Happiness is ...
It's (still) summer time. The beginning of it at least in Lithuania was extremely hot, every conversation was evolving around the fact that the city (and everyone's brain) seemed to be melting. Old people became grumpier, dance classes got even sweatier and sitting in a bus more unbearable. I would like to blame it on the heat, but at that time I haven't been feeling particularly happy or excited. If you know me, I am (naturally?) quite an excited person and I sometimes tend to jump between emotional highs and lows. Somehow I always associated this carousel with feeling alive. However, recently, I concentrated more on the middle ground, on staying with a feeling I would previously run away from, the feeling of lukewarm, not hot, not cold, just somewhere in the middle. That's where I had to stop and wonder: if we have happiness on one end and unhappiness on the other, what's in the middle of it? And in the day and age when everyone is striving for happiness, is it OK to feel less than that?
Traveling to dance festivals sometimes can create this carousel of emotions, from feeling almost ecstatic (when the music is good and you're in the flow) to quite miserable (when you're on your third flight of the day and there's a crying baby next to you). Usually being home for me means trying to get somewhere in between, calm down, collect myself and just find my way back to some routines. Sometimes it comes easy, sometimes it takes more time. But recently I realised that instead of staying with however I was feeling, I'd unconsciously impose an idea of how I'm supposed to feel - happy and excited. Anything less than that and my brain went: "Houston, we have a problem".
Few days ago, before flying out for a weekend, I drove to the lake for a quick swim. The moment I got into the water and started swimming, I was overwhelmed by this sense of beauty and calm, feeling completely in my own element. Not joyous or exicted, just really calm. I actually felt the trust with what is. Then I also realised that some of my happiest/calmest memories in life were connected with water and swimming. Night swimming in the ocean with my best friend, jumping through the waves with my mom and my sister, going for a swim early in the morning in a small island in Thailand.. The other thought I had was why the heck don't I do more of that?
I must say, happiness is a tricky topic. The word got to be so overused (internet is full of articles named "5 easy steps to be happy", as if that ever worked for anyone who was unhappy), that together with some other important words (like "love") it means so much to the point where it risks stopping to mean anything at all. Most of us give it a different meaning or description. The way I'm using it is more connected to this feeling of calmness, belonging and content over a longer period of time than to a quick rush of joy and momentary excitement which are too ephemeral and sudden and should be perceived more like gifts than anything else.
However, that day, soaking in the lake, surrounded by the beauty of Lithuanian forest, I remembered that feeling happy over a longer period of time is something out of my control (floods, fires, hurricanes, Trumps can happen any time), but what I can control are small every day decisions to choose things/people/places/activities that make me calmer and more fulfilled, whether it means going for a swim, meeting a friend or practicing a new skill. The problem is that we live with messages that tell us to think about the future, about long-term consequences, about choosing the "right" career path, a "respectable" or "well-paid" job, getting a mortgage for the next 30 years because it's the beneficial thing to do. All of those things are fine but the problem is when we choose them with a hope to feel more secure/happy in the long-term but again, we can't really control how that long-term plan to be happy is actually going to unfold.
The thing is, happiness is not a constant, it's not something you reach with like the top of the mountain (besides, no one wants to stay on the top of the mountain, it's pretty but it's freakin' boring too). Comedian Pete Holmes quite accurately described the search for happiness: "You are going to be eating ice-cream, you'll be feeling happy and then it's going to go away, you are going to want water and then you will want to go to the bathroom and then you will get bored..". Because no one thing can be enough, our nature is to think about the next step and to always want more.
Do you remember this chewing gum "Love is.." where each package had a liner about love? I loved that chewing gum and had a collection of those cute pictures that said things like "love is.. lending him/her money that you know will never return" (now that I think of it, maybe it wasn't the greatest wisdom..). But the beautiful thing about it is how it shows that love is hundreds, thousands of little things that come together, just like happiness is. It's not a point you get to, it's little things of doing/being/having what you love DAILY and learning to appreciate them.
So, let's go for a swim?