The Art of Happiness

Dear Friend,

Some say the first step towards happiness — or love — starts from within. In theory, this sounds great. It is also catchy. However, life is not so binary. For some, the first step might be the other way around. Maybe the biggest act of self-care and self-love is to focus our attention on someone or something else.

When you look back on your happiest moments, were you thinking about yourself or were you so enamored with the world that you forgot yourself? Personally, my happiest experiences are when my thoughts dissolve and it is just the world and me dancing together.

Instead of focusing so much on ‘I’, maybe we should pay more attention to people and things other than ourselves. Often, this is where the most beautiful moments are born. Often, they are born when we notice how tranquil the birds outside our windows sound, or when we notice how beautiful someone’s smile is, or when we are so engaged in a conversation that the universe disappears.

Last week, I was sitting outside on my patio in the morning. It was looking like a beautiful day. The sun was lazily creeping out. The birds were singing their morning song as they slowly woke up. There was also a gentle breeze in the air. However, at first, I was oblivious to all of this.

Instead of appreciating my surroundings, my eyes were glued to my phone. I made a post on Instagram earlier that morning and it was performing poorly. This made me anxious. I started to obsessively check the post hoping there was some kind of glitch and that magically the likes and comments would come pouring in. They never did.

At that moment, I felt small. I felt like I embarrassed myself in front of thousands of people. I told myself you are dumb for posting that, you should have spent more time on it, you rushed yourself, people are probably tired of you now. The self-critiquing went on and on.

Meanwhile, my mom called me while I was outside. We call each other every morning. As we chatted, I was still looking at my phone. I was so distracted that I could not remember what we talked about. After we hung up, I felt bad. I realized I spaced out during the entire conversation. I wasted the only phone call I would have with my mom that morning.

Right then, I realized I needed to center myself. I needed to step away from my phone. So I went into my apartment and I put my phone safely away. I grabbed my running shoes and keys. I then locked my door and went on a walk.

As I was strolling, I kept thinking about my Instagram post. I wanted to forget it but I was unable. I kept thinking I was a failure. Luckily, my obsessive thoughts stopped when I ran into a couple walking their dog.

Their dog was adorable. He reminded me of my family’s dog. I told the couple this and they said I was welcomed to pet him. I never pass up an opportunity to pet a dog so I kneeled down. Their dog seemed happy as my hand caressed his back. His tail started to wag. I could tell he wanted me to massage his head because he kept nudging the top of his nose in the air so I did. Afterwards, he seemed like he was in heaven. His joy was so infectious I started to smile too.

The couple and I then began talking. They told me their dog’s name is Benji. I told them,

“I am thinking of getting a dog but I am nervous. I work a lot and I am not sure I can handle it right now.”

They told me,

“It is a lot of work. But it is so worth it. At first, we did not think we were ready either. We were hesitant just like you. However, after we got Benji, we realized it is never the perfect time. Sometimes you just have to jump in full body and hope you swim. This year has been hard on all of us. The best part of having Benji is that whenever we are feeling low he picks up our spirits. When you look at him, you know that his love is unconditional. Realizing another being can love you like that softens every part of you. It reminds you how beautiful life can be.”

They then kneeled down to pet Benji alongside me. All three of us were petting him now and the look on his face was pure joy. To show his appreciation, he started to lick our hands. This made the three of us laugh and smile.

While we were talking, I started to wonder whether I should get a dog too. I have a busy life but maybe a dog would be good for me I thought; maybe I was too consumed in my own life and I needed to share my life with someone else, maybe sharing is what living is all about.

Eventually, we said goodbye and I continued on my walk. As I was walking, I realized I was not thinking about my problems at all during that conversation. I was so captivated by their company I forgot about my personal issues. For a moment, the world faded away and it was just the four of us enjoying each other’s presence.

As I kept walking, I noticed how alive the world was. There were squirrels running up trees. Bicyclists were riding through the streets. Friends were holdings hands while they laughed together. I said good morning to the people who crossed my way and they all smiled as they said good morning back. For a brief moment, the universe seemed to be in perfect harmony. It seemed like someone had finally brought peace to my corner of the world.

A few moments earlier, I was in a different headspace. I was grumpy and irritated, all because I was consumed in myself. I was fixated on who I was and who I wanted to be. In turn, I ignored everyone and everything else. Fortunately, those feelings did not last. Once I defocused on myself, I started to feel alive again. The knot in my stomach started to untangle. My slouching shoulders started to push back. Most importantly, my heart started to open.

We cannot always focus on the present moment. Sometimes we have to learn from our past and other times we have to plan for the future. Sometimes we must also be cognizant of how others perceive us because we are social creatures. But when we are feeling stressed or anxious, one of the best remedies is to pay attention to someone or something other than ourselves. Maybe this means going on a walk or reading a book. Maybe this means spending quality time with a loved one or a pet. The key is to simply focus on the world in front of us — it is to notice the beauty that is already here.

By noticing the beauty in others, we are also more likely to notice the beauty inside of us. Even though we are unique, we share many qualities with one another. In fact, when we pull back the curtain, we are more similar than different. Like a reflex, we start to see these similarities once we look outward; once we pay attention to the wonder and magic around us.

Happiness and joy — and especially love — are not inside our heads. Often, the moments that make life worth living are outside. They are found by opening our arms as we pay attention to someone or something other than you and me. They are found by saying ‘yes’ to the life being created now. They are found by accepting the universe’s hand as we dance with it in this very moment, in spite of everything.

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