too. We are left wanting more. Luckily, my new coupon has arrived to lure me back into the shoe store for another hit.
So lasting happiness doesn’t come from more stuff. How about another person? There’s nothing like a new relationship to create a giddy, joyful feeling where nothing else seems to matter. Love certainly gets those pleasure centers humming. This feeling, too, fades with time, hopefully to be replaced by mature feelings of respect and connection. A loving relationship is a wonderful thing, but someone else can’t make us happy.
So where do we look for real happiness? The green envelope actually had it right all along. We need to look inside. True happiness is not dependent on having everything perfect in life. It is a felt sense of joy that is always present inside if we take the time to sit in stillness and look. It is the present moment, the gratitude for each breath we take, and the inner knowledge that nothing needs to change to allow us to be happy. Happiness takes effort to find each day, as our experiences and our thoughts about our experiences affect us. But think of happiness as a deep, vast ocean. On the surface, winds and rain create waves and turbulence, but the depths remain calm and quiet, unaffected by the elements above. When I need to remind myself it is there, I take time to focus on my breath, in seated meditation or yoga. Then the surface storms dissolve into the depths and I know. Happiness is indeed inside.