I woke up this morning feeling content, for a moment, before my mind suggested it's entirely inappropriate to feel content—not when terrorists are killing people everyday somewhere, not when children are being sold and used as property, not when Donald Trump might become our president, not when our world is figuratively and literally (according to the temperature reports) burning up.
Where is the room for happiness in this kind of world?
About fifteen years ago, my partner (at the time) and I moved from NYC to LA. He'd sold his beautiful loft apartment in the city and made a chunk of money from doing so. When we arrived in LA, one of the first things we did was go car shopping. He bought both of us brand new BMWs, in cash. Mine was a black convertible with a dark tan interior. It was beautiful, unlike any car I'd ever owned.
In the next couple of days, along with the new car, my partner paid off my credit card debt, which was the equivalent of buying another BMW. I had used my credit cards freely in those days. Well, not freely. There was a price. I'd dug myself into a hole of debt and struggled just to make the interest payment every month.
So here I was, within a few days, with a brand new car and zero debt. Just like that. As though I'd rubbed a magic lamp and put a genie to work. No car payment! Zero debt! An amazing partner! These gifts were huge. I was the luckiest guy in the world.
But the thing I remember most about that week is how unhappy I felt during it. Not because of the gifts, but in spite of them. I had been feeling down during that time, sad and lost, without a connection to purpose. And the gifts, which were so generous, and for which I was entirely grateful, made absolutely no difference to my state of being. They played no role in my happiness, or lack thereof. How could they? My happiness can only be and has always ever been within me, no matter what else is happening on the outside.
We know this to be true, that "happiness is an inside job" and "money can't buy happiness" and "insert your own happiness platitude here." There's a difference, however, between knowing things and understanding them. After being showered with gifts and still feeling unhappy and lost, I understood something about happiness that I'd always known: it's not to be found in stuff or circumstances. You can have very little in the way of material things and still feel deeply content, just as you can have a life of riches and be deeply miserable. You can be surrounded by love, yet lonely and unhappy, or spend your days alone and content with peace in your heart.
Everything is possible where happiness is concerned, and none of it lives outside of ourselves.
When I woke up this morning, feeling content, and then feeling uneasy about being content in our too-dark world, I thought of my BMW and my paid-off credit card debt. I remembered one lesson I learned so clearly that week: Your happiness and peace of mind are not a given, no matter the circumstances.
To that, I would add: Your unhappiness and instability are also not a given, no matter the circumstances.
I'm afraid of plenty in our world. Heartbroken over much more. Yet I know it's possible, still, to be at peace, even to be content, at least some of the time. Not because the world suddenly becomes safe and united, or that I suddenly become unafraid, but because I know the peace that lives within me, at my core, is a peace that can never be touched by anything going on in our world, or in my head. That peace is not something I've developed or earned. It's always been there, and will always be there. A birthright. It's beyond our world, beyond my fears. It's my home, whenever I want to visit. Just as your inner peace is your home, too.
Our peace and happiness ultimately depends on nothing but our willingness to be present within them, and to understand that the world around us will always be crazy and violent and overwhelming and beautiful and exciting and boring and united and divided and whatever else it is, and we can still be healthy and okay within it all—not because of the outside world, but in spite of it.
Being peaceful is not the same thing as being silent. There are too many injustices in our world, too many marginalized populations, too much pain to be silent anymore. What in our world is breaking your heart right now? Are you making noise about it? Are you acting on its behalf? My answer to myself: not enough. There's already too much noise for darkness. The light needs our voices, too. The light needs our passion. Our brothers and sisters—and children—suffering all over the world need our energy, our action and our love. Who can focus on peace and happiness when you're living in constant fear of violence or death or starvation each day?
Those of us able to browse through our social media accounts without worrying about the next bomb or our next meal are lucky indeed. Beyond lucky.
That doesn't mean we have to be miserable because so much misery exists, or that we have to feel guilty in those moments when we're actually content. True joy can't hurt our world. It can only help it. Any peace we bring to the change we're trying to create only adds more peace to the planet. Peace is a part of us. Just like love. We can ignore it, or we can choose it.
Where is the room for happiness in this kind of world?
It is within us, as it's always been and will always be. It's not likely to be inspired by more stuff, or a bigger social media circle, or endless fun things to do. All of this rarely leads to happiness. Where do I find meaning in my life? How can I be of service to those in need? How can I connect more honestly with others? What do I love to do? I've found these to be good questions that help lead me down the path to peace, and to happiness. A good starting point on the journey home.
In love and solidarity...