What is happiness?
What is happiness?

I sat down for a chat with friend Amos Bracewell earlier today. In fact, he wrote a post about this experience.

He shared that his grandmother had passed. Reflexively, I said, “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Amos said he wasn’t sorry and shared that he was reflecting on the lessons he could take away from how she lived her life. I affirmed him in the way he was approaching the situation.

My reflexive answer goes a little deeper. I’ve experienced the pain of loss more than I bring up in casual conversation.

So, the cliché’ responses just don’t do it for me.

“He’s in a better place.”

“He lived a good life.”

“There’s a reason for everything.”

It’s interesting. If you Google “what not to say when someone dies”, these are the exact tropes that come up.

You can also look up the best things to say to someone in grief. I concur with their list and could probably learn a thing or two from it.

The reason I say, “I’m sorry to hear that”, is because of how much I dislike the banal, knee-jerk comments.

But regardless of the discomfort or challenge, the truth is the event only holds the power or emotional charge we give it.

The event and the meaning we attach to the event are separate, though rarely do we see them as such.

I’ve shared about the fact that my dad died in a motorcycle crash when I was 13. That’s a fact.

But anything I heard people say after the fact is just meaning.

“You’re the man of the house now.”

By seeing the event and the meaning as separate entities, for once, we can create space in our lives. Space that never existed before. And out of that space can come possibilities. Possibilities we can live into.

What is happiness?

Everyone says you’re supposed to find meaning. I’ve heard personal development god Steve Pavlina say it. I’ve heard author Dr. Robert Anthony say it. I’ve heard ambitious entrepreneurs say it.

I discovered a secret. I wasn’t the first to discover it by any means. But I do know that not many people know it.

It begins with understanding that we do not live in three distinct time states — the past, present, and future. We only live now, in the present.

That means meaning can only be found now. But this moment is passing. And then we’re onto the next. And then the next…

Where’s the meaning? You can’t find it. You had it. But now it’s gone. And then it was gone. And it’s gone again.

Happiness, it turns out, is not about finding meaning at all. Because that suggests there’s something on the outside of yourself to find. And I can tell you right now there isn’t. The world outside of you is meaningless. It’s not total chaos. It’s a world operating on consensus rather than objectivity.

So, is happiness on the inside?

Well, oddly enough, nothing exists on the inside either.

Consider this. You can never tell what anyone’s intent is. Everybody says, “it’s not the words, it’s the tone!” But you don’t know anyone’s intentions. You can’t know. People can do things and justify it with logic later. Actions on the outside look the same regardless of the intent.

So, where is happiness?

Happiness is a word. If it doesn’t exist in language, it doesn’t exist.

So, happiness does exist. But it only exists in language.

It does not come from “finding meaning.”

We’re meaning making machines. We can’t help it. We do it on autopilot. It’s what it means to be human!

Out of nowhere, something completely random and ridiculous could happen. Something we’d have no reason to pay any attention to for any reason. And we’d still find a way to make it mean something! A sign from god! A miracle from above! Awakening!

You don’t need to find meaning. You’ve already got it. So much so, in fact, that more meaning is just going to be stacked on the same meanings you created. They will only be iterations on the same meanings you’ve embraced through life.

That means unless you separate event from meaning, you will never experience a new meaning again. You will only add to the preponderance of evidence you’ve been building for whatever life means to you.

Out of nothing can come something.

When you separate the event from the meaning you gave it, something magical happens. For once, you get to see that the two aren’t bonded together. They aren’t inseparable after all.

When this separation occurs, you get to see the event for what it really was. And for once you get to see how the meaning you collapsed onto it ruled your life.

This separation is called space. Space is a beautiful thing, because out of it you can create new possibilities and live into them.

Happiness, friend, is yours to define. But first, you must create the space for it. You cannot find it within the realm of meaning.

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