Day 5: Happiness is a Practice, Not a Destination


I am not in a regular habit of reading obituaries however last year one caught my eye for two reasons: 1) it was written by the deceased before her death, in July 2013, and 2) she lived in my hometown, Seattle.

What she wrote to her children touched me greatly, "Tesse and Riley, I love you so much, and I'm so proud of you. I wish you such good things. May you, every day, connect with the brilliancy of your own spirit. And may you always remember that obstacles in the path are not obstacles, they ARE the path."

We do not wish for every situation in our life. Sometimes things happen and we may never understand why. Other times things we want so badly just don't manifest. I can't answer this riddle with certainty but I can share some teachings from both the wisdom traditions and science that have helped me through the journey of life; which does include obstacles.

Early in my positive psychology program I heard my teacher Tal Ben-Shahar say, "Not everything happens for the best, but some people make the best of everything that happens".  This got my attention because it was a much different statement than the one I more commonly heard, and which I always found insensitive, "Everything happens for the best".

The "guru principle" from the non-dual wisdom tradition I practice, was also a game changer!  Guru (meaning weighty one) roughly translates as moving from the dark to the light; without valuing the light more than the dark. Everything can be our teacher. We actually weave all of our experiences into the tapestry of our life. We don't avoid or push things aside.  In fact that only makes whatever obstacle we face more pronounced, or we might find it comes back in another way. Somehow we have to transform it and ourselves. So the teaching here is the same as what Catherine Jane shared with her children. Every experience is not necessarily what we wish for but it is happening and it is the path. How do we respond?

Here are some practical tips to value obstacles in a new way:

  • Pause and lengthen your exhale. Try it. Take a deep and full breath, hold it for a beat. Very slowly and smoothly exhale through the nose. This can help to quell the "fight or flight' system that makes us reactive rather than responsive. Repeat this several times.
  • Change your interpretation. What have you learned about yourself from past obstacles or challenges? Can benefit from a past challenge by transforming the way you see it and creating a positive interpretation? You can use what you learn about yourself from past situations to navigate through current ones.   
  • Talk to someone you trust, admire or inspires you. Seek help. Sometimes we need an alternate view point. For example if you tend to be a perfectionist, you might be perfectionistic about overcoming your perfectionism! That is why the wisdom traditions so strongly encourages having a teacher. In years past we would sit with our grandparents or our elders and listen to stories and wisdom. We can recreate this in our own lives.

Announcement: If you are interested in studying positive psychology and yoga psychology I have developed a new 5 month program (meeting once a month) from June-October, 2014. For more information please visit my website at