Seeing the best in life's challenges

“I Want Happiness”

on June 30, 2012

This was posted on Facebook this morning by Positive Thinking:

Yesterday, at the photoshoot in Big Sur for my upcoming book release, my friend remarked that he’s seen me become so much happier over the years. Absolutely true, but only as a result of confidence gained in a particular discovery: Nothing can make me happy. 

As a child, I dreamed of becoming a world martial arts champion so vividly, I could hear the music being played, the lights shining in my eyes, the smell of the mats, the cheers from my team and audience. And when I had won, it wasn’t happiness, but closure that I felt, for I would no longer be plagued by the persistent specter of realizing that dream. The medals on my neck, yet the spontaneous happiness never manifested.

Coming from a trailer park, food stamp, blue collar upbringing, I felt compelled to become financially independent and never suffer the oppressive weight that my mother experienced providing for four children in an economy much worse than the current one, with no skills or opportunities but her hands and her courage. And yet with each new financial milestone achieved, not one thing made me happy. Financial success removed the childhood dread of impoverishment, but only like a removal of weight, not a presence of lightness. What now could make me happy?

Repeating my story of overcoming hardship, abuse, obesity, learning disability, joint disease, poverty, I fought for higher and higher levels of validation. Yet the more recognition I received from greater authorities, the federal agencies, the special units, the educational institutions, the halls of fame, magazines, and plaques, the more I recognized that these accolades did not bring me any happiness, but merely extinguished the oppressive weight of feeling invalid and unworthy. When I discovered that no one can determine my worth as a person, the compulsion for acknowledgement disappeared and left me unfettered, but still driven to help others do the same. Just no “happier.”

Nowhere (no place) could make me happy. When I was young, I thought I’d never “get out.” Yet, with each expanding circle of my adventures, to more exotic wonders around the world, no happiness could be found. Farther and more often I traveled, with my new family, to stunning landscapes surrounding the globe, and yet, as picturesque they might be, no sudden bliss erupted within. I got out, but I only wanted to “get back” to a place of trust.

A life of violence, abuse and abandonment can engender great fears and mistrust. Finding myself dissatisfied with the slippery veneer of most relationships, I searched for teachers, for friends, and for my own future family. And after decades and thousands, I found truly honorable and loyal family, around the world, and the most loving wife and children I could have imagined. And yet, even they could not MAKE me happy. Relieved. Confident that integrity isn’t an obsolete dinosaur, and relieved that substance and depth of love can be found, but not any happier.

In Hawaii, teaching for the Govt, something happened, though: my mind stopped. If you can imagine living with a deafening roar for a lifetime, and suddenly all went quiet, what shock this would hold. Others have remarked that I’m prolific in my work, but I experience it as being afflicted with an incessant muse: until I finalize the obsessive idea, it haunts me like an incomplete puzzle; I can’t sleep, focus or function unless I heed solving it. I don’t try and think about ideas. They just bubble to consciousness and assault me until I realize them.

My life has been so infused with this perpetual productivity, that when my muse went silent, initially I felt afraid, “What if it’s stopped forever! What if I have no more ideas? How will I contribute?” But in the gentle respite of that silence, I reflected that not one of my ideas has ever brought me happiness, only relief from their cessation, and then another would immediately barge in queue for attention like a hungry child demanding care.

It seems silly to timestamp happiness, but during that reprieve, I eased into the experience of ambition and desire dissolving away, and looked with clarity for the first time. What a wondrous journey of weight being unburdened from my awareness. Achieving my desires for recognition, success, independence, community, family did not MAKE me happy.

When the weight of those attachments lifted, I saw lucidly for a moment, and recalled a lesson one of my great teachers: When you say “I want to be happy”, remove the “I” who is desiring. Then, remove the “want” of your desires. Only happiness remains.

I, my personhood, became the circumstances which compelled predictable desires to which values strongly attached. When those lifted, when they went quiet, happiness was laying there as a mode of being, as a birdsong or an ocean wave. It just was. I couldn’t achieve it any more than I could capture music in my hands.

Words fail, and attachment to their success ensures their failure. But I never found a way to be happy… for happiness is the way.

Deepest love for all of you, the journeys and trials you face, and the “falls” when we have not yet realized, and when we forget that we live in the way… Happiness is.

Scott Sonnon

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