It was one of those weekends that you plan and obsess over and crave for weeks and weeks, and when it comes you feel all giddy inside like a middle aged man at a sports car dealership. It had everything that could possibly excite or entice. Rollercoasters. Bars. Parties. The whole nine yards. “I’m so happy,” one of my friends exclaimed with glee.
Ah, happiness. That oh-so-elusive element of life that we are searching for to the tune of more than $690 million worth of self-help books every year. To say nothing of the all-inclusive vacations to Mexico and that strange fascination we all have with The Happiest Place on Earth. But is it happiness — that euphoric, glorious, pulsing excitement that surges through us like a tidal wave?
Culture has conditioned us to think so. We are told in movies and radio ads and overenthusiastic Febreze infomercials that happiness is peaks of intense excitement — that trembling, count-down-the-days flutter you get before your first trip to Hawaii, or the butterflies in your stomach before your first date with your high school crush.
But every peak comes with a valley, both before it and after it. And in our constant, lifelong chase for the mountain peaks, we simultaneously drive our lives through twofold the amount of valleys — periods of lethargy, sadness, depression or emptiness.
That’s not to say that excitement is bad or that you should feel guilty for such moments. Rather, it’s important to know that excitement isn’t the true definition of happiness nor a marker of how happy you are. Nor should it be your end goal in your daily pursuits. Instead, we must be attuned to true, sustainable happiness and joy, which is found not in the steep mountain peaks, but in the rolling hills and sloping river lands. The landscapes of joy, if you will: A constant, never-ending field of contentment as opposed to peaks and valleys of emotions.
How to Move From the Mountain Peaks to the Fields of Joy
Right now, think back on some of the joyful memories you carry with you that still give you positive energy. For example, a rainy afternoon curled up next to the fireplace with a cup of tea and a book. Or a day of laying on the beach with your best friend and a few beers. These moments are the anti-definition of excitement, but have given you sustained joy long after the initial moment passed. In contrast, many of the most exciting events, like a well-deserved tropical vacation, leave you filled with even more longing.
Now that you’ve identified a joyful moment in your life, notice that it was not accompanied by an overwhelming rush of excitement. You probably did not jump and scream when given an afternoon with your book. And it’s likely that you didn’t even realize how joyful the moment was while it was happening. And therein lies the key.
Staying present. Recognizing the moment. It’s something that gurus and leaders discuss all the time, with many prescribing different ways of achieving “presence.” But it doesn’t need to be complicated. All you really need to do is notice every moment as it happens. No meditation. No chanting. No spiritual journaling. Simply look at a moment and say, “This is it.” Right now. And take pleasure in it, even in moments that previously seemed mundane. For example, recognize the blessings found in 10 seconds of peaceful respite at a red traffic light, and give thanks for the beauty in the sunrise on your morning commute.
You will be surprised at the level of happiness and joy that is available to you if you turn your view toward this present moment instead of being so focused on the future excitement you’ve been culturally conditioned to yearn for. And the more present you are, the more joy you’ll recognize. It’s like one of those photo illusions where once you see the hidden picture, you can’t stop seeing it. And there is an amazing level of happiness hidden in your everyday life.