Who doesn’t want to be happy? Or experience contentment? I don’t see anyone setting goals for the purpose of being totally dissatisfied with life, do you? Many people strive to be happy and live a life marked by a sense of satisfaction. They buy books, take classes, and even read blogs to find the secret to happiness. Do these things lead to happiness?
As an adult, I’ve been fortunate in many ways. Early in my career, I was asked to apply and interview for the position of associate pastor of what was becoming a very large and prominent church. It seemed like a career step that was an obvious one to take. It was a high profile position from which I could have a significant impact on many people’s lives. As I went through the interview process, I met several hard working people who had a strong sense of mission. But they didn’t strike me as happy. Instead, they seemed to want more: a larger church, a bigger outreach, and greater success. I was in my late-20’s and many people were pushing me toward the position and the senior pastor was very persuasive. Though it was difficult, I said no. All I knew for sure was that I didn’t want the kind of life these folks were leading. I knew it wouldn’t be good for me, but I wasn’t exactly sure why.
I continued to strive to be fulfilled. I worked very hard, often at multiple jobs of significance. All the positions I held were very worthwhile. I believe I made a positive impact on many people’s lives. But I didn’t make a positive impact on my own life. I ended up depressed, feeling trapped, isolated, and severely burnt out. This happened in my late-30’s.
I didn’t know what else to do but to follow my heart. I couldn’t see a solution around me so I chose a geographic solution: I moved across country. This is rarely a good idea because one’s problems generally follow us wherever we go. I moved from Miami to Tucson not for career but because, on visiting there, I could pray in the desert. I had visited Tucson to consider a job. I quickly discovered that I didn’t want it. While there, I found a sense of wholeness driving in the desert and visiting a Benedictine monastery in the center of town. I had no job and didn’t know anyone there. I had enough money to live on for a while and just made the move. It was the best decision I could have made for myself.
My first year in Tucson was marked by hiking in the desert, praying at the monastery, and journaling reflections on life. It took a year or so for me to begin to heal. Some days I would drive to the mountains, leaving early in the morning and not returning till the evening. I’d sit in quiet places in the Sonora landscape and allowed the stark beauty to renew me. I came to understand that while I had values for nurturing the spiritual dimension of my life, to use my abilities for others, and to generally lead a good life, I allowed a combination of ambition and insecurity to cause me to work far too much in order to prove myself. I came to realize that it didn’t matter whether people valued my contributions or not, whether I met some measure of success or not, whether my income was at a certain level or not. The only thing that mattered was that I appreciated the gift of life I had been given. With that realization, my spiritual practice took on a new depth and I experienced a pervasive sense of peace and contentment in my life.
It’s not that there was something magical about Tucson or that the Sonoran Desert is more spiritual than another place. Instead, I allowed myself to stop being so busy and to be aware, to wake up to what was around me. I didn’t need to seek out happiness or fulfillment in anything else other than what was already around and in my life. It was here all along.
If there’s a secret to happiness, it’s a very simple one. Happiness and contentment do not result from our searching and striving for them. Rather, happiness is ours to choose in the present. When we come to know that within our deepest selves, then we discover happiness.
Photo credit: ezhikoff via Foter.com / CC BY-SA
NOTE: My book, Stumbling Into Life’s Lessons: Reflections on the Spiritual Journey, is a collection of essays I wrote over the first two years I lived in Tucson. The essays provide insight into my journey toward happiness and contentment in life. To learn more about the book, follow this link to Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Stumbling-Into-Lifes-Lessons-Reflections/dp/1450248845/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1488983910&sr=8-1&keywords=Stumbling+into+life%27s+lessons
© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.