“Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every moment with love, grace, and gratitude.” – Denis Waitley
Think about it. Think about that quote. I recognize that I’m just another voice in this online wilderness of millions and millions of other voices, but I’m asking you, whomever you are reading this, I’m asking you, thou, to linger here for a moment and reflect on this quote and what it might possibly mean to your life.
I think another way of looking at what Waitley is saying in that quote is that the more frequently we are able to meet or approach life—and the moments and events in our lives—with an attitude or orientation of gratitude, kindness (loving-kindness or “metta”), warmth, openness, inquisitiveness, then the happier we will be.
This is the inner work of happiness. Becoming more grateful and graceful and open and loving and reflective is the inner work of happiness—it’s the tinkering that we do inside ourselves with our thinking and perceiving and awareness that leads us to more and more moments where we’re content and grateful and even. It’s the self-work that makes us more and more eligible for more and more sublime moments—moments of quiet appreciation, moments of profound tearful appreciation, moments of real tenderness and kindness and humanity.
And this is the inner work we each need (or ought) to do for ourselves if we are to become happier and grow psychologically and spiritually.
And it’s also the inner work that life can—to an extent—do for us by stripping away our veils and illusions should it abruptly bring us closer to our own mortality through a cancer scare or some other brush with death.
Facing—admitting?—reflecting deeply on our own mortality—really looking at the fact that with certainty we will die, that we each owe a death, as do all of those around us, even our children; and that even though for each of us death is a certainty, the time of it is not—developing a practice of reflecting on all of this is something that can and ought wake and rouse us from our ungrateful cranky distracted discursive slumbers. At any moment any of our times’ can come up—driving home on the freeway, going in for a seemingly simple low-risk surgery and not waking up from the anesthesia (as happened to a 35-year old woman around here a couple of weeks ago), an aneurysm, a heart attack (as happened to one of my employee/friend’s father a few years back—his father died at the age of 55 without any warning of a massive heart attack), a congenital heart defect (a local 20-year old young man just died last week from a genetic heart condition), and so on and so on.
At any moment the curtain may fall for you or for me. Or for someone we know. And really facing that is a lot to deal with—
We’re all skating on the thinnest of ice
Any day now the curtain may fall
All the plays end, there’s no curtain call
If you live sad, or if you walk tall
We’re written on the wind that’s a lot to haul. . . .
– Steve Winwood & Will Jennings, “Take It As It Comes”
And the fact that we are so fragile, that life is so capricious and tenuous, ought to make us love each other more and really want to “carpe diem”—to seize the day, to live life to the fullest, to live life with more grace and gratitude and warmth and kindness.
But often it doesn’t. Often it has just the opposite effect. Often even just the faintest intimation of loss, or the possibility of loss, or of our own and others’ mortality is enough to set us off, make us angry—very angry—very pissed off at life, at the world, at everything—make us very ungrateful and bitter and caustic and want to paint everything black and bleak. I think that most people don’t want to face and feel this fear—they sense it to be too massive, too overwhelming, and so it’s one of the primary reasons so many people pursue a life of distraction, consumerism, self-medicating, of constantly seeking comfort entertainment validation attention relief numbing any- and everywhere—in shopping, wine, alcohol, ESPN, romance novels, pop culture, sex, drugs, yoga, meditation (in my experience many [some?] people turn to yoga and meditation for far less than noble reasons and all they end up doing is becoming better able to numb themselves to their our inner pain and anger and pettiness). Most of us will not become truly grateful people until we face our own and others’ mortality and deal with our fear of loss, and our anger over it—over having to die and lose everything and everyone.
This is our basic lot or predicament—and it’s the basic or fundamental lot/predicament of everyone alive or who has ever lived or who will: How to deal with this basic fact of life, this most basic fact of life, meaning, that the cost of being alive entails that eventually each one of us will lose everything, have everything (and everyone) taken away from us, including even life itself. To be alive means inescapably and unavoidably to owe a death.
And I think it’s quite natural to get good and angry and pissed off and bitter about this, and to resent life, resent God, resent the Universe, resent our parents for putting us in this position (a little “Bohemian Rhapsody” anyone?) and go on a bender or a 10- or 20- or 30-year binge and vent ourselves and our anger and misery on the world. I think I certainly recognize myself in those remarks.
But I think that beyond the anger—once we face it and admit what we’re pissed off about—there’s also something in us—something good and courageous—that urges us to try to sack up and heroically—as in little acts of everyday heroism—begin dealing with our fundamental predicament in way that is a bit more graceful, a way that is not so angry and exploitative, a way that is imbued with a bit more facility and goodness and understanding.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein
If we’re running from loss—or the fear of loss—and from our own and others’ mortality, then we’re likely not yet living life as though everything is a miracle. We’re still probably living life as though everything should on our terms and how we want it, and when we don’t get our way, or when things get tough or unpleasant or uncomfortable, then we get good and angry or ornery or worse, and we either take it out on others or ourselves.
“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” – Gilbert K. Chesterton
For most of us, it takes a lot of learning and inner work to get to this place where we are becoming more and more grateful, graceful, happy.
And one of the first steps in this is likely trying to heroically face our own and others’ mortality. If we begin doing this—and we don’t get consumed with a lot of anger, then we’re on the way ceasing to take things—and people—for granted—and instead to take them as they should be taken—with much more gratitude and kindness and understanding and tenderness.
We make ourselves more and more eligible for more and more moments of deep happiness, appreciation, warmth, and gratitude—“kairos” moments—by doing this sort of inner work.
“Happy people don’t have the best of everything, they make the best of everything they have.”
None of us are completely grateful or completely ungrateful all of the time. Rather, we exist somewhere in between these two extremes or potentials. We’re capable of some moments of astounding gratitude and thanksgiving, and we’ve likely all had some moments where we have been ungrateful, impatient, ornery, and unkind. And the reality is that we have a choice in the matter—some say. What we do now—the direction in which we turn our attention and energies in this moment, and the next, and the next, et cetera—will start helping sow for us the attitude or orientation with which we will meet future life events and difficulties and determine how we will treat those around us—with gratitude and goodness, or with thanklessness and without perspective. The choice really is up to us. And not so much later, at the moment when we’re tested, but now. Right now is where it is being determined whether we will take life for granted or with gratitude. Right now, consciously or unconsciously we are deciding and reinforcing our basic orientation or attitude—gratitude or ungratefulness. Right now we are deciding the type of person we are to become? What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of person do you want to become? A grateful or ungrateful one? How do you want to define yourself? What do you want to stand for?
We’re each written on the wind and that’s a lot to haul.
Two blogs that I have come across recently and really appreciate—
And two related posts that I have written in the past year—
And lastly, a post that I really disagree with and think sets the bar far too low—