Happiness. It’s not possible to be happy all the time. Or, is it? Some experts theorize being happy represents different things for different people. Maybe that’s true – or not. I suspect not, because I am of the belief that happiness is something that lives inside the human heart. It pesters your mind when you sit quietly for an extended period. It asks questions. It wants to permeate your soul. Time and again, the annoying feeling gets batted away, as if a pesky insect. People are too busy with day-to-day survival to listen, or even consider attaining such a state.
The sort of happiness I’m talking about is not the thrill one gets when buying their dream car. I’m not talking about the excitement one might feel when scoring tickets to the best concert or sporting event. No. The sort of pleasure I am discussing here is a form of contentment that is permanent. When you experience it, you feel as if you have finally come home. You exhale and your blood pressure drops ten points. The sort of happiness I am describing here is daily joy. You wake up with it and you are delighted to be alive.
I can only speak from my perspective. Some of the happiest people I’ve met have little in the way of assets. However, they live a life of gratitude for what they do have. These people are usually not trying to impress anyone. They learned long ago that the only person they truly needed to impress is the person in the mirror. How happily are you living right now? If you died tomorrow, could you say you lived a blissful existence? If the answer to that is no, then you need to read on.
First things first. You need to understand that happiness is not something you will attain outside of yourself. It will only emanate from within you when you are immersed in something bigger than you. Sounds corny, right? But, it’s true. When you lose track of time because you’re doing something you truly enjoy and it gives you a chance to impact the lives of others positively, you will have a bounce in your step. People will ask why you’re so damned happy. Why are you smiling? What are you smoking or drinking? That’s how rare this state of being is…people are suspect when they encounter it. It’s that uncommon.
Sad statement, that last one. So many people live quiet lives of desperation (to quote Henry David Thoreau). Who was this guy, Thoreau? He was onto something, I think. He was an American writer, born in 1817 in Concord Massachusetts. His writings influenced Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Ralph Waldo Emerson, to name a few.
One of the most significant themes in Thoreau’s writings is about man finding God in Nature, and I am capitalizing the N in Nature because he revered it as much as he did God. You see, according to Thoreau – the three are intertwined – and meant to be together – Man, Nature, God. At the dawning of the Industrial Revolution, Thoreau was viewed as a radical. He was an outcast in society when he wrote about his life on Walden Pond. The book didn’t sell. He purchased most of the copies himself and stored them in a root cellar and the attics of friends.
The irony is: Walden or Life in The Woods, has great meaning today. His essays grace the halls of academia throughout America and beyond. Thoreau was a genius in many ways – a man far ahead of his time. He was also a Transcendentalist, which was outrageous for that timeframe. Organized religion was the only acceptable way to connect to God, they said.
Another important theme Thoreau wrote about: simplicity. He warned us not to allow possessions to own us. “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” His writings made me ask myself a big question: How do I want to live?
You see, Thoreau went against the grain. Most people in the mid-1800’s sought wealth, constructed mansions, built railroads, enslaved millions of people in jobs that had them living quiet lives of desperation. Sound familiar? The workers had it tough, no doubt. But, I even question how much happiness these magnificent captains of industry had? They built opulent mansions on the ocean of Newport, Rhode Island and rarely used them. Some died as young as 40 years of age. These men had worked their entire lives to build empires. But, money didn’t bring them happiness. I don’t think they ever knew what true happiness was. But, Thoreau did.
I admire Thoreau because he questioned everything. He wasn’t doing what was popular at the moment. He was an Abolitionist at a time when slavery was an accepted way of life. His most famous writing was Civil Disobedience. But, my personal favorite was Walden, or Life in the Woods.
So, for my mid-life crisis, I decided Thoreau had the right idea. I left corporate life. I started doing what I always loved most (writing) and moved to a summer house on a pond. The woodbine cottage is smaller, so I had to let go of many possessions. Furniture and clothing got donated along with many household gadgets I have learned to live without. The woodland floor is my garden decorated with massive rocks, green moss and an occasional patch of wild strawberries. My life is simpler now. Smaller meals, long walks in the forest, and writing consumes my time. I have scheduled reading days, and during those, break away to walk and soak in the natural beauty surrounding me. There are sweltering hot summer days spent swimming in warm clear water. Then, sitting on a sandy patch of beach with a view of a mountain range that is unmatched, I realize – I am, indeed, rich. I understand exactly what Thoreau was talking about.
“Happiness is like a butterfly, the more you chase it, the more it will evade you, but if you notice the other things around you, it will gently come and sit on your shoulder.”― Henry David Thoreau
This life I am living is my personal happiness. I took a leap of faith into Thoreau’s world. Less is more. Do what you love. The clock is ticking. Find God in Nature. I love life. I hope in some small way I have inspired you to discover your own unique path to happiness.