A very wise man once told me that the true emotion of happiness was quite different than the feeling of happiness.
Of course, I was paying him $175 an hour at the time (insurance pro-rated) to get my mind “right.”
My mother had just died, my marriage was crumbling, my career was suffering (fools, or a foolish new editor) and my dad had just gotten rolled by a Pontiac Bonneville.
I was having a bad couple of years.
In our hour-long chats, I’d get frustrated to tears. Often.
“You are an extremely intelligent person who is trying to solve all his problems by thinking about them,” he said. “And until you start feeling them, you’re doomed.”
That finally sunk in.
Of course, life never gets easier. Pops died and while I consider myself a strong person, I can tell you that watching both parents take their last breaths leaves one a bit rudderless.
There never again will be a time where I can call up a parent and seek their wisdom. That is all lost.
It feels like I’ve been wandering for a couple of years. And in truth, I am.
There’s two things going on here.
First, I’ve turned back to Chet’s teachings and try – to the best of my ability – to experience my emotions.
Under a heading of Happiness/Joy/Love (yes, he gave me handouts), it states:
“Physical: relaxation of muscles (relaxation response) with rest for the body, increased activity in the brain center that inhibits negative feelings and fosters an increase in available energy.”
“Function: to calm the mind and body and to repeat/facilitate positive actions and enthusiasm for striving toward goals; facilitate emotional closeness/intimacy with others.”
It’s called adaptive expression. A lot of people avoid it.
I know I do.
I thought, on the way out to Wyoming (1,908 miles), that I wasn’t a happy person. Oh, I’m happy for what I have, what I’ve been able to experience, but deep down I don’t find the joy in life. I can be gregarious and outgoing and joke and laugh and sing to my iPod, but there was still an emptiness that only I can see (or experience).
What I’m not doing is feeling my true emotions: anger/assertion; fear/anxiety; happiness/joy/love; guilt/remorse; shame; sadness/grief.
I find that I’m plenty happy. I still have a lot of sadness/grief to work through.
“Physical: decreased energy and enthusiasm for activities, a slowing of the metabolism, increased introspection, an upwelling of pressure to cry in the chest and comes out in the mouth in the unconstrained sobbing with tears and usually accompanied by bending forward/doubling over, often covering the face with the hands.”
OK, no so much of the crying and doubling over (although I do cry at odd things, like parts of commercials or songs), but I’m at a point of decreased energy and metabolism. And I have begun to truly feel the emotions going on. It’s a work in progress.
Since I’ve managed, in three years, to upend my life three times. That’s the second part to all of this. I’ve quit a good, but unfulfilling job in South Dakota, moved to New York to observe and write and now have accepted a demanding and creative job as editor of a community newspaper - and moved to Wyoming.
It’s all part of a pledge I made to Pops to be the fearless kid I used to be.
There’s a feeling (not an emotion) that I’ve come to rely on: I can, and will, do anything I want to do. As long as it “feels” right. In the gut, in the heart, in the mind.
Of course, having no debt, no wife and children, no ties to anything, makes this easier.
(And if that sounds a little lonely, it can be; true emotional happiness opens yourself to closeness/intimacy with others.)
I have become the fearless kid I used to be. But according to Chet’s adaptive emotions chart, I haven’t really experienced true fear in years.
It’s just been masking itself in cascades of sadness.
So the time has come to embrace the grief, let those emotions surge through me, experience them.
And, hopefully, then get to the point where I can truly experience some happiness.