Day 16: Happiness is a Practice, Not a Destination


In her book, "The Places That Scare You" Pema Chodron writes: "We always have a choice. We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us and make us increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder".

As I was growing up both of my parents and my grandmother struggled with alcohol dependency. Nothing in life seemed fair. My childhood didn't have traditions or happy memories with summer vacations and picnics. I felt alone and isolated most of the time. By my teenage years the circumstances of my life had hardened me, and made me increasingly resentful and afraid. 

However at the age of 24 these words from my therapist changed the course of my life: "Life is not something that happens to you-it is experienced through you".  She wasn't asking me to forget or sweep my feelings under the carpet.  Instead she whole-heartily validated my past and acknowledged the impact it had on my life. Although she was also offering me something much more powerful-and that was hope.  She encouraged me to see that the way I experienced life today was up to me; it was my choice; it was happening through me.

I was no longer in the circumstance I was as a child-but I was living as if I were. I was consumed with anger; reliving the past and wishing it were different.  I was stuck in trying to change something I would never be able to change.

To experience life differently; I needed to be different. The wisdom traditions engage us in the gift of free will. Even though life is not always simple or fair, we are always free to choose how we respond; and free to experience life as we choose. This is a radical teaching and one that is better understood through practice than theory.

I chose to accept my past so I could live. Paul Mueller-Ortega said it like this, "When we release anger, or whatever it is, then we are restored to sanity".  I believe this is what Pema Chodron meant when she wrote about allowing our circumstances to soften us and make us kinder.

Rather than reliving what you cannot change try living in what you can change. We can always change our response, our actions, our outlook and our attitude. Ask yourself this question: Are my choices causing me to feel stuck and miserable, or happier and free? This can take practice so be patient and do your best.  We are co-creating our life in every moment.