Pangs Of Happiness

…are not that far removed from pangs of regret, just much better.

I have been experiencing pangs of happiness lately. I can feel it in my gut. It is a very similar sensation to pangs of regret I’ve had in the past. They both have the same kind of buzz in the gut, too, but pangs of happiness are a lot more pleasant than pangs of regret. I think I can attribute the way I’m feeling today to the way I have been directing my attention.

There was a time in the distant past when I was focused so much on what I didn’t have. I was also focused on what other people had, and I often wondered why I didn’t have what they had. I was not paying attention to myself. I was paying attention to what other people had in ways that could be described as lust and jealousy. The manner in which I was paying attention to other people required them to change in order for me to be happy. I used to think that I could be happy if other people were not so much happier than me, maybe even less so.

But after many, many experiments, many unpleasant trials, I have come to the conclusion that it is not possible to be happy when I’m making other people unhappy. I just can’t read the gossip news and feel happy that some misfortune has befallen some celebrity. I don’t feel good when reading the bad news that collided with some politician that I happen to disagree with. I don’t feel better when a member of my family is disappointed after failing to satisfy my request. I don’t feel better or worse when an elementary school adversary dies in middle age. I don't feel better when someone who wronged me meets hard times.

I used to have pangs of regret often. Broken relationships missed opportunities, and things that I’ve lost all bring on pangs of regret if I dwell upon them too much. I’ve learned that I was addicted to the feelings I would experience when I think of things that I thought I could have, but never got. Places I could have gone, but never left to go there, and people I wanted to know better but didn’t speak up for, out of fear. I know that for every opportunity that I missed, I was in fear.

It was not until I got past the fear, that I started to know some happiness. When I got past fear, I started to become an optimist. Even now, with our country torn asunder a pandemic, with so much bad news in the press, I’m still an optimist. I have learned that in order to be an optimist, one must have hope. In order to live, one must have hope. Life requires an optimistic disposition, or, what’s the point of living?

So I learned to be an optimist. I learned that if the world were truly against me, that I’d be about 1mm thick. I learned that the world is not so small as to want to make me miserable. One by one, the dominos of my discontent fell. Slowly, I became more optimistic, I stopped taking what happened to me so personally and began to notice things to be happy about. I began to shift my focus from things to be unhappy about, to things that I could look at, take notice of, and make a decision to be happy about. I chose to be happy about something.

Every day, I take notice of something to be happy about, something to be grateful for. Yes, sometimes I experience disappointments. Yes, sometimes I have misfortune, but I’ve noticed that even when disappointment appears, I can still shift my focus to something that I can be grateful for. I’ve noticed that even a small amount of gratitude, say, 1 milligram, can be enough to prevent a day of wallowing in pity. To have happiness, one must have gratitude. Gratitude is, in my opinion, one of the power tools of happiness.

I only need to pick just one thing to be happy about, one thing to be grateful for, and suddenly, I sense the lessening of my woe. Pick ten things, and suddenly, I have a mental breakfast of gratitude. I write ten things I’m grateful for every morning. I do this to direct my attention to something that I’m happy about every day. That is how I start every day and have been doing so for 13 years now. Somehow my days have been easier since I made that change in my life.

Gratitude is cumulative and progressive. I have come to a place where hardly a day goes by that I do not experience some happiness. Yes, I still have disappointments, but that happiness, that gratitude melts away disappointment. Gratitude focuses my attention on something that I already have, that I don’t have to change. Gratitude gives me the strength to transcend difficulty in life.

I have noticed in recent months a certain feeling in my gut. It kind of burns, but it's a good burn. It’s very much the same sensation I get when I think of regrets, but this is not a pang of regret. I frequently feel pangs of happiness. When I have that feeling, and as I write this, I’m reminded of a narcoleptic puppy. Years ago, I saw a PBS documentary that included a segment on a puppy that fell asleep when it got to be too happy. I don’t fall asleep when I’m happy, but I think of that puppy from time to time, mindful that dogs are experts in joy. We could learn a thing or two from dogs. As to myself, I know the pang of happiness. I know the sensation of being so happy, that I don’t know what to do with myself.

When I see other people suffering, being unhappy, playing the part of the martyr, I know that there isn’t much I can do to help them. I can only model happiness for them and hope that they notice and follow. I can only err on the side of peace. I can only do what I can to help them. But I don’t let their unhappiness be my unhappiness. If someone is determined to be unhappy, there is nothing I can do to stop them. So I focus on my own happiness.

I make myself happy by noticing things to be happy for and making a decision to be happy about those things. This is a daily, sometimes hourly habit. Sometimes when I suffer, I will run through a list of things that I’m grateful for until the unhappiness passes. This isn’t to say that I try to ignore what makes me unhappy. This is to say that I acknowledge what I can be happy for to give me the strength to make the changes I need to make to make my life better.

With years or even months of practice, we come upon something called contentment. Contentment is the sense that we have enough for today. Contentment is the sense that we can always find something to be happy about. Contentment is knowing that happiness is just one decision away.

I’ve been practicing gratitude for more than a decade. I’ve been practicing happiness for about as long. I have been sharing what I’ve found since I started down the road of recovery in 2002. I find happiness, I share it with other people, without regard to the outcome. It’s not my job to make them happy, for I know how hard it can be for someone to be happy when they are not practiced in the skill, the art, of happiness.

So I don’t make it anyone else’s responsibility to make me happy. I wouldn't want anyone to have that kind of power over me, and that is far too much responsibility for anyone else to handle. I don’t need other people to make me happy, but if I want happiness, then I must decide to be happy with them. I must accept them as they are or move on. I have found that happiness requires acceptance. And the more I accept the way things are, the more strength I have to change the things that I could improve. I take note of my circle of influence and act upon it.

I have pangs of happiness because I practice happiness. I practice gratitude. I practice optimism. I simply have faith in the universe. I have tried the other way, and I know what works for me.

Write on.

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.

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