The Secret of Happiness

This article appeared in the Winter/Spring 2003 issue of Spirited Solutions’ Newsletter.

Recently I ran into an old grad school friend who observed, “Barnsley, you are about the happiest person I know.” His remark got me thinking about happiness. What is its source and how can we cultivate it?
First of all, I’m not addressing the shallow happiness of material pleasures though I’m sure those contribute to our well-being and comfort. (Nothing like a cup of rich hot chocolate and a luxurious bubble bath, for example!) What I’m talking about is the happiness that comes from living your life as YOU see fit, according to YOUR beliefs and guidance from YOUR Higher Power.

That doesn’t mean a life devoid of pain or sorrow. In fact, I’ve found that pain and sorrow can give rise to the most exquisite awareness of what it is to be fully human, to be in a body that aches sometimes, holding a heart that breaks at times.

My first big heartbreak was my parents’ separation and divorce, an event that effectively estranged me from my brother and father. I was overweight and hitting puberty with glasses, braces, corrective shoes, and a slew of blackheads. I felt UGLY, to put it bluntly—and unloved—so I spent a couple of years after my parents’ split not speaking except if I absolutely had to. (I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s true!) I cut myself off from everyone around me and let my loneliness and sorrow fester inside.

Then at sixteen, I made a decision, a conscious decision, to be happy. I remember telling myself that everything I did from there on out was for my happiness, growth, and empowerment! My life changed radically—I lost weight, started singing and acting, became popular on my own terms, and began to see life as an adventurous script I was co-writing with God.

My life illustrates that happiness is a choice, a choice that I continue to make on a daily basis now. Happiness is a perspective, one that becomes, with enough practice, a state of being. It arises out of a deep compassion for ourselves and others in which we refuse to see ourselves as struggling alone. As the Dalai Lama says so eloquently in The Art of Happiness, our compassion frees us to love ourselves, our enemies, and everyone with whom we come into contact. Compassion sets us free, free to be happy in the deepest sense of the word!

You may think there are plenty of reasons to not be happy: We’re at war, unemployment is high, we’re in a recession, blah, blah, blah. And these are all legitimate concerns. However, take a look with the eyes of a child at your life! You can breathe, you can see (with your actual eyes and your inner eye!), you can walk, talk, sing, dance, read, write, and so much more! And even if you have a “disability,” I am sure your other senses have become much stronger to compensate, so you are blessed with extra gifts others will never have.

The point is, this is not a time for pity pots. We cannot afford to make the choice to be UNhappy! The world needs our hope and faith, and most assuredly our desire to serve in whatever way we can RIGHT NOW! Do you want to know what the secret of happiness is? Look around you, and find it in the threads of your common life. Weave them together in an intricate pattern that pleases YOU and wrap them around your heart. Then you can wrap that around the world, bringing harmony and peace wherever you go and nurturing a happiness born from deep within yourself, from the powerful force of good that you are on this planet!