Happiness used to be a bit elusive, a bit mysterious.
I knew it existed but we were rarely in the same room at the same time. I learned to be cagey: when the stars aligned and we bumped into each other at a barbecue or the Wednesday night antique auction, I’d avert my eyes and avoid looking at Happiness head-on (‘cause I knew if I accidentally caught her eye, she’d run like a hare and be gone before I’d fully felt into her presence.
Don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t miserable. I was simply analytic about everything.
Happiness is easily frightened by a mental volley of frantic thoughts and “practical” suggestions.
How can you think that way? She’s being so kind.
You’re in such a beautiful place. Try to be appreciative.
I’d deliver these missives to myself in a mental voice which sounded (and still sounds) freakishly like my Grandma Sarah who, while passed on, still lives a rich life in the recesses of my imagination.
You’re gonna go out dressed like that? she asks.
What are those things hanging from your ears? Chandeliers?
You can understand why even Happiness would cringe under the onslaught.
It’s taken awhile, but I’ve finally got Happiness’s number. Now that we’re on intimate terms, I know she’s not a hare at all…
But before I tell you about Happiness’s true animal archetype, let me tell you how to find Happiness and keep her by your side.
I need to warn you: what I’m suggesting is going to sound overly-simplistic and possibly nutty. But I’ve been testing this theory like mad the last couple days ‘cause I’m in Venice (as in Italy) and my luggage is still on the other side of the Atlantic.
I know, right?
And as soon as those words form in my brain, I smile.
It’s pretty chilly and I only have flip-flops and a light sweater ’cause my coat and closed-toe shoes are in my suitcase.
I smile again.
Turns out the act of smiling leads to happiness.
Crazy, right? All this time I thought berating myself was gonna do the trick.
I’ve been doing the smiling thing for a couple years but I’ve been actively putting it through its paces this trip. As each negative thought rises into my consciousness, I smile.
And why shouldn’t I? I’m in Venice for cripes’ sake.
Yeah, I’m a little cold (smile) and footsore (smile) and I’m hand-washing my underwear every night (big smile).
All this is true.
And smiling allows me to acknowledge these truths while still actively choosing happiness. Smiling gives me the space to remember the (gluten-free!) pasta and salmon I had last night while watching the gondolas and water taxis cruise the canal. Smiling lets the ah-mazing wooden sculptures of life-sized t-shirts and shorts (hanging on a clothes line!) feel more important than my chilly fingers.
Heck: there were even life-sized wooden work gloves. And they effortlessly made me smile.
Smiling releases stress-reducing neuropeptides as well as the happiness neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Plus you get a nice hit of endorphins with each smile you deliver.
As if this wasn’t enough, smiling actually makes you more attractive to other people… and to yourself.
All of which leads to—you got it—happiness.
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
So, it turns out Happiness isn’t a hare after all. She’s something much easier to snuggle down with and hold to. I’ll give you a hint: four legs, wagging tail, and big goofy grin. I’m thinking we call them (wo)man’s best friend for a reason!
(And, strangely, there are dogs all over Venice.)
Let me know how you reconnect with your happiness.