Learning to Be Happy (Even When You Don’t Get What You Want)

True Contentment: In Simplicity — SECOND CITY CHURCH

The other day, while listening to a talk given by the American spiritual teacher and guru, Ram Dass, he said something along the lines of: Learn how to be happy even when you don’t get what you want. For some reason, the way he said these words really struck me. There is something about listening to the gentle, slow, thoughtful voice of a spiritual leader that allows simple ideas to penetrate directly to your soul. Since then I have kept that idea close to my heart.

It’s so easy to forget that external circumstances don’t dictate our internal state. Finding contentment where we are now, doesn’t mean that we won’t want things anymore. However, we won’t allow the outcome of these wants to decide how we feel. Certain desires are easier to let go of than others, but it’s important to remind ourselves that we always have the power to let go and reside in happiness.

All of us already know how to do this to a certain extent. We have varying levels of wanting. We may want to have a certain fruit for breakfast only to realize that it has spoiled and we must find something else to eat. Depending on who you are, this usually isn’t enough to ruin your day or mood. We simply think, “oh, rats” and prepare another food. On the other hand, we may be planning to get married only to have our
fiancée leave us at the alter. That’s not going to be as easy to let go of as a rotten mango.

I wonder, though. How much the variation in reaction has to do with our preconceived ideas about the “appropriate” reaction in each scenario. When I used to get upset, it genuinely felt like I had no choice. Then in addition to not getting what I wanted, I felt an added level of suffering due to a feeling of powerlessness. There is a certain freedom in simply knowing we have the ability to choose.

When my ex left me the last time, I remember feeling frustrated that now I’d have to go back to being sad and miserable. The idea of doing that seemed so repulsive to me that I decided I didn’t care if that’s what I was supposed to feel. I decided to discard my ideas of what I thought society expected of me in that scenario. I didn’t want to be sad anymore, and for the first time in such a situation, I realized I had the choice not to be.

Sometimes just remembering that we have that choice is enough. This doesn’t mean that you’ll never experience sadness, anger, frustration, or suffering again. There are some times in life that we actually want to feel sad, and that’s okay. There is a difference between holding space for a genuine emotion and feeling trapped by one.

The next time I find myself not getting what I want, rather than getting upset and ruminating, I’m going to use it as an opportunity. Each time something doesn’t go the way you planned, it’s an opportunity to practice being happy anyway. One of my favorite questions to ask myself is: Can I love myself even though…? Fill in the blank. Now I’d like to add another question: Can I be happy even though….? Sometimes phrasing the issue in this way allows us to see the choice we have. When I’m getting down on myself because of some small flaw, asking the question, “can I still love myself,” brings things back into perspective and reminds me what really matters. If I can still love myself anyway, why bother being upset about whatever it may be? The same goes for “can I be happy anyway.”

Asking these types of questions also helps me be more lighthearted about the problem. Sometimes the answer isn’t clear in that moment. Then I become curious. Can I? Let’s find out. It can be fun to explore our own hearts and minds and find a path back to happiness. And just like paths in the forest, these paths become more worn and easier to follow the more we use them. So don’t worry if your mind seems like particularly dense woodlands right now. You can still make those paths. Even if it’s hard at first, know that it only gets easier.

Ram Dass talks about 'Becoming Nobody,' the documentary on his spiritual  journey | Datebook

High Hopes

I became cynical at a very young age. I can still remember deciding that if I didn’t allow myself to have any expectations or dreams for the future, then I couldn’t be disappointed. At the time it felt like a brilliant defense against a world that was inevitably only going to let me down. It almost felt like outsmarting reality. Oh my crush doesn’t like me back? Duh, I knew he wouldn’t. I’m going to have to work a dead end job until I die? Obviously, the world is a terrible place. As if expecting the world and everyone in it to screw me over would make it any less painful when it happened.

Although I’m no where near as jaded as I was when I was a teenager, I never really allow myself to have big aspirations. Subconsciously I still fear the pain of failure or rejection. It seems safer not to try or even hope. Rather than daydream about things I don’t have, I’ve preferred to do my best to enjoy and cherish the things I do have in my life. I have been writing a daily gratitude journal for around 4 or 5 years now. It has definitely helped me be more mindful of the little things that light me up throughout the day. It’s a reminder that I can choose to focus on the good in my life.

Practicing gratitude has been so helpful that now I think I’m finally ready to open myself back up to exploring what I might like to add to my life. Confident in the fact that I will be okay whether my plans come to fruition or not. I’ve become even more interested in the concept of manifesting. I used to shy away from this practice, fearful that it would cause me pain if I was unable to draw what I wanted into my life. Now I realize that even more important than the eventual outcome is the practice itself. Manifesting isn’t only about getting clear with yourself about your goals and desires, it’s about learning how to live and feel as if we have already acquired all we hope to. It’s a way for us to learn that we already have the ability to feel the positive emotions we hope to find in the future whether our lives work out the way we originally plan or not.

So for the first time in such an incredibly long time, I’d like to make a list of some of the things I hope to cultivate and move toward in my life:

One: Live with My Partner

My boyfriend, Nate, has finally committed to moving back to my area after several months of living over 6 hours away. He still has to complete the training that he started and unfortunately won’t be able to come back until the end of the year. Still, I am eagerly awaiting his return. We’ve talked about living together some day, and though I haven’t said anything explicitly yet, I am hoping that he will come stay with me once he moves back. The thought of living with the man I love fills me with joy and excitement. At the same time I am pretty nervous about it. I have only ever lived with a partner once and it was barely for a month. Other than that, since graduating from university, I have been living on my own. It is going to be a big adjustment to have someone to share my home with. Despite the challenges, I am ready. I’m ready to give up all the bad habits I’ve developed from living alone. I am ready to start building a life with someone. This is the biggest hope I’ve allowed myself to have in a long time.

Two: Wean Myself Off of Paxil

This Friday I finally have an appointment with my doctor to discuss lowering my dosage. Although I’m scared, I’m also excited. I can’t wait to find out who I really am underneath this fog of medication. It is probably going to be hard, but I am ready. I know I can do this.

Three: Advance My Career

This one I’m still a bit foggy on. I’ll have to give it some more thought. All I know right now is I’d really like to move forward professionally. Whether that’s to become a more essential part of my current organization or to go back to school or to become a teacher, I don’t know. All of these options sound equally enticing at the moment.

As you can tell, most of these hopes are pretty vague right now. I’m a little rusty when it comes to daydreaming about what I might like for myself to have in the future. It’s honestly surprising to realize just how difficult the question “what do I hope for” is to answer. For now, I’m going to try to explore that question more deeply. More importantly, I’m going to start regularly asking myself “how do I want to feel” then inviting that feeling into my body, practicing the feelings I’d like to experience more of. Above all, I hope to be happy and I know I have the tools and the inner resources to make that happen.

How useful is hope? - Quora