If you’re anything like me, you’ve longed for lasting happiness, success, romantic relationships, and financial abundance.
I made the search for happiness my main endeavor. I explored both eastern and western traditions, including living in an ashram in India. I was determined to figure out why I was unhappy because I wanted to eradicate unhappiness from my life.
And I eventually found what I was searching for, but not in the way I expected.
The Happy Beggar
I was staying at the ashram for the second time, looking for the happiness I’d experienced the first time in my guru’s presence. This time, however, happiness was harder to come by. I was frustrated, confused, and even felt a bit betrayed.
While sitting on a stone wall just outside the ashram, a familiar old beggar walked toward me, hailing me with his bright, toothless smile.
Eyes shining, he extended his hands palms upward, making his daily request for rupees. Despite his lack of teeth, tattered clothes, and what I judged as a demeaning station, his eyes were sparkling with joy, his smile open and engaging, and his presence emanated peace and calm.
As our eyes met, I realized – in large, loud, neon letters flashing above my head – that my beggar friend had found happiness – not by finding the right guru, not by spending money on the right retreat, and certainly not by the absence of unhappiness.
Surely, he experienced unhappiness when he had to be struggling each day to obtain the basic human needs of water, food, and shelter. And yet, despite what would have made me miserable, he had the unflappable happiness that I had been searching for.
And all of a sudden it hit me. The “go get it” happiness, the happiness that comes when I acquire or do something I want, was by definition an impermanent happiness.
Within moments of delighting in the happiness of achieving my desire or goal, my focus would change to acquiring something else I didn’t yet have. And the unhappiness of not having that then ensued.
The beggar, on the other hand, was happy with and without the object of his desire. This was the happiness I was after.
I discovered this unflappable happiness begins with accepting, perhaps even embracing, our unhappiness.
Happiness and Unhappiness Define Each Other
We try so hard to eradicate what makes us unhappy in order to be happy, only to find it doesn’t work. This is the paradox of life. Happiness and unhappiness define each other. Happiness is the absence of unhappiness, and unhappiness is the absence of happiness. We cannot have one without the other.
So, our lifelong search for maintaining one extreme of the happiness spectrum at the expense of the other is as futile as looking for a magnet with only the north pole.
Self-help gurus and practices the world over teach many ways to address our shadow selves, the parts of us we wish did not exist, such as showering them with love and light.
The thing is, our shadow selves, our unhappiness and discontent, do not arrive to be dismissed or subjugated. They arrive for a reason – to offer us their wisdom.
My unhappiness was telling me that the solutions I was seeking to “cure” it, were ineffective.
I discovered I had to change my perspective. I seemed to be missing something important.
It soon became clear that happiness and unhappiness were two sides of the same coin, and I couldn’t have one without the other. Just that realization alone created more peace and happiness in my journey through daily life.
When I folded this into my Six-Step Process for becoming unflappable, I finally found the path to a true, deep, and lasting happiness. And so did my clients.
When Josey, a successful bank executive, came to me, she was feeling unfulfilled and tired of being the ball-busting boss.
This was a persona she had successfully sculpted to navigate the corporate ladder. I helped her see that her discontent – the anxiety, stress, and fear she sought to eliminate – were actually telling her something. All she really had to do was just listen to it.
By truly listening, she unearthed the wisdom of her discontent, Josey realized that she wanted to reclaim her soft side at work.
By listening to her unhappiness, rather than running away from it, Josey was able to integrate softness into her work persona – and the rest of her life, too.
She told me, “Having my heart open in this new way makes each day more worthwhile and meaningful – and fun! And I love having so much more peace of mind!”
The moral of the story? Examine your unhappiness. Invite it in for a cup of tea and a scone. And listen to its wisdom. It’s there to tell you something powerful and freeing.
About the Author
Ragini Michaels is a transformational leadership coach, behavior change specialist, and consciousness/mindfulness mentor. Her online course Centered No Matter teaches you how to be happy, centered, and peaceful in the presence of life’s uncertainty and the emotional turmoil it leaves in its wake.