It is easy to assume that a few nice holidays a year, a new car, a promotion and exciting experiences equate to a happy life. It’s easier to recognise happiness in these moments.
We are really good at feeling happy when we are succeeding, getting something we have always wanted or taking part in an experience. It is easy to feel alive in these moments. To glow. The trouble is this kind of happiness can slip out of our hands as quickly as we grab hold of it.
So how do we learn to sustain happiness without constantly cramming these experiences in and white-knuckling our way through life? How do we find happiness that lasts? And how do we find happiness in the darkest of moments?
If we spend our lives chasing extraordinary experiences, we miss the ordinary ones. And the key to sustaining happiness as more of a constant in our lives rather than a fleeting moment, is very much found in the ordinary.
By being so focused chasing after the extraordinary, we bypass the ordinary moments in each day which are always there and are constantly showing up.
In her book, Phosphorescence, Julia Baird talks about her journey when she was diagnosed with a rare form of abdominal cancer and received a very bleak outlook. Over several years filled with surgeries, treatment, fear, despair and darkness, she found light.
She explained how when the world went dark, she was able to find her way through and how she kept putting one foot in front of the other.
What she found and what sustained her was simple. So simple, she had been missing it. So simple, it had been right under her nose all along. It was awe and wonder, the extraordinary magic of the ordinary moments. She talks about falling in love with the ordinary all over again, relishing and savouring the simplest of life’s pleasures.
Julia Baird writes, “Something happens when you dive into a world where clocks don’t tick and in-boxes don’t ping. As your arms circle, swing, and pull along the edge of a vast ocean, your mind wanders, and you open yourself to awe—to the experience of seeing something astonishing, unfathomable, or greater than yourself.”
Children do this very naturally. Somehow, we forget as we grow up. We swap stillness for busyness. Imagination for reality. Curiosity for indifference. Progress for perfection. These trade-offs mean that we don’t always allow ourselves to glow. We can be so critical of ourselves and the world around us that we go so far inwards it becomes dark. Learning to pay attention to the world cannot just help draw us out of ourselves but also uplift us. This can then become a source of strength to help us through dark times, a light to guide us through. Phosphorescence is about things that illuminate in the dark.
When we are exposed to nature, we become happier, healthier and stronger. It’s about slowing down and noticing all the wonderful things around us. Noticing the joy and abundance in the smallest of things. It’s about learning to see these ordinary moments with curiosity, as if it’s the first time seeing them, so that you relish them, but also savouring these moments as if it was the last time you were to see them.
Julia Baird writes about finding our inner light. How it’s not about burning brightly all the time, it’s about being luminous, storing up the light for later use. A light that can top us up when times get tough. “We have the ability to find, nurture and carry our own living light – a light to ward off the darkness…Staying alive, remaining upright even when lashed by doubt.”
Just as some animals and plants can glow in the dark, so can people. People can inspire us. Even when their life seems like it has been turned upside down, the worst things are thrown at them and they are left in the dark, somehow they still manage to shine. They still emanate this positive energy. They glow.
As admiral William McRaven said in his 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas, you need to be at your best in the darkest of moments. Finding our own internal light creates a glow within us. We need to learn to illuminate ourselves.
True and lasting happiness is found in the everyday. A happy life is not created by extraordinary moments, it’s about ordinary mundane moments, everyday experiences, day by day, moment by moment. It’s about seeing them, living them and appreciating them for what they are. It’s the little things that add up to the big things when it comes to happiness. And it’s the ordinary moments we will miss far more when they are gone.
By becoming our own source of phosphorescence, we can cultivate a light that will never go out. A light that will help us see where we need to go in good times and in bad.