Back in the day (there really was no ‘day’, by the way), I wrote a Huffington Post column about the ‘4 Steps to Happiness’. It was a fairly popular post, and despite breaking my personal rule of not succumbing to cheapening words by turning them into ‘clickable listables’ or such, I still kinda stand by its contents. Kinda, but not really…
The problem with writing is once your words are out there, you can’t take them back. The words are stagnant, even though we humans are not. We’re constantly evolving and gaining new insights on a day-to-day or experience-to-experience basis (if we’re willing to). Anaïs Nin wrote: “We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”
As a person who may change my mind tomorrow about everything I believe today, all I can say for sure is that I now think the word ‘happiness’ is overshooting. It’s far more accurate to say, at least in my case, there are small changes which have led to me being at peace with life. Peace is my norm, but happiness comes and goes. And there aren’t really 4 steps… (who would say such a thing?). It just begins by accepting and making the most of the present moment.
For me, it came about from reading an Eckhart Tolle book a few years ago, which wasn’t remotely profound or enlightening. It was annoying. I read it and thought, “Oh great, so I actually have to enjoy life as it is now? How could I possibly be happy with this?” After a couple of months of feeling like an angsty teenager, I gave it a go. I decided if I only get to be alive for only 80 years or so, there was really no point in not enjoying the full experience – including the “here and now”.
I read a post by Jeff Foster which I think says it better than any ‘steps’ anyone could possibly list. Jeff writes:
“The recognition that your career, your marriage, your children, your wealth, your titles, your fame, your achievements, your wealth of knowledge, your savings, your possessions, won’t make you happy or bring you the peace and rest you truly long for, can be the beginning of great despair and depression, and disillusionment with the promises of the world, and can lead to a life of burying your head in the sand and dreaming of a better life, waiting for your next ‘holiday’. Life ceases to be holy, and we live a life of comfortable numbness. But at least we are ‘normal’ and ‘fit in’.
“Or, if faced head-on, and not turned away from, this disillusionment can actually be an invitation to that great liberation that is the discovery of a deeper, ever-present happiness, not dependent upon people, substances, objects, or life circumstances ‘going your way’, or time itself.
“Breakdown can always point to the break-through of a deeper truth, since only that which is false in you can break down. Truth cannot break. Some call this recognition ‘waking up’, some call it ‘self-realisation’. I call it natural sanity.
“Remembering who you really are stops you living in suspense, longing for your next holiday, tired of life and waiting for retirement, and makes every day a holiday – a holy day. Which it always was, of course.”
The 4 steps, by the way, were mindfulness, forgiveness (as an act of self-care, not for anyone else), acceptance of what you can and cannot change, and searching for gratitude.
While that’s all well and good, and I do believe those factors are useful for me, another person’s 4 steps (or 40 steps, or whatever works), may be completely different. However, I do believe peace is an important foundation to have in life. Today, I’d like to change that old post to say I think there’s only one key step: It starts by being and appreciating exactly where (and who) you are.