This is a huge question, and there are probably as many answers as there are unique individuals on this planet! Yet I believe there is one thing in common for most of those answers, and that is the element of effectiveness.
Happiness is generated by a feeling of being effective.
It doesn’t matter what we are effective at, as long as it’s something we are aspiring toward. If we commit ourselves to something, and feel effective in doing it, we feel happy. So how can we feel effective, particularly when the stress and chaos of life can often have us feeling anything but effective? There are also many answers to this question, but I’d like to focus on one particular area that may be of support during this quickening time of year, just before the birth of Springtime, in which so much tends to stir within us, rising up to be met.
I have often found this time of year to be full of so many things requiring my attention, whether they be opportunities to consider, obligations to be met, decisions to make, actions to take, or feelings and thoughts to sort through. I wonder if you can relate to the following sensations? You begin to feel overwhelmed. You feel like you’re spinning your wheels, going in circles, looking at so much, and getting nowhere. It’s like a sort of paralysis sets in, and while there are plenty of steps to take, you end up taking none. Then, feeling completely ineffective, you begin to judge yourself, feel depressed, lack motivation, perhaps even blame others, and generally feel miserable.
I’ve been in that place more times than I care to name, and still find myself there sometimes. What I have found is that it’s important to take times such as these in stride, taking a step back to assess the big picture, laying things out in front of you, and tapping into your capacity for discernment to get you through.
What steps are needed in order to take discerned action such that you can feel effective?
- Take a step back from the situation. We often get so immersed in all the noise and chaos, that we cannot see what’s in front of us.
- From this broader perspective, begin to objectively lay out what’s before you. Notice the various opportunities, obligations, decisions, and choices all vying for your attention. Don’t judge them. Just notice them. Each is a perfectly valid part of your life, even if you don’t know why in this moment, and even if you never learn why.
- See these things as possibilities and not problems. See them as challenges to be met rather than struggles to be “dealt with.” When we “meet” something, we connect with it. When we deal with something, we tend to think of it as separate from ourselves.
- Once you see the possibilities, begin to consider actions steps that can be taken in each case. Are there certain actions that you could take that may inform you better? Are there opportunities and options available to manage the situation at hand? Are there certain things that would be better to let go of, and not take any action toward?
- As you see the various discerned actions available to you, choose one and take action. Then work through the list, and slowly move to implement each action that was discerned as necessary or important.
- Each action step will in turn guide you toward another step, and another. The step might be to “abandon ship” in that particular area, but it is an important step nonetheless, for it informs you that there is a different step needed. The steps may allow you to make progress along a certain path, showing you there is something there for you.
Only in taking action can we gain clarity, but it is important that the action we take come from a place of discernment. Discernment is not the same as clarity. We may not know where the action is taking us, but we can take action that has been well thought out, sorted through, and considered as a possibility for further information and guidance. You won’t know if the job is right if you don’t apply for it. You won’t know if you can work out a payment plan for your bills if you don’t ask. You won’t know if a new meal will be appreciated by your family if you don’t try it. You won’t know that the person you’ve been wanting to meet has some wonderful opportunities available to you if you don’t make the effort to reach out to them.
We can face all of the “I don’t knows” with complete panic and overwhelm, or we can face them as opportunities to learn something and see something new.
When we objectively look at what’s before us in this way, we detach ourselves from the outcome. We allow the action steps to bring more insight, and thus keep us moving forward on our path. Moving forward is what makes us feel effective. When we have learned something more than we knew before, gained new perspective, accomplished something new, then we feel effective. Happiness is not a place to get to. It is the journey itself. Sure, there are goals and desires we may have, but even with achieving those goals or attaining those desires, our nature is to move on to the next goal or desire.
The key to joy is in enjoying the process itself, finding happiness in the effective movement of the journey itself. In this way, we learn to become less attached to outcomes, and more in love with all that life has to offer us.
Enjoy the journey!