Earlier this year, my wife and I were taking a "mindful Qi Gong" class, Qi Gong being a Chinese mental and physical system with postures, motion and breathing exercises. I enjoyed the mindfulness meditation aspect, but I didn't really get the exercises. When I tried to hold the "qi ball" (energy ball), I felt like I was play-acting, not that there's anything wrong with that. Other people seemed to get a lot out of it, so I figured it's just not my path.
At one point, though, the teacher made an off-hand comment that really resonated with me. She said that sometimes she would be out in the world doing something, maybe taking a hike, and she would suddenly remember, "I could be happy right now."
Well, why the hell not?
The idea is that happiness is not necessarily something far away, something you have to strive toward for years — it can be right here in the present moment. If you're not going to be happy right now, then when? Of course it's not a new idea, but this phrase seemed to encapsulate it particularly well.
The phrase stuck with both of us. From time to time, we would remind each other, "You could be happy right now," and we would break into smiles, sort of a self-fulfilling improv exercise. The idea cracked me up with its ridiculous simplicity. Sometimes a bad mood can seem so permanent and all-pervasive, and then along comes a thought like this, exposing the transitory nature of sadness and evaporating it in an instant. The concept seemed simultaneously silly and profound. (I mentioned the idea to someone else; a week later I saw her again and she said, "you know, that's kind of profound.")
I felt like I'd discovered some magic key to happiness. I'd drift off into worry or depression and suddenly I'd remember, "Oh yeah, I could be happy right now." And the cloud would disperse and I'd let go of some excess tension or negativity.
Then after a while, it didn't seem to work as well. I'd remind myself that I could be happy right now, and my mind would reply, "I'd rather not," or "screw that," or "no thanks, I'm not in the mood," or "maybe some other time."
This suggests that not only is happiness a choice, but it's a choice we often decline to make, for whatever reason. Maybe worry and depression have their own payoffs. Maybe they're comfortable and familiar, or maybe they protect us from having to envision what we truly want — I have no idea.
So it looks like my magic key to happiness is silly, profound, and unreliable. Well, two out of three ain't bad. Sometimes we just need a reminder that happiness is possible, to give us inspiration to keep working for it. And sometimes we need a reminder that we don't always have to work for it — that it can be right here, right now.
© 2010 Earl Vickers
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